Red pill, or blue? For the characters in a new Basement Arts show, this question is moot; they’re not given a choice. Only a placebo.

Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Friday at 11 p.m.
Walgreen Drama Center, Studio One

In the first original production of the Basement Arts season, “Placebo,” a so-called miracle pill is introduced to a modern midwestern American town. The pill is supposed to help the townspeople accomplish their dreams, but being merely a placebo, the pill’s effects are solely in the minds of its users. The perceived effects of the pill drive the dialogue, written by the University’s own Joshua Borths, a junior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, with music created by MT&D senior Danny Abosch.

“It’s a story about dreams and, you know, how far you’re willing to go to get what you dreamed of,” Abosch explained. “It’s also a love story between Robert and Morgan, and the story of how their love is tested by this placebo pill.”

Borths and Abosch began writing the musical a little over a year ago and originally intended to adapt Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” into musical format. Their creative juices came together every Sunday at Starbucks.

“The version we have today is barely recognizable from the version we started out with,” Abosch said. “(We’d) think of some really cool idea that would negate the whole idea we had thought of … but that’s the process — it changes, it grows, it’s a living piece of art.”

Going from paper to the stage, the casting process proved to be a proud moment for the production’s directors.

“It’s one thing to hear the work how you invented it in your head, but to hear real live actors performing your piece, it’s so enlightening,” Abosch said. “They bring so much to the table and you learn so much about a piece.”

With the music director, Abosch had to compose the music to encompass all elements of the play — from its characters to its story to its themes. A nine-piece orchestra will perform the score.

“It takes a long time because you have to set up the musical world of the show. It’s more than just writing the music, it’s telling a story through music,” Abosch explained. “I’ve written one other musical and worked on several other musical projects, but this is by far the most exciting.”

Being a completely original musical, the directors wanted to focus on the story instead of creating an elaborate set design or costumes.

“The audience (has the responsibility) to create the scenery in their mind,” Abosch said. “It basically revolves around one staircase piece that will turn in various ways to reveal the different locations.”

Besides testing the limits that we as people will cross to pursue what we want, the musical also addresses themes of naïvety and testing fate.

“The theme of the placebo, really is … the idea that ignorance is bliss. If you think something is real, it might as well be real,” Abosch explained. “It’s kind of an interesting theme when you think about what would you do if you had a pill that could do anything? Would you even take it? Maybe it’s better to not even mess with that.”

With the scarcity of student-written musicals today, the Basement Arts audience will be treated to a notable experience, according to Abosch.

“The idea of an original musical is rare even on Broadway — everything these days are adaptations from books or movies or plays, and the original musical is something that’s not as often done anymore,” Abosch said. “No one has ever heard this story before, and the idea that we’re able to tell this story through music in its original form, I think is a really cool opportunity.”

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