Diamond Studs: The Life of Jesse James
I had no idea in college I would wind up working on shows for nearly 50 years. I knew I wanted to be a writer and studied poetry and fiction at UNC, and I played the guitar and began to sing a lot of story songs. Little by little I got the idea that a musical could tell a story just like a story song, only with many songs telling the story.
I was playing in a band called Southern States Fidelity Choir and writing songs with Bland Simpson. We were a good band but couldn’t get much work performing original songs in North Carolina at that time. The venues just weren’t there. We decided to create this musical, DIAMOND STUDS: The Life Of Jesse James, A Saloon Musical, to bring attention to the Choir, in hopes we’d get more gigs. The Red Clay Ramblers and other friends joined up. John Haber said he’d direct and that put the wheels in motion.
DIAMOND STUDS made its debut in Chapel Hill, NC, October 11, 1974 at the Ranch House and opened Jan. 11, 1975 at the Chelsea Westside (now West Side Arts Theater) on West 43rd St, New York City. The production was the inaugural “Musicians’ Theater” musical and its success encouraged more shows with musicians on stage playing major roles by a number of its alumni.
“Yes, Yes, A Thousand Times Yes! The music is super…funny and sassy score.”
Clive Barnes, New York Times
We got more gigs. Eight shows a week in NYC with a hit! Many remember the first production in Chapel Hill as a cultural moment. Everybody you see in this cast photo was important to the unique style and success of the production, as well as John Haber, Choreographer Patricia Birch, Producer Michael David and many more.
Music and Lyrics: Bland Simpson and Jim Wann
Traditional Music: Red Clay Ramblers, Jan Davidson
Book by Jim Wann
Musical Staging: Patricia Birch
Director: John Haber
Publisher: Concord Theatricals
Photos courtesy of Mike Craver, earlyblurs.com
People vs Mona
I wrote THE PEOPLE VS. MONA with Patricia, with help early on from Ernie Chambers, Don Maass, and Paul Lazarus, who directed the first production at the Pasadena Playhouse. It was next presented at Theatrical Outfit, Atlanta, and reprised in Atlanta by the Alliance Theater. The New York run (Ground Up Productions, Kate Middleton, Director) opened on July 14, 2007 and sold out its scheduled run. An all-star cast presented MONA at the York Theater (NYC) March 30, 2008 and recorded the cast album the following day.
“Mr. Wann’s songs provide the real pleasure…old-fashioned rock, blues, and gospel.”Wilborn Hampton, NY Times
Book: Patricia Miller and Jim Wann
Music and Lyrics: Jim Wann.
Publisher: Concord Theatricals
Cast Recording: Jay Records (John Yap, Producer)
The Great Unknown
THE GREAT UNKNOWN is a musical based on the John Wesley Powell Expedition’s 1868 journey down the Colorado River seeking the Grand Canyon, the last unmapped wilderness in America. With book by Bill Hauptman, direction by Don Stephenson and choreography by Liza Gennaro, It debuted at the New York Musical Theater Festival (St. Clement’s Church) in September, 2010. Despite ample appreciation, it failed to land another production.
“Nobody can write genuinely exciting theatrical music in a country vein better than Jim Wann…his best score.”Peter Filichia, TheaterMania
Book: William Hauptman
Music and Lyrics: Jim Wann
Director: Don Stephenson
Musical Staging: Liza Gennaro
Producer: NYMF/Patricia Miller