Spooky Troop originated as a fully produced audio adventure series created, written and directed by award-winning writer Stewart St John, with a musical score and songs by St John and Michael Plahuta. Intended from the get-go to be adapted into various forms of media outside of the audio series, the franchise is now beginning to take form. Wonkybot.com caught up with St John about the experience of adapting the project for the stage.
Wonkybot.com: You recently returned from Alabama where you did the first ever workshop concert for Spooky Troop. How was that experience?
Stewart St John: Well, it was an absolute thrill. Mainly because of the cast who just embraced these characters from the moment they joined the project. I can’t begin to explain what it’s like to be standing in the middle of your imagination come to life!
Wonkybot.com: Had you met any of them before you arrived in Alabama?
Stewart St John: I had met Allie Jordan Butcher, the young lady who plays the lead Valerie the Vampire. She had been cast in our Tara Tremendous The Musical show at 54 Below in New York. But as far as the rest of the cast, no, no. We had done most of the casting online and over Skype. And the magnitude of it hadn’t hit me until the first rehearsal and the kids started walking into the room and I was like, “wow, there’s Zianna the Zombie, and there’s Willie the Werewolf… and oh, that’s FiFi the Fairy!” It was pretty funny. We were holding the meeting in a church in Anniston, Alabama and there I was meeting all the characters!
Wonkybot.com: When you met the kids, did you notice any similarities between them and their characters?
Stewart St John: You know, it’s funny but yes, I did. Not at first, but as I got to work with them a bit. Jadon Davis who played Stewart (the Sorcerer) was definitely a smiling, positive young man who embodied the characteristics of the character. John Mark, who played Willie the Werewolf, was a bit of a wisecracker, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. Anna Bella Foster walked into the room wearing her fairy costume and I swear she WAS FiFi the Fairy, very regal and princess-like… I turned to Michael (co-composer) and Todd (producer) and just smiled because I knew this was going to be something really special.
Wonkybot.com: What is Spooky Troop all about?
Stewart St John: Well, it’s a story set in a world where monsters and creatures actually exist; it’s a very lived-in world and universe. And the whole nether realm, which I call the Divided Netherworld, has been in a monster race-war for eons. Vampires hate demons who hate witches, and so on. And then you have this small circle of friends — from different monster races — who all get along, they’re the “new generation” and they just don’t get why everyone is fighting.
Wonkybot.com: That sounds socially relevant to things going on today.
Stewart St John: There are definitely themes I’m playing with that are influenced by the real world we live in. As a writer, that interests me. I also think that children are the hope and future of our planet, and that they need to feel safe and inspired and empowered and fed positive messages in what they read and listen to. So in many ways, the “spooky troop” embody those messages and characteristics.
Wonkybot.com: And it all started with an audio adventure series, right?
Stewart St John: It actually started as a book I was writing, and then I got with my music partner Michael Plahuta and we started kicking around the idea of going out with it first as an audio adventure series. An audio series is a movie for the ears. It’s a fully produced show, with actors, music, sound effects… the whole deal. We thought it was an awesome way to get kids to use their imagination as they listened to the story. It was also an opportunity for us to compose a score for the album, as well as write some fun songs.
Wonkybot.com: Who starred in the audio series?
Stewart St John: We had an international cast, actually. We cast them from around the world, all of them over Skype. We had Jacob King in the UK as Stewart, Rebecca King as Delilah, then little Maia from Australia as Valerie the Vampire, and William Abernathy from the US as Willie the Werewolf… once again, it was just lightning in a bottle because the kids were fantastic in the roles. We all had so much fun.
Wonkybot.com: And then came the musical?
Stewart St John: The comic book actually came next. And is currently in production. Again, as a director who wrote a lot of animation for many years, I wanted to explore the characters in a visual setting. There is a really big story to tell with these guys; it’s got some huge mythology behind it. You’ve basically got teenage outcast supernaturals who are going up against a big bad known as the Demon King… perfect for a comic book series, as well as a book series!
Wonkybot.com: What inspired you to take the concert and turn it into a musical?
Stewart St John: Well, we’re a little crazy at Wonkybot, and way ambitious! So when we decided to do the concert for Tara Tremendous in Alabama, I talked to Michael and Todd about the possibility of launching Spooky Troop as a musical pre-show to entertain the kids. The idea was that it would be a short skit of about 15 to 20 minutes. We had already written some songs for the audio book series, so I told Michael we’d just use those for material. Cut to, we start getting into the thing, and I’m writing the script, and I’m getting so excited by the material that I want to expand the mythology, and suddenly I’m writing a bunch of new songs and Michael is loving it and we’re now both sitting down and crafting them into actual musical songs and boom — it’s a 40 minute pre-show! We’re still scratching our heads. And now it’s actually turned into a full show.
Wonkybot.com: How do you and Michael approach the material?
Stewart St John: It’s a very unique approach because Michael and I are both composers. Typically you have one who’s the lyric guy, and the other one is the composer guy. But not with us. We’re both musical, and so we approach the material in an almost metaphysical way. I’ll come up with melodies and ideas and almost simultaneously Michael will expand on that, and then I’m expanding on the expansion, and then it suddenly comes to life in a musical form, and the words to the songs start materializing in my head and next thing you know we have a new song! It’s the wildest experience I’ve ever had… and we try not to explain it because it’s just magical. I used to do all composing and lyric writing on my own, and Michael would compose on his own… but now it’s twice as fast and good because we’re a team.
Wonkybot.com: Who ended up being in the final cast for the musical?
Stewart St John: We had Allie Jordan Butcher, Jadon Davis, John Mark Davis, Kloe Justice, Michael Shealy, Anna Bella Foster, Bryant Whitney and Vivian Smith as the Spooky Troop; and on the adult side we had Keith Owens, Judy Shealy and Jason Wright. Just a great bunch of actors. On top of that we had the delightfully talented Cody Carlton step in as co-director with me, and Molly Page as our Awesome Stage Director, and Brandon Vick as Tech.
Wonkybot.com: In the musical you centered the story around Valerie the Vampire. Was there a reason you went that direction?
Stewart St John: Part of the reason is that we were so enamored with the talented Allie Jordan Butcher who we cast as Valerie that we wanted to write a vehicle to highlight her. We knew she had the acting and singing chops to handle some of the bigger numbers we were writing. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is when you find a singer who actually brings your songs to life the way you hear them in your head. She is a wonderful, talented girl who is destined for huge things. So it only made sense that Valerie would lead the show, and in the comic book and books she’s also that lead type of character, along with Stewart the Sorcerer. As the books progress, each of the Spooky Troop characters get their chance to shine, but in a limited platform like a stage musical you sort of have to focus it a bit more.
Wonkybot.com: I know it was just announced that there will be additional concerts coming?
Stewart St John: That’s the plan. We want to do more concert versions of the show in 2018. The concerts are not the full production; they’re a truncated version highlighting the story and some of the songs from the full show. It’s a way of introducing people to the whole concept and hopefully making them want more. It’s also considered a workshop because I’m still tweaking the story, and Michael and I are seeing what works, what doesn’t, and writing new songs along the way. Overall, the experience of doing the concert in Alabama was truly magical, and I think we have an amazing group of kids in the roles. When they took the stage for the ensemble number “We’re A Little Different”, it brought tears to my eyes.