The Great Unknown is about John Wesley Powell’s journey down the Colorado River in search of the Grand Canyon in 1869, at that time the last unmapped portion of America. His crew were all Civil War veterans, and there was triumph and tragedy on the river. Powell found the passage he was seeking, but at a price. Some of his crew found redemption from the effects of the war, and others did not fare so well.
Woven into this story is the tale of Powell and his bride, Emma Dean, who becomes an advocate for the environment, and an early pioneer for the voices of women to be heard in government, at the same time the river journey is taking place. Told in flashback and parallel narration, Emma Dean’s and Powell’s journeys intersect and part, and come together again at the end.
Powell was a natural philosopher who believed that nature, in the form of the river and the canyon, sought greater order, and that America’s destiny depended on the harmonious interaction of nature and man, and on how the West was settled.
Bill Hauptman, the excellent author who wrote the book for BIG RIVER, the Huckleberry Finn musical, and won a Tony for it, conceived of this musical. We have a new draft as of March 2008 and will be getting it around.
If you’re curious about John Wesley Powell, google him and you’ll find all kinds of interesting stuff.