Many newlyweds use the first months of their marriage to settle down, perhaps buy a house and discuss starting a family. Hometown performers Brad Scarborough and Rebekah Dahl decided to open a musical-comedy theater and begin a 50 weeks a year performance schedule of original shows they hope will become a Houston staple for years to come.
This month, the performance space at 2623 Colquitt transforms from Steve and Vicki Farrell’s Radio Music Theatre to Scarborough and Dahl’s Music Box Theater. The couple are old friends of the Farrells and plan to use the Farrells’ career as a model for their own. At the same time they hope to provide Houston with original shows that might take the sting out of the loss of RMT and Steve Farrell’s much loved Fertle and Houston plays.
Dahl told CultureMap that she thinks of Vicki Farrell as an acting mentor and someone who has led a life she wants to live, saying “Vicki’s got the life. She gets to work with her gorgeous husband, who’s hilarious. . .She’s a great manager, a great singer, a great, funny lady. I thought, what a life. I want that life.”
Scarborough and Dahl have been married for four months, but over a year ago, they began to discuss how they could achieve that balance of family and theatrical careers. When the Farrells began counting down to their retirement, Brad and Rebekah began putting together their own plan to take the proverbial microphone the Farrells were passing them.
Dahl laughs when she recalls their strategy: “Let’s do everything stressful all at once. We thought we’d just get it out of the way.”
Though the couple can’t speak enough about how supportive the Farrells have been and how much they admire Radio Music Theatre, there will be definite differences between the two companies.
Music Box Theater will be performing original musical comedies with the emphasis on the music, filling their first show with 17 songs that they hope their audiences will recognize and love. With plans to do four shows a year, they have the titles and concepts for the next two years to go along with their lease.
For their first show Opening the Box, they’ll perform a broad range of music, from Lady Gaga to Frank Sinatra, U2 to Judy Garland. Scarborough says the stories they’ll write around the music will put a new spin on some of this current and nostalgic music. They plan to “put [the songs] in a new context with the script.”
Those scripts will be written as a collaboration with all five members of the Music Box company, Scarborough, Dahl and veteran performers Cay Taylor, Luke Wrobel, and Colton Berry contributing.
Dahl explains their method: “We start with a theme, then pick songs around that theme, and then we write scenes to go in between the songs. That’s the first process. If we find a better process that works, we’ll go with that.”
Dahl says they’re “creating an extremely collaborative company. Luckily, the people we’ve hired are not just great singers and actors, but really smart writers.”
They wanted a company of actors with different acting and vocal styles, of different ages, different personalities, with one common trait: they can all “sing their butts off,” says Dahl.
Houston theatergoers will likely recognize the members of the company as Scarborough, Dahl, Cay Taylor, and Luke Wrobel have been a part of the Houston theater scene for years and all, including youngest member Colton Berry, have been company members of Masquerade Theatre.
Moving back to Houston from his native Virginia to be a part of the MBT company, Berry is one of those hardy souls who survived having his singing critiqued on national television as a semi-finalist during the 2008 season of American Idol. After facing the three-headed Cowell-Abdul-Jackson hydra, the audiences at MBT should seem like a dream.
In Opening the Box, the Music Box crew will introduce Houston to the company and this crazy endeavor to open a new theater. During the show they’ll spoof real people from pop culture and also play “exaggerated versions of ourselves,” says Dahl. In future shows, they hope to invent original characters.
Talking with Scarborough and Dahl it becomes obvious that the collaborative nature of the company will extend to their audiences. They plan to pay close attention to the audiences’ reaction to see what works and doesn’t and make changes accordingly.
One non-theatrical issue that MBT might soon have to contend with is the possible bar complex at 3320 Kirby, directly across Colquitt from the theater. The couple have been following CultureMap’s reports on the controversial project, and are determined to stay friendly with all their neighbors.
Scarborough muses, “As far as having something else that’s a nighttime hot spot, we feel that can only help us.” They think a nice restaurant or wine bar might bring new people to the area but do worry about the uncertainty about the project and the parking situation.
No matter what sprouts up on the spot, the couple hopes Houstonians will see MBT as the place to relax, have a drink and enjoy a show each weekend.
Scarborough believes “This kind of performance we’re doing, there’s nothing else like it in Houston.” They think there’s nothing like it in all of Texas, as well. The couple has been checking out some other Texas musical-comedy shows like Austin’s Esther’s Follies and Fredericksburg’s Rockbox wanting to see what works and how to make Music Box Theater distinctive and distinctively Houston. “We’re hoping to gear our style around Houstonians,” says Dahl.
Dahl finds Houston audiences to be “open-minded” and “unpretentious.” She received her theatrical training at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, but when she was ready to leave the city, many people advised her to move to Houston, because with so many live theater and singing opportunities she could make a living singing and performing. She looks back on their advice and knows they were absolutely correct. She says “Houston has been a gift to me as a performer. I don’t know if we would have been able to do what we’re doing anywhere else.”
Though Scarborough and Dahl are nervous and excited about the challenge, they’re ready for it.
“Brad and I are putting everything we have into this. This is our life, our savings, our life. . . However, how often do you get a theater handed to you that has a stage, and lights, and sound and a following, a reputation." She adds, "It is a risk, but it’s a really calculated risk, we think.”
For Dahl, it might all come down to one basic idea: “Rich and famous has never been a goal for me, just being really, really happy doing what you love.”
Opening the Box opens on Friday.