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Trio’s play brings new sound uptown
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Dr. Tom Berry (from left), Dr. Will Zimmer and Scott Derks talk about “Petey and the Big Dog,” the musical the three co-wrote, which opens July 18 at TheatreWorks Community Players black box theater in uptown Martinsville. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Rodgers and Hammerstein. Gilbert and Sullivan. And now, Berry, Derks and Zimmer.

“Petey and the Big Dog,” a new musical by Tom Berry, Scott Derks and Will Zimmer, will open Thursday, July 18, at TheatreWorks Community Players’ black box theater at 44 Franklin St. in uptown Martinsville.

Berry, Derks and Zimmer also will attend a “meet the authors” event from 5:30-7 p.m. Friday at the black box theater. The event is free and open to the public.

While the trio are reluctant to divulge many details about the musical comedy’s plot, Berry described it as a “fractured fairy tale,” while Zimmer said it was a “roundabout Romeo and Juliet.”

Zimmer added that if the play were a movie, it would probably be rated PG-13.

“There’s nothing you’re not going to see on network television any night of the week,” Berry said.

“By the same token, we wouldn’t declare it to be a family play,” Derks said. “It’s not a kid’s show.”

Although the three only started collaborating fairly recently, Zimmer said he has known Berry since moving to Martinsville in 1989.

“We’ve been in bands together and we wrote music together,” he said. “We’re colleagues as well; he’s a retired surgeon and I’m an internal medicine doc, so we knew each other professionally as well as through our music.”

Zimmer and Berry later came to know Derks through Christ Episcopal Church, where Derks’ wife Ellen formerly was the minister.

Derks, who is the author of several books, “wrote his own play to put on just for his wife on the 15th anniversary of their first date,” Zimmer said. “I played him, and my wife Cari played his wife Ellen. We took some existing songs and made up new lyrics to them.”

The three learned a lesson in working together when they started a group at the church called Education for Ministry, or EFM, which Berry described as “theology for laypeople.”

“We learned how to argue and learned how to listen and learned how to be friends,” Derks said.

“We really do think that helped us work together better,” Zimmer said, “because you get to know people pretty well in that class.”

Roughly two and a half years ago, Derks said, he and Zimmer were driving to an antiques auction in Danville when Zimmer mentioned he’d been talking to Berry about collaborating on a play. During the drive, Derks and Zimmer began discussing possible plotlines.

“The plot got more convoluted as we were driving,” Zimmer said. “At the end I said, ‘Maybe you should be a part of this play.’ We kind of argue about who decided that we were going to write a musical.”

“When in doubt,” Derks joked, “we blame Tom.”

The three have an easy rapport when they discuss the play, frequently cracking jokes at each other’s expense in between moments of genuine praise.

By the time they sat down to put pen to paper, Derks said, “we’d established a fairly clear pattern. We’d get together at my house. We’d all discuss the concept, what was the next scene going to be about, and I’d take a shot at it and I’d create what Will calls a ‘word salad.’”

The word salad, he explained, was a mix of concepts, words, lyrics and lines that he thought would work in the play. Berry and Zimmer would tinker with the lines, pick favorites and incorporate them into the songs or dialogue. After that, all three would review the new section and continue adding to it and modifying it.

“The music writing varied a lot,” Berry said. “Some of the songs are almost all Will’s musically, but the lyrics are all collaborations. Some of them are mostly mine, and there are some of them we just sat down together and wrote.”

All three agree that the writing process was a true collaboration, with everybody contributing their own part.

“When we got done with it, we said, ‘Could any of us have written this by ourselves?’” Derks said. “The answer was no. It literally took all three of us, our combined talents, interests, enthusiasm and energy to make it happen.”

The talent of the cast also has been a vital part of the equation.

“When you see them perform it on stage,” Zimmer said, “what you’ve written and what you’ve worked hard on, and you see some of the things that they do that you didn’t even think of ... it takes it to a whole new level.”

“It’s a very good cast,” Berry agreed. “Everybody’s bringing it. They’re adding things to the characters, and the energy at the rehearsals has been very invigorating.”

A lot of credit goes to the stage manager, Charlene Hewitt, whom Berry said had been “invaluable.”

Derks said that Hewitt “set a pattern very early on of what was going to be done, when it was going to be done, and set very high expectations, and as a result, we’ve had very high performance” from the cast.

The cast features a mix of TheatreWorks regulars and newcomers, including Jim Woods, Rebecca Moore, Heather Shivley, Wes George, Nash Tetterton, Brittney Palmer, Eliza Walmsley, Max Hall, Brian Williams, Jonathon Reynolds, Scott Reynolds, Alli Mitchell and Emily Lewis. TheatreWorks artistic director Corbin Campbell was in charge of set design, and Berry is directing.

Zimmer said that Berry, Derks and himself have already begun collaborating on their second play.

“Scott’s now sending us sets of lyrics, not just phrases,” Berry said. “They still don’t scan, but the rhyming is a little bit more than you would expect by random chance.”

“That tells you one of two things: either I got better, or the standards went down,” Derks joked.

“Petey and the Big Dog” opens at 7 p.m. July 18 at the black box theater.

It will run through Sunday, July 21, with shows at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at


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