Words parents speak to each other in front of their children sometimes don't go unheard. Elizabeth Milam, playwright and drama teacher at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, was inspired to write the musical "Eye of the Storm" by the words her father spoke to her mother.
“The play was inspired by the love [my parents] had,” said Milam, a Fairfax Station resident. The production is based on her parent's life together, their generation, and the love they gave to their children.
"Eye of the Storm" begins on Dec. 6, 1941, at the beginning of World War II. The musical is well-timed since 2005 marks the 60th anniversary of the end of that war, Milam said.
“It’s about two brothers, the Riley brothers, and their dreams before the war and how the war alters those dreams,” said Milam. The love story between the characters Paul Riley and Maggie represents Milam’s parents' relationship.
"I can't wait to meet the real [Maggie]," said Christie Blewett of Milam's mother who will be in the audience. "It's great music, exciting and intense," said Blewett who plays Maggie in the musical. Blewett said Milam recruited her for the play, having met Milam while directing "The Music Man" for Bishop O'Connell.
"The songs were mainly inspired by lines my father said to my mother," said Milam. The song "An Hour Ago," sung by Blewett, is the one most cherished by Milam in this play. It illustrates how fast life passes by, she said. The song's title was inspired from words Milam’s father spoke on his deathbed.
"My father, as he was dying, said to my mother, 'Didn't we fall in love an hour ago,' said Milam.
Her father's death also inspired Milam to write the song "Falling in Love," which then led her to write more songs and develop a story, which became "Eye of the Storm."
"I put [my father's] picture on the piano and I heard his voice in my head say 'write this down and give it to your mother.' The words came so fast ... it was done in 10 minutes," said Milam of "Falling in Love."
“Writing the musical was more challenging [than writing a play], but more rewarding in the end,” said Milam, who intends to write more musicals.
One of those challenges was the fact that Milam only plays the piano by ear, she is unable to read music and score the songs herself. For "Eye of the Storm," she relied on friends to help arrange the music.
RECENTLY, MILAM tried to learn how to read music by taking piano lessons. She found that she couldn’t play according to the notes and quit after four months. “I realized that my music teacher could play Chopin beautifully, but couldn’t create [music],” said Milam, who doesn't regret not being able to read music because she can create it. “There are always songs in my head. It’s a true gift from God,” she said.
“It’s the fulfillment of my dream,” said Milam, of her first performed production. She plans to present more of her plays through her production company New Acts, which she formed with friend Lore Roddy when she couldn’t find a playhouse to take a chance with "Eye of the Storm." They developed New Acts specifically to perform new and under-performed plays,
Among the challenges that Milam faced as executive producer was getting costumes and props, constructing sets, coordinating schedules and keeping people happy. Things are coming together now, and the company held rehearsal on Labor Day in preparation for opening night. "I can't wait to see the faces of my family because I know they'll understand," said Milam, who has family coming in from Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Local actress Julie Wolf, who graduated from Lake Braddock and lives in Burke, was cast in the supporting role of Angie. “I wish I had more time with [Angie], she’s a very interesting character,” said Wolf.
After the show, Milam intends to focus on her students. "My goals are to direct 'The Three Musketeers' in November for my students, the [school] musical in the spring, and produce another of my plays in the summer," said Milam.