BECKLEY, W.Va. — “Rocket Boys The Musical” has been preparing for lift off and will finally make its fourth landing at Theatre West Virginia Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Cliffside Amphitheatre in Grandview.
The play is based on the best-selling novel “Rocket Boys” by West Virginia native Homer Hickam who helped write the theatre version of his story. Attendees will be immersed into Coalwood in McDowell County during the ’50s.
This time, though, some changes have been made to make the production more inclusive.
“One thing we did, of course, is to take into account the different ethnicities that were in Coalwood,” Hickam said during an interview on MetroNew’s “Talkline”. “For instance, Valentine who is the young woman who is always chasing after Sonny is Latina now.”
The continued effort for a more diverse cast did not stop there. One of the main characters in the play will be played by a black woman.
“The wonderful actor and singer Rhayne Thomas agreed to play Elsie, my mom, and she just happens to be African-American, but she was absolutely the best person for the role,” Hickam added. “We think that ‘open casting’ is a great idea.”
Open casting is when anyone, no matter what the person playing the part is supposed to look like, can audition.
Rhayne will even get to wear a piece of Hickam’s mother Elsie’s jewelry during the show.
Hickam said that the lack of diversity in theatre shows has always concerned him.
“I’ve always worried about theatre, live shows, especially ones that were written years ago that everybody doesn’t get an opportunity to get lead roles in there just based upon their ethnicity,” he said. “I think that’s a mistake, and I think most people realize that it’s a show and once you get caught up in it, it doesn’t matter who is playing the part.”
Hickam also had news that he was writing another prequel to his series of books about his life in southern West Virginia.
“I have been asked to go back to Coalwood, so I’m working on right now another prequel to the ‘Rocket Boys’ about something that happened when I was just a kid; I was ten years old,” he explained. “It’s a little bit Tom Sawyer, a little bit of a Huck Finn type of story.”
The musical was supposed to open Wednesday night; however, due to some issues with pyrotechnic effects, technicians wanted to postpone the opening a few days to ensure everything was ready.
On Friday, the 100 people to enter the theater will get a “Rocket Boys The Musical” poster singed by Homer Hickam himself. He will be at the show to talk to people about his story and meet fans.
“It’s all very informal after the show. You get to meet all the actors, the other writers and composers, so it’s all really fun,” Hickam added.
Performances start each night at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are available by going to www.theatrewestvirginia.org or by calling 304-256-6800.
Story by Jordyn Johnson