February 23, 2024

In the shadows of history’s thundering symphony, where echoes of war and whispers of love converge, emerges “Dietrich & Maria,” an original musical at California Baptist University by David Goodman and CBU Professor Dr. Glenn A. Pickett. 

The production includes a live orchestra and will have its world premiere at the Wallace Theater on Nov. 17, running through Nov. 19.

Goodman and Pickett wrote this original work with the help of Stefan Miller, stage director and adjunct professor of voice and musical theater.

“I was approached by Professor Lee Lyons about a year and a half ago. He asked me if I’d be interested in helping develop and work with the creative team,” Miller said, “The writers, Dr. [Glenn] Pickett and Dr. David Goodman, [I helped them] edit and reconfigure this story to be ready for the stage. They originally did a staged reading in August of 2021.”

The making of this musical has been a long time coming and will finally take the stage. Navigating the challenges of development, the team poured into refining and reshaping the narrative to mold it into the captivating masterpiece that stands today.

“We’ve gone through about four different iterations of the show to what we have today. So it’s been an arduous process, developing it, putting it together, but it’s been quite an enjoyable experience,” Miller said.

Despite the excitement around the production, the story itself has a deeper message.

“The musical is around the life or the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was anti-Nazi during World War II,” Miller said. “He told the story of him being a theologian scholar and pacifist, becoming an anti-Nazi and being convicted by God to help conspire to kill Hitler. That’s the center of the story. But the other part of the story that it’s centered around is the love story between Bonhoeffer and Maria. And their love story is a little interesting in the fact that they got engaged over letters.”

In this journey of creation, the team becomes pioneers, charting a course guided solely by their creative compass. 

“I think the coolest part of this whole process is just getting to do a work that we’re getting to start from scratch,” said Brianne Jackson, senior theater major. “Nobody’s done it before. So we don’t have to look up how someone else has done it and see what we liked. We’re creating it out of nothing.”

Jackson is playing the character named Gretel and is also a part of the Abyssinian choir. 

“It’s really cool to be able to play two parts that have insight into different aspects of the story,” Jackson said.  

With the story being as heartfelt as it is, building characters and getting into character was heavy for the actors. For Jackson, she learned even more than what she already knew about World War II and just how real the situation was.

“My main research has been looking up the Holocaust and big historical moments at that time and reminding myself that this was real,” Jackson said. “It’s very real.”

For Jackson, this is her last show before she graduates in December. She mentioned that despite joining the rehearsals later on due to also being a part of the play “Frankenstein,” she still felt welcomed and included by the whole team.

“Everybody just loves to encourage each other and just check up on each other because the characters we’re playing are really hard,” Jackson said. 

Playing the lead in his very first production is Drake Lyons, freshman vocal performance major. Lyons is playing one of the leading roles as Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

“There’s a lot to say. He is an incredible Christian role model, and a great person to look up to, whether you’re a person of faith or not,” Lyons said. “He was a great thinker. He challenged the popular belief at the time.”

As the curtain rises on this story, the echoes of admiration and the cautionary notes form a harmonious prelude that gives way to an emotional journey.

“We obviously explore a lot of dark themes. But it’s definitely not for the faint of heart,” Lyons said. “And I really think that it’s important to tell the story because throughout the show we see a lot of Dietrich’s trust went to God, because he was a man of faith. And I think a great takeaway is just trusting God.”

This production fearlessly confronts the complexities of its darker themes. It’s an invitation for the audience to brace themselves for a journey that confronts the grittier aspects of life, provoking thoughtfulness, emotion and reflection.

For the actors, the weight of portraying real people adds a layer of complexity to their craft that transcends the usual challenges of the stage.

“Because these are people who were real, they were alive. And they actually did these things. And we are portraying that in the show. And so, of course, that is really difficult to portray,” Lyons said. 

Against the backdrop of harrowing events, this production serves as a testament to the power of storytelling amid the darkest chapters of our collective past. The need for the story to be told is a motivating factor for the actors who have taken on characters within a complicated past.

“We are shining light on a good story, surrounded by really awful happenings,” Lyons said. “I think everyone realizes this is really important, because this is a story that needs to be told.”

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