ORLANDO — Theater investors, take note: Queen of Swords, a brand new rock musical that’s been 6+ years in the making, will make its Orlando debut in March at Timucua Arts Foundation. The show’s creators are looking for investors to help them mount a full production this year.
Written by Thom Mesrobian and Ben Shepler, this musical will visit Timucua, 2000 S. Summerlin Ave., as an in-concert reading directed by Tara Kromer and featuring a large cast of Orlando performers who recreate the true story of Julie D’Aubigny, an openly bi-sexual opera singer and sword fighter who lived at the end of the 17th century in France.
As the show’s creators noted, “Her life was an almost unending series of fantastic events that included becoming the Prima Dona of Opera Paris, successfully dueling three men at once and burning down a convent to rescue her girlfriend from the nuns.”
What’s the History of the Musical Queen Of Swords?
Mesrobian noted that this show dates back to 2016, after he presented his comedy Simpleton: The Legend of President Trump at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival.
However, as he envisioned the show, Mesrobian concluded that a rock musical would be too large and ambitious for Orlando Fringe and that D’Aubigny’s story deserved a larger production.
“She was such an astonishing person with a such an incredible life that she deserved a full length musical,” he noted.” So, that’s what we’ve done.”
Freeline Media decided to reach out to Mesrobian to learn more about this show-in-development.
What Inspired the Creation of this Rock Musical?
Freeline Media: When you started writing this rock musical in 2016, what was your initial inspiration?
Thom Mesrobian: I saw a video of the life of Julie D’Aubigny on YouTube and proceeded to go down the rabbit hole. She was such a fascinating individual. This was in 2016 when the biggest problem our country was facing was “where do trans people go to the bathroom.” And I kept seeing on social media the sentiment of that this was a new problem. That there weren’t trans or even gay people back in the “good old days,” which is of course ridiculous. So then I discovered Julie, a woman who was openly bisexual and possibly trans in the 1600’s! My own journey in understanding homosexuality, which started poorly in fundamental Christianity, has taken the route of gaining awareness which then lead to acceptance and finally to action and alliance.
Freeline Media: What piqued your interest in the life of Julie D’Aubigny?
Thom Mesrobian: Julie lived life at full speed. She accomplished a stunning amount of things before she died of fever at the age of 33. But she also had her demons. She tried to commit suicide twice and both times was on stage in the middle of an opera. So obviously she had issues which today we would recognize as depression. So many of our community struggle with this issue that I saw this as a vehicle to not just address Queer visibility but also to talk about depression and suicide in a way that is relevant and real.
Freeline Media: Can you give us a sense of what style the rock music will lean toward — are there other rock musicals that helped serve as inspiration?
Thom Mesrobian: Usually I will write the framework of the song and bang it out on a guitar or piano and send it to Ben Shepler. Now the stuff I write sounds like if Journey and a country band had a baby — cause I’m old and from Mississippi. But Ben is significantly younger, thankfully. He takes my basic idea and makes them current and beautifully complicated! I’m heavily influenced by older musicals like Rent as well as a fan, of the music at least, of shows like “Dear Evan Hanson” or “The Greatest Showman”. Our songs tend to be shorter than most musicals which leaves room for my favorite part, which is dialog.
Freeline Media: What’s the most challenging thing about crafting a new rock musical?
Thom Mesrobian: The biggest challenge has been trying to do justice to her life and legacy and keep it to a manageable length. Our first version was over three hours long. So we cut and cut and reassembled and cut again until we have what we hope is a little more traditional run time, about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Freeline Media: After the show’s reading in Orlando, where do you hope to take this production from there?
Thom Mesrobian: We want to go as far as we can with this show. We would love to take it to Broadway (whatever Broadway is now) but our immediate hope is to get collaborators to come alongside and embrace the message of inclusion and hope that this show champions and help us produce a fully staged version in the Central Florida area.
Freeline Media: Good luck!
Queen Of Swords, book and lyrics by Mesrobian and music by Shepler and Mesrobian. will feature Ema Pava as Julie D’Aubigny. Juan Cantú, Cathy Colburn, McKenzie Jo Frazer, Mark Gray Miller, Jarrett Poore, Kari Ringer, Eduardo A. Rivera, Fredy Ruiz, and Matt Stevens will play various characters in her life. Sarah Lockard serves as the narrator.
The show will be presented live in concert at Timucua Arts Foundation on March 24-25 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be $25 and the performance will be livestreamed and available as video on demand.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.