She Helped Turn Trevor, The Groundbreaking Oscar-Winning Short Film, Into A Musical

In Trevor: The musical 13-year-old Trevor is not like the other boys in class. It is 1981 in suburban New Jersey. What lights Trevor’s fabulous fire is music, theater and dance. He worships at the alter of his idol Diana Ross. His bedroom walls are decked out with Diana Ross magazine covers and movie posters. As he sings at the beginning of the show: “My future won’t fit on a little screen. Once I light up the stage I’ll be all of the rage.” 

However, Trevor’s parents don’t get him. Most of the kids in the class don’t get him. Even Mrs. Kerr, the drama teacher, doesn’t get him. “The program is set,” she tells Trevor about the talent show. And there’s just no place in it for you.” (In his audition he reenacted scenes from Fame playing all the characters.) In such an unaccepting environment that doesn’t embrace him to be who he is, it is a challenge for Trevor to be himself. 

“Trevor is about a young person who is searching for how their true self fits into an unwelcoming world,” shares the show’s composer Julianne Wick Davis who collaborated with book and lyric writer Dan Collins to write the musical. “This is a universal quest for anyone who feels like “the other,” especially in junior high, which can be the cruelest environment for vulnerable souls.”

Now playing at Stage 42 in New York City, Trevor: The Musical is based on the Academy Award-winning short film Trevor directed by Peggy Rajski, produced by Randy Stone and written by Celeste Lecesne. The moving and funny show is produced by Roy Furman, John Ambrosino, Josie Bray and Mark Woods with direction by Marc Bruni and choreography by Josh Prince. 

As Wick Davis explains, the struggles that Trevor experiences still resonate today. “Even though we may think the world today is more accepting than it was in 1981 when our musical takes place, the challenges are still there and sometimes in a more impactful way,” she shares. And if she could say anything to Trevor what would it be? “Be you,” says Wick Davis. “Find your allies and never sacrifice what makes you happy.” 

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Julianne Wick Davis shared more. 

Jeryl Brunner: What key qualities did you want Trevor to have in the musical?

Julianne Wick Davis: It’s inherent in the film short that Trevor is someone who knows what makes him happy and trusts that everyone else does too. What he eventually experiences challenges all of that. But what was important to us was that even though the devastation takes him to a dark place, it doesn’t destroy his spirit. He is fortunate enough to see that he is not alone, that there is life beyond this moment, and that he can continue to embrace what makes him happy.

Brunner: When did you know you know that working in the theater was your path?

Wick Davis: Knowing I had to work in theater came specifically from my passion for musicals. It took me a long time to figure out how I could be a part of this thing that I loved so much. I had been in musicals growing up, was a music director in college and beyond, acted in community theater productions and was always looking for a way to have musicals in my life. I taught music in public school and would write shows for my students but again, never thought I’d do anything beyond that.

Then I discovered the graduate program at Tisch School Of The Arts for musical theater writing. When I was accepted into the program, I moved to New York from Texas and started a life where creating musicals became my focus. That’s where I met Dan and where I found the community that I had been looking for my whole life.

Brunner: What was it like to collaborate with book and lyric writer Dan Collins, director Marc Bruni, and choreographer Joshua Prince?

Wick Davis: Dan and I have been collaborating for 14 years now. We have a shorthand and an ease that is always joyful. Marc and Josh had worked together on Beautiful and had a similar kind of collaborative relationship. So, the producers brought together two successful collaborations to create this team for Trevor.

Some of my favorite moments in the process was the four of us having dinner together and talking about the show. Then, to watch everyone bring their magic into the rehearsal room was so much fun. I also want to mention the other important collaborator in this process, our music director, Matt Deitchman. This score would not nearly be what it is without Matt’s attention and care and collaborative spirit. Talk about joy. I’m so grateful for him.

Brunner: How has the show transformed since its debut in Chicago and what changes did you make during the pandemic shutdown?

Wick Davis: The pandemic shut us down in 2020 when we were two weeks away from tech. We had already addressed the changes we wanted to make after the Writer’s Theatre production, including making Trevor’s experience in the school environment more threatening. Knowing that the producers had intentions of getting back into rehearsal, we continued working throughout the pandemic to make the show stronger, including writing a new song for Trevor.

Working on the show and rewriting during the pandemic was essential in keeping our hope at the forefront during those dark months. I never lost hope about the return of theater during the pandemic, but that moment on opening night made me realize just how important and vital it is for us to sit shoulder-to-shoulder and witness it.

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