Peter Thomson’s work is hardly done.
For a handful of years he’s been laboring over the creation of an original stage production based on the music of Hoyt Axton. And since he’s finally completed writing and, with the help of Steve Raisor, arranging this musical revue, “Chase Down the Sun” is looking toward the horizon.
It’s a musical that will stage through Encore Theatre at the Maguire Theatre this winter. It’s a production that will include 24 of Axton’s songs and 12 to 16 performers on stage.
Axton was a singer/songwriter who arose amidst the 1960s folk movement, went on to pen a number of popular hits and even become a recognized face on film and television. His mother is credited with writing Elvis Presley’s first big hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.”
If the name Hoyt Axton doesn’t quite ring a bell, however, don’t worry about it. The man’s music sure will. Among other things he wrote Three Dog Night’s hit, “Joy to the World” — you know, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog …”
And when you see his face on screen — he died in 1999 — you’ll likely remark, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that guy.”
“Hoyt Axton is one of a stream of what I call folk poets,” says Thomson. “You start off with Woody Guthrie and then around the 1960s you grew up with Kris Kristofferson.”
These days the music genre is referred to as Americana. These are songs that tell stories. The music is largely based on acoustic compositions.
“They are personal songs or environmental songs. Songs about what’s happening to them,” says Thomson.
Axton wrote 300 songs. They’re songs that, says Thomson, talk about the man’s life. And Thomson’s challenge was to pull those songs together in an effort to celebrate his life in song.
Thomson says he set out to write a biographical musical. That didn’t work, however.
He realized that it was Axton’s songs that told the story so why not let that happen in this production?
In musicals, the songs “do the emotional pushing forward.”
“What you can’t say in a scene comes out in song,” says Thomson.
So three years of work on this production were scrapped. He began working with Axton songs that would work to tell the story, using minimal dialogue.
“What I came up with was, I let him tell his life’s story in the songs,” says Thomson.
The result, he says, leaves you with 85 percent Axton music, with the remaining 15 percent consisting of Thomson’s words. They are words that not only tell Axton’s story, but also have meaning for Thomson.
Back in the early 1960s Thomson owned a folk music club in his native Toronto, Canada. It was there that the big names in folk music would play. Names like Pete Seeger, or Peter, Paul and Mary came through his club.
Hoyt Axton wasn’t one of them. Thomson was, however, introduced to Axton’s music by a friend and as a result he would own the troubadour’s albums and be a life-long fan of the man and his music.
“The music to me was a part of who I was,” Thomson says of the folk genre.
Thomson would go on and become a television and film director. On film sets there’s down time while things other than acting and directing are happening. Thomson says it was during those times he would play Axton’s music.
“To me it’s classic music,” he says.
The story of Axton is not tragic. Rather it’s a celebration of life. Axton, says Thomson, was a man who, while he had ups and downs, insisted on loving the life he lived.
“This is a guy who had fun right up to the last,” he says.
And in the end, Axton’s music still lives on for old and new generations. But don’t worry if you’re not familiar with all of his song list, because this is a musical revue that in and of itself will stand alone, promising great entertainment.
But first Thomson must set the stage by casting this show. He’s looking for people “who can sell a song.”
“If you can sell a song I can teach you the rest,” says Thomson.
The auditions will be held Oct. 28 and Oct. 29. Thomson says this is an open audition and he hopes that all folks with a voice, black, white, red, yellow or brown who are ages 15 years and up will come ready with either an a capella piece or a prepared piece with a recorded accompaniment.
The auditions will be held at Arts of the Albemarle’s annex above Port Discover (the old Main Street Stage), 613 A East Main Street, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information call 252-330-5534.