Seven years in the making, ‘The Bus Stop Atheist’ set to roll

What: “The Bus Stop Atheist,” a two-act musical created by composer and playwright, Alan Bean of Harrison. The cast includes ages 7 to 68. The play is not heavy on dialogue, minimal compared to the music. Run time: 2½ hours; 10-minute intermission. When: Friday-Saturday, Sept. 19–20 at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 21 at 2 p.m. Where: Merrill Auditorium in Portland Tickets: $33, $43, $53. PortTix.com or 842-0800. All profits will be donated to a charity that supplies clean water filtration systems to children and their families in impoverished countries Website: www.TheBusStopAtheist.com

What: “The Bus Stop Atheist,” a two-act musical created by composer and playwright, Alan Bean of Harrison. The cast includes ages 7 to 68. The play is not heavy on dialogue, minimal compared to the music. Run time: 2½ hours; 10-minute intermission.
When: Friday-Saturday, Sept. 19–20 at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 21 at 2 p.m.
Where: Merrill Auditorium in Portland
Tickets: $33, $43, $53. PortTix.com or 842-0800. All profits will be donated to a charity that supplies clean water filtration systems to children and their families in impoverished countries
Website: www.TheBusStopAtheist.com

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

HARRISON — Alan Bean has always been bothered by people who want to take matters of faith and make it “as dry as dirt, stodgy and unappealing.”

“There is no reason that you can’t have a wonderful heart and still present entertainment,” the composer turned playwright said as he sat inside his recording studio — Baked Beans — in Harrison.

Next week, a seven-year project will unfold on the Merrill Auditorium stage in Portland as Bean and a cast of 48 present, “The Bus Stop Atheist.”

The two-act musical is the story of a 20-year-old college student named “Pilgrim,” who explains life through science and math.

“Pilgrim is completely divorced from all things spiritual,” Bean said.

One day, he goes to the bus stop to go to college when he starts to run into some very unusual characters.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but there are some crazy people, some very interesting people, some brilliant people and some people who may not be people at all — angelic people disguised as humans,” Bean said. “This kid gets his life turned inside and out.”

The tale that follows is told through every musical style imaginable — from Hip Hop to Rock to Country to Blues — carrying the audience along with the lead character through the entire gamut of emotions.

“There isn’t a lot of dialogue in this musical,” Bean said. “This play is going to be inspiring yet entertaining. It’s completely G-rated, 100% family-oriented. My hope is that while it makes you laugh at times, that will ultimately touch one’s heart.”

The musical includes 28 songs in the first act, followed by 17 selections in the closing chapter. The original soundtrack was created in 2012, and includes the voices of several musicians including Brad Hooper, Jonathan Sarty, Walt Bannon, Gola Wolf Richards, Dr. Lonnie Lauer, Pastor Tim McKellick, Rusty Wiltjer, Mike Granitsas, Sarah Montalvo-Kopoulos, Jim Sakofsky, Lisa Gallant-Seal, Dr. Brook Sulloway, Joyce Andersen, Ed Gabrielsen and Britta Anderson.

Local performers include co-dance captains Hannah Ranco and Katelyn Sullivan of Bridgton, singer/actors Sue and Madison Proctor of Harrison and Carlos Olmeda of Harrison and co-choreographer Carmel Collins of Bridgton.

Music has always been a big part of Alan Bean’s life.

“When I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, I knew right then that my dad wasn’t going to give me a buzz cut again. It was time to grow my hair and play guitar. That was in 1964,” he said. “I had bands in junior high and high school. I tried my hand at college right after high school, but quickly left. I had some great offers to play in some gigs on the road, so I followed those opportunities.”

Composer and playwright Alan Bean of Harrison

Composer and playwright Alan Bean of Harrison

For 10 straight years, Alan was a traveling musician. He logged over a million miles and “did quite well.”

“One band I was with, we had the same booking agent as Molly Hatchet. We toured mostly in the South and the eastern seaboard. A little in the Midwest. I give the analogy of Triple A. We played on the big league stage a couple of times as an opening act for Hatchet and Lynrd Skynyrd, but never quite made it to the big time,” he recalled. “By the time I hit 30, I was tired of the life, living out of hotel rooms and traveling all those miles. I quit, not really knowing what I was going to do.”

When Alan was broke, he got a job at a local hospital as an orderly. He fell in love with the environment and decided to try his hand at college, once again.

“At the age of 30, I went back to school. I studied and became a doctor,” he said. “I always knew that I would get back to music, sometime. It’s who I am.”

Composer and playwright would eventually collide.

In his youth, “Jesus Christ Superstar” had a “really big impact” on Alan.

“I was raised going to Catholic Church every Sunday. But, I went through all the typical teenage mixed feelings about religion. When “Jesus Christ Superstar” came out — if you listen to it from front to back carefully, you really can’t tell what they are trying to say. It was a big mistake, in my opinion, when they wrote that play,” he said. “You couldn’t tell if they were worshipping or criticizing Jesus. I was puzzled.”

Twenty years ago, Alan became a Christian. He felt it was time that the 21st century needed a musical that involved faith.

“I had lots of ideas running along inside my head, before I got put to the test,” he said.

Pastor Ed Boon of the Bridgton Alliance Church knew Alan wrote a lot of music. About six weeks before Easter one year, Pastor Boon challenged Alan to write a program.

“I thought he was crazy — compose, gather some people together, practice and perform it in six weeks? I didn’t sleep much over those six weeks. I put together about a 20-minute program. I thought it was pretty good,” he said.

Like most churches on Easter, the building was full.

“When we got to the end of the program, I was conducting with my back to the audience. The place erupted in applause. It sent chills up my back. A standing ovation for three to four minutes. People asked what I was going to do with it after. I wasn’t sure, but felt I had some unfinished business,” Alan said.

That was the start of Alan’s transition from musician and composer to playwright.

From that point, Alan started composing several songs and instrumental pieces.

“Music was the easy part. Creating a story proved to be the major challenge. Lyrics and composition of words is not my natural forte. It dawned on me one day that to tell a good story, you tell a story you know best,” he said. “So, this play is not a biography, but is loosely based on a character who might have been like me in my youth.”

The search for someone to play the lead character, Pilgrim, was arduous, to say the least.

“Finding someone who could pull this off yet also had the characteristics that I had envisioned in my head, was very difficult. I can’t tell you how many people failed the test,” Alan said. “The right voice, not the right personality. The right personality, but not the right voice.”

Eventually, all the key pieces started to fall into place. He found his director and lead character in the same place — his medical office — both were patients.

“We got talking and the question of ‘What do you like to do’ in their spare time came up. One was a director. The other was a singer with lots of experience. That was the beginning,” Alan said.

The director read the play and loved it. He put together his own team — members from seven other theater companies.

“I had no idea if any of this would ever see the light of the stage. Getting noticed in the entertainment industry is very, very hard. I learned that in my youth. What I decided to do was that even if no one picked up the play, I would at least record a high-quality track of the songs I created,” he said.

Having operated a sound studio for many years (it will be 20 this October), Alan had crossed paths with a wide variety of talented musicians. So when he wrote a song with a specific character in mind, he knew exactly whose voice would perfectly fit the role.

“I bribed them. I wrote a piece before I met Brad Hooper. It was one piece that I didn’t know who was going to sing it. Out of the blue, Brad came in to record and, like a lot of the singers on the soundtrack, I traded studio time for them singing a song. It worked out great,” he said.

Over five years writing the script, Alan never hit writer’s block.

“All I have to do to write music is drive down the road for an hour, not turn the radio on, and I hear songs in my head. I always carry a hand-held digital recorder and I record my ideas. Half the songs were written that way. I hear the drums, bass, the rhythm,” he said. “I recognize I do have gifts, but I also recognize I am not a great singer. So, I surround myself with great singers.”

He also leaned on his wife, Kim, who is a pianist. She transcribed the music — black dots — for Alan.

“I’m not fluent. She reads music like you and I read English,” he said. “When people ask me what I like for music, I tell them I like all music that is done well. So, this play runs the full gamut of musical styles from Hip Hop to Blues to Hard Rock to Country to Classical to typical Broadway show stuff. I wanted this to be appealing to all, and not have people walk away from the play feeling there wasn’t anything there for them.”

As a “novice” playwright, Alan knew he might make a few mistakes, but he also felt his unconventional approach would also be a benefit.

“I’ve loved musical theatre all my life, but never have been an actor since elementary school. When I finished this project and brought it to the director, he told me I couldn’t do this or that because that isn’t the way it is done in theater. I thought that was good. I didn’t want it to be predictable,” he said. “Being a novice, it was both a detriment and a huge plus. I didn’t come into this with preconceived notions. I’ve broken some serious rules in this play. Over time, the director understands now.”

Some people who have listened to the soundtrack feel “The Bus Stop Atheist” will be a major hit.

“When some people listen to the soundtrack, they tell me that I am going to become famous. I don’t want to be famous. I like living on a dead-end road in Harrison. I am not doing it for the money. I am very comfortable. I am semi-retired as a doctor,” he said. “I like my current life.”

Alan plans to donate all proceeds to a wonderful cause.

“As a team we went round and round as to where to give the profits. Being a physician, the number one problem children face is unclean water — the number three killer of children on the planet. So, all of the money will go to one of the top three charities in the world not wasting donations in administration costs — Compassion International, headquartered in Colorado,” he said. “Buy two tickets to this show, you will have purchased a water filtration system that will provide clean water to a family for a lifetime. That’s how easy it is.”

A filtration system will be on display at the show, and attendees will get a chance to see it convert muddy water into a drinkable substance.

In the Merrill Auditorium lobby, soundtrack CDs and t-shirts will also be available to purchase.

“It’s been an incredible adventure — unlike anything I have ever done. Scary at times. Harder than when I worked my way through medical school,” Alan said.

How will Alan determine if musical is a success, at least in his own mind?

“I’ll be watching the crowds’ reaction. If I look out during a couple of these songs, which are really powerful, and see people crying, I know it is a success. I’ve done what I was supposed to do — touch people’s lives,” he said. “I know there will be some laughs, but the most important thing for me is to see the play touch people’s hearts. It’s not an intellectual or financial pursuit. Music is a powerful medium. It had a lot to do drawing me to faith. It made me think and explore.”

At one time, Alan Bean was petrified as to what he had sunk seven years of his life into. Now, he eagerly waits to see what others think of his original musical.

“I’m not scared anymore. I was terrified for a long time that we could pull it off. Not anymore. I am eager to see it unfold before my eyes,” he said.

 

 

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