Welcome to the mind of Amber Frangos.
The local playwright who penned an original work based on a Pulaski County icon, Rose Monroe (a.k.a. Rosie the Riveter) is now trying her hand at something even more ambitious: a musical based on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
"'Jesus Christ Superstar' inspired me to write 'Mary,'" said Frangos, referencing the 1970 Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera. "When I was 15 years old, I fell in love with the musical. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I listened to the album non stop and sang it in its entirety. I can still sing most of the songs.
"The thought occurred to me," she added, "if there can be a musical about Jesus, why can’t there be a musical about Mary?"
That was when Frangos was only 15. A lot of life has happened since then. Originally from Akron, Ohio, Frangos got married to a military man, which meant she “moved around a lot.” There and there, she would take courses at local colleges to “hack away at a Bachelor’s Degree,” and ended up finishing up at Cal State San Bernadino.
Frangos had always dreams of being a playwright, going back to her days in middle school. She had tried submitting a play to Ohio State University early on, and though she wasn’t successful, the fire of her ambition was only stoked.
“I submitted it totally blind — I knew no formatting, I didn’t know any of the business end of it,” said Frangos. “The professor wrote me a very nice note. He encouraged me to keep writing and said I was very creative and had something to say.”
Eventually, life brought Frangos to Somerset, where she became involved in the local arts community. A conversation with Carol Huckelby, who was curious about plays featuring local women, inspired Frangos to write "Rosies: The Women Who Riveted the Nation," which made its world debut at Flashback Theater Co. here in Somerset in May of 2018.
"I dug into the research and discovered that this story was far reaching and needed to be told and it needed to be told in play form. I, also, made a concerted effort to show that the women during WWII their strength was in their numbers," said Frangos. "They worked together. Their driving force was to work to end the war so their loved ones would come home safely."
The reception to "Rosies" was strong; Frangos said it had "great community support." Fans of it are currently getting a look behind the scenes thanks to Flashback Theater Co.'s new Patreon concept for the 2020-21 season (see https://www.patreon.com/fbtheater). Subscribers who contribute a certain amount get to see a variety of online products, including "Rosies" — but in a new and exciting way.
"I broke 'Rosies: The Women Who Riveted the Nation into segments' that will be released
periodically throughout the year. I wrapped the series and sent it to (Flashback) for release," said Frangos. "I’m really excited about it. I also taped my commentary on all of the scenes on what made me do what I did. So each scene has a commentary from me."
This success gave Frangos the opportunity to revisit her old idea for Mary. It's now a true work in progress, titled, "Mary: Her Story." Frangos has enlisted the help of local musician Maria McNeil of McNeil Music Center to help bring the musical to life.
"I am truly blessed to have Maria McNeil collaborating with me," said Frangos. "She is extremely talented and intuitive. I am able to tell her a concept and she will take what I’ve
said and write exactly what I heard in my head, but do not have the tools to write it down."
The musical went through a workshop at Flashback in June of 2019, which resulted in major revisions for Frangos, but it put the work on track to be even more successful.
"I love this new version," said Frangos. "Once again I had to get to the point where I was saying exactly what I wanted to say. That sounds easier than it is for me.
"The original version was written as a reflection to the Jesus narrative," she added. "What began to happen in the workshop was everyone would keep score on what point we were in the Jesus narrative. Mary was getting lost. ... This new version is non-linear. I devised it that way intentionally, because it's harder to keep track of the narrative. I have all the major points of the Jesus narrative, but they do not fall in chronology. The result is an original story that an audience member should take at face value."
The tentative schedule for the world premiere is the spring of 2022. Word has gotten out, however. St. Mildred's Catholic Church in Somerset reached out to Frangos and asked if she could package of the songs for the church's "Reflections" series, as well as teaching material to help further reflection on Mary and her role in the faith.
While Mary is certainly a larger-than-life figure, she's also a very human one — and those are the kinds of subjects Frangos most embraces.
"My favorite stories to write are ones that show the human experience," she said. "I want drama and humor, because to me to live fully both must be experienced. I look for a good story, one that’s not so obvious. ... The 'mano-a-mano (concept) is tired and worn and should be put to rest and does not appeal to me. Building relationships, camaraderie, discovery, the measure of love, surprises, forgiveness, these are the type of issues I enjoy writing about in my plays and hopefully they are ones people want to see."