’Dawn’s Early Light’ exclusive: A sit down with Solomon
Andy Ottone | Monday, February 27, 2023
On Feb. 24, I engaged the creative mind behind the sold-out entirely student-produced musical, ”Dawn’s Early Light.” Solomon Duane (‘24) opened up about the production, his creative process and his influences in the creation of the show. Below are five questions from this interview to allow the creator’s own words to speak for themselves.
Ottone: Thank you for agreeing to this interview! As you know, I saw the show’s opening performance, and it was amazing. The first question I would like to ask is how does it feel to have your work produced on such a large scale in association with the school’s New Works Lab?
Duane: It’s incredibly exciting. I remember watching clips of previous New Work shows as a freshman and thinking that was something I could never do in a million years. But eventually, I started chipping away at ”Dawn’s Early Light” and slowly got to see it grow into what we have today. There’s been so much talented work that has paved the way for this program, and I’m incredibly excited to be contributing to the anthology. I can only hope that someone gets to see ”Dawn’s Early Light” and is equally inspired to take the pen and write.
Ottone: In the musical’s program, you provide a statement regarding the show’s background, including that it’s inspired by your family’s past. If you’re comfortable sharing, are there any specific elements that you feel stand out in the production?
Duane: Creation is beautiful in its imitation of the creator. So much of ”Dawn’s Early Light” is inspired by things I have experienced or people I know or have encountered. The core of the story is based on my grandmother’s experience living through WWII as the daughter of an Italian immigrant. Valentino Zucchiatti is my great-grandfather and the story follows his three children. There are other subplots that are taken from reality: Lucy’s dreams of being a dancer during the war were both inspired by my experience with the arts during COVID as well as my mother’s childhood when she fought unendingly to become a professional dancer in an impoverished environment.
Ottone: The show’s music is just one of its many strengths and the current production features an eight-person band. Who would you say your biggest inspirations were in the process of composing the musical pieces featured in the show?
Duane: Since I fell in love with musical theater four years ago, I’ve essentially only listened to [musicals] but a lot of my musical roots lie in piano-based classic rock: Billy Joel, Elton John and Queen. In terms of musical theater, Dave Malloy’s style has definitely had an influence on me. More traditionally, I’m a big fan of the Golden Age of musicals like Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe. Those guys perfectly crafted their plot structures while still finding brilliant ways to defy expectations. I think “Fiddler on the Roof” was one of the biggest influences on ”Dawn’s Early Light” as a whole: the plot, the music and the core themes were super relevant. Also, I definitely have to throw Andrew Lloyd Webber in there. His use of motifs and melodic lines was very inspirational. “Phantom of the Opera” was my first musical love. There are so many others, but that’s just a few.
Ottone: What are your plans after the current production wraps up? Are you planning to revise or add to the show further or are there new projects that you have your mind set on developing for the future?
Duane: Both. I’m not done with ”Dawn’s Early Light” by any means. Viewing [the performance] with a live audience has given me the amazing opportunity to get a wide variety of opinions and perspectives on the piece. So, I want to keep refining it as I move forward. I have a few other projects lined up. I actually received a grant from the University to travel to Vienna, Austria this spring break. I will be studying the life and work of Beethoven whose late life has always sparked my interest. I definitely look forward to having the opportunity to juggle a few projects. I’ve been into 1940s Buffalo, New York for a while.
Ottone: Once again, I’d like to thank you for your time in answering these questions. One last question: If there is anything that you would like your audience and those reading at home to take away from the show or this interview, what would it be?
Duane: There were so many times through the process of developing ”Dawn’s Early Light” that I was incredibly discouraged. I would be watching another polished musical with envy, workshopping a difficult scene, or just trying to write a tricky lyric. It’s so easy to sit in the Philbin Studio Theater and see just the surface of what the last three years have been. So many times in the process, I wanted ”Dawn’s Early Light” to look like what it does today, but art will never be the final result right off the bat. That’s the beauty of developing work. I’m glad I couldn’t write ”Dawn’s Early Light” in a day because I’m a totally different person now than I was in March 2020 when I started writing the show. The process of writing a musical or any piece of art this momentous relies only partially on ability or talent. Ultimately, a majority of the success relies on determination, ambition and the willpower to push through the difficulties of writing. Without that, the most talented writer or brilliant composer wouldn’t accomplish anything. At several points in the process, I didn’t think I was good enough to do it. But I did it, and sometimes that’s good enough.
”Dawn’s Early Light,” a new original musical written and composed by Solomon Duane (’24), has sold out its two-week run at DeBartolo’s Performing Arts Center. The production features performances by students with a musical theatre minor. Additionally, Sean Ford (’23) served as music supervisor with assistance from Emily Kane (’23) to help Duane with composing the music.