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Dayna Manning Interviews Playwright about New Richard Manuel Musical

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A new Canadian musical, “Manuel,” about the late Richard Manuel, composer, multi-instrumentalist and lead singer of The Band, debuts in London, Tuesday, April 26.

Manuel was born in Stratford, where, in his youth, he sang in the church choir.

Stratford is home to many musicians, including the legendary guitarist John Till, who along with Manuel, founded The Revols. Till would later play with Janis Joplin in her Full Tillt Boogie Band.

Stratford based singer, songwriter Dayna Manning, who performs as part of the trio Trent Severn, recently recorded a song about Richard Manuel, “King of the Background.”

So I asked Manning to interview Glenn William Grainger, the playwright who has chronicled the clash between the harsh external road of the musician’s life and Manuel’s profound inner longing for peace and acceptance.

“Manuel” is Grainger’s first full-length play.
Manuel, the musical, john pacheco + Glenn grainger
John Pacheco and Glenn William Grainger

The play is a musical tale told from the point of view of Manuel’s last remaining brother Al, who reflects back on thirty key years in his brother’s turbulent and incredible life.

Al Manuel was a teacher at Grainger’s Elmira middle school, so Grainger often heard about the legendary musician. Grainger never forgot the March day in 1986 when word of Richard Manuel’s death shocked the school.

Dayna Manning’s Questions for Glenn William Grainger

What specifically attracted you to Richard Manuel as the subject of your play?

Richard was pure genius and an interesting combination of contrasts.

He was the life of the party, but he could be shy and introverted. He had unbelievable talent, but he didn’t carry himself like he did, at times questioning that talent.

He was considerate and generous, but he could be confronting and fiery. He was an inspirational figure for the subject of this play.

What traits do you have in common with Richard Manuel?

I have such high regard for Richard’s talent and it would be ridiculous of me to think that I possess any amount of his creative genius. I think I can relate to Richard’s ability to live in the moment and to reflect on the experience.
Richard manuel, Manuel the musical

Richard Manuel, 1974

How emotional was the process of creating this play for you?

On a scale of 1 to 10, a 15.

I tried to use the emotion to get through the road blocks and there were many…both internal and external.

Here’s some good advice for artists: find subject matter that you’re truly engaged with because if it’s worth creating there will be barriers. But the passion can carry you through.

Have you received input/advice from Richards family?

I have and each of them have been fantastic. I’m humbled and I’m honoured to have their involvement.

Explain the process and struggles of bringing the play from final script to the stage. How long did this take?

I started the project in 2009.

I traveled out to Vancouver Island on two occasions to stay with Al and Pat Manuel for several days. Later we spent time together in Ontario when they visited their daughter Lisa.

There have been many e-mails, phone calls and interviews with others who knew Richard well.

To present, there have been 8 drafts and four read throughs of the script. There have been severe periods of doubt in the casting and mounting of the play. How do you find someone who approximates the brilliance of Richard Manuel?

Finding Stephen Ingram, who plays Richard, was the game changer.

Stephen Ingram, Brandon McHugh, manuel, the musical,

Stephen Ingram and Brandon McHugh

What’s your favourite Manual Song?

“Whispering Pines.”

Such a beautiful melody coupled with haunting lyrics. When Richard sings that song you feel like you’re getting a glimpse into his heart and soul.

What is your favourite “The Band” song?

Tough one.

There’s about 20 songs (or more) in the running, but let’s call it a tie.

1a) “It Makes No Difference,” a beautiful tune about a guy’s heart getting blown wide open by love. And it will never be repaired. Rick Danko knocks that vocal out of the stratosphere.

1b) “Chest Fever,” Richard could rock! Hearing his vocals on top of this wall shaking track gets me turning the volume to 12 every time.

Details, Details
“Manuel” is Directed by John Pacheco.
Terry Danko, brother of The Band’s Rick Danko, is a musical consultant to the production.
April 26-30 – 8pm
Sat. April 30, Sun. May 1 – 2pm
The Paul Davenport Theatre, London, Ontario
Patrons are invited to arrive 60 minutes early to hear the band Driftwood play music from The Band’s repertoire.
For tickets and more Visit Pacheco Theatre

Don’t miss my podcast with Dayna Manning where she discusses working with Tom Petty’s Grammy award winning music producer Jim Scott and her work as an activist.
Click here to listen on iTunes
Click here to listen on the Web.
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