Graceland Alumnus Darrell Johnston Returns to “the Hill” with an Original Musical

Carol Hall in Graceland's Shaw Center

Actor/musician Darrell Johnston, a 2010 graduate of Graceland University originally from Leon, Iowa, will return to the Graceland Lamoni campus this month to put on an original musical in Carol Hall as well as at the SCIT Theatre in Leon.

The show, called “And a Guitar,” will include a mix of out-of-town professionals and local musicians and will use, according to Johnston, “some of the best music of the 60s and 70s: Paul Simon; Joni Mitchell; Johnny Cash; James Taylor; Crosby, Stills & Nash; and others.” Performances will take place in Leon Jan. 8, 9 and 13, and in Graceland Shaw Center’s Carol Hall Jan. 10, 11 and 12.

Johnston completed a workshop of a new Dolly Parton musical at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota, last month, and after much work in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and South Carolina, felt a draw to do a project in his hometown. “Graceland, Lamoni and Leon have really gone above and beyond to make this a reality,” shared Johnston, “and we can’t wait to get started!” He and his spouse, Kimberly Braun, also an actor/musician, are finishing their Master of Fine Arts degrees from the University of South Carolina.

While centered around a luthier (guitar maker) and his shop, “And a Guitar” touches on small-town conflicts, tight budgets, rumors and family with a comedic perspective. “I tried to think of how I could use these songs in interesting ways,” Johnston said. “For instance, what if the song ‘Sound of Silence,’ which starts off with the lyrics, ‘Hello darkness, my old friend,’ was about coffee?”

What does it mean to workshop a musical? Johnston defined a workshop as “part of the script-writing process in which actors and technicians get together and put the show on its feet.” He continued, “This is the part where we find out if the jokes are funny. We learn what works and doesn't work.”

The show consists of a live band and three actors. Johnston has assembled a team of local musicians and professionals coming from as far as Alaska and Florida, and he still has a few roles to be filled. They’re still looking for a stage manager and people who know lights and sound. If you’re interested in these positions, email Darrell at Darrell.J.Johnston@gmail.com.

The goal of this workshop is to have a finalized script by Jan. 14 in order to pitch it to producers. “We will be looking for audience feedback about the show,” Johnston explained, “so we need people to come and see it and tell us how it can be better!”

This project is sponsored by BTC Bank, Leon Public Library, Graceland University, and many supportive businesses and individuals in Leon and Lamoni.

Johnston and Dolly Parton
Darrell Johnston '10 with Dolly Parton

Show schedule:
SCIT Theatre, Jan. 8, 9 at 7:30 p.m., and Jan. 13 at 2 p.m.
Graceland University, Carol Hall, Jan. 10,11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Shows are free and open to the public.