Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 23, 2012

Recording for Rocket Boys

TWV cast prepares soundtrack for upcoming musical

FAYETTEVILLE — It started as a story about a boy growing up in Coalwood, W.Va., who aspired to be a rocket scientist.

It evolved into a book and finally became a motion picture in 1999.

And now the story about Homer Hickam’s boyhood in a small, humble West Virginia town in the 1950s, where the daily rhythms were dictated by the coal mines, is returning to the Cliffside Amphitheatre in August, as “Rocket Boys, The Musical” gets under way for its second season.

The show begins Aug. 1 and runs through Aug. 16. Tickets are on sale now.

Meanwhile, the cast of Theatre West Virginia, actors, actresses and singers, recorded a CD soundtrack from the musical Friday at Harmony Café located in the School of Harmony in Daniels.

“Rocket Boys, The Musical” was co-authored by Hickam and Carl Anthony “Cat” Tramon, a talented Broadway actor and gifted musician and vocalist, who plays the role of the young Sonny Hickam in the musical.

The composing team of Tramon’s brother Dan Tramon and sister Diana Belkowski wrote the music and lyrics, but it was Cat’s idea to produce the CD soundtrack with TWV.

“These kids are excited,” explained Cindy Worley, TWV representative. “Most of them have really never done this kind of thing before, since TWV has never done a recording of its shows, including ‘Honey in the Rock’ and ‘Hatfields and McCoys’.”

She continued, “Theatre West Virginia is excited and proud to be able to participate in this cast recording. We were delighted to premier this show last summer and to continue to produce it on our stage, and this CD will allow us to share the talent of our cast with a wider audience. People can continue to enjoy this music long after they have left the theater.

“Homer Hickam’s story is a wonderful vision of West Virginia and it is a privilege to share such a proud tale with the rest of the world.”

Still, it was a big job, even for a talented and enthusiastic cast, which performed a medley of songs for the CD on Friday. Tramon performs the theme of the show which is called Coalwood.

“It reflects the environment of Coalwood,” Tramon said. “It’s a sweeping, uplifting song. It allows you to feel the strength of the miners, feel the wide open sky and feel the love that is in Coalwood, a love that all the people there seem to have.”

Tramon lauded his brother Dan and sister Diana who collaborated on the music and the lyrics for the production.

“We were a little nervous until we sent it to Homer who immediately called us and said he loved it,” Tramon recalled of the sibling collaboration effort.

So, what is the greatest challenge in playing Sonny Hickam?

“The challenge is to capture the honesty that’s contained in the book ‘Rocket Boys’,” Tramon said. “I really wanted to capture the authenticity of Homer as a child. The film October Sky is full of such authenticity of how he grew up, but the musical is much more than that; it has humor and high energy of the book; the film is epic and sweeping with its cinematography, but in the musical we try to capture all of the elements that make it such a great book.”

What is the greatest emotional prize that Tramon gets from performing in the musical?

“My greatest reward is helping to portray the people of West Virginia as intelligent and hardworking and loving people. It’s a story about relationships. When people come to see the show, they might expect it to be about rockets, but the real story is about the relationships. That is why I connected with the musical; it’s extremely meaningful; all of the lyrics and the music help us accomplish that.”

What is it about the show that audiences are really going to enjoy?  

“The main thing they are going to appreciate is the roller coaster of emotion. Crying in some parts and laughing in others. I don’t think they fully expect to feel the range of emotions from top to bottom in the performance until they hear the music and see the dancing.”

The audience’s appreciation only makes the cast work that much harder, according to Tramon.

“There wasn’t a single show last summer that audiences didn’t jump out of their seats to give us an ovation, and we are grateful and thankful and appreciative.”

How did Tramon prepare for the role of Sonny Hickam?

“I went to Coalwood numerous times, once with Homer, to inhale the air and look at the sky. That is what inspired Homer to write the book. I spent time with the people who live there, even spent time with some of the characters in the book, spent some wonderful afternoons with them … Some of them didn’t believe that he could achieve his dreams, but he proved those people wrong who didn’t believe him.”

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