The story of the casting of Jonah goes back a ways. A long ways.
After our first Liken, which we shot in 2003, we decided that we would try to make another. Try to build some momentum. We liked the story of Ammon, a faithful, courageous missionary perhaps most noted for his disarming approach. On a lark, we thought we should at least try to climb the Donny Osmond tree. We figured the worst he could say was no.
He said no.
But he suggested his nephew, David, might be a good candidate. David had understudied Donny as Joseph in “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” then later took over the role. Turns out David was working on another project at the time and wouldn’t be available. We determined to stay in touch. (But when one door closes, a window opens. That window was called T.J. Young, a terrific talent and good guy who not only starred as our Ammon in 2004, but also as our Samuel in 2006.)
Next time I saw David was a few years later, when he was doing a stage show in Salt Lake City. Terrific voice — I mean off the charts terrific — and a great on-stage presence. Not too long after that, we met in our studio. By then, he had been battling West Nile virus for some time, and it had taken its toll. He needed a cane to walk and had lost a lot of weight. I’m not sure if I would have recognized him if I passed him on the street. Eventually, the virus would trigger his MS. But even in the grip of the condition, the guy had just this positive outlook on how yes, it was a struggle, but it was also an amazing blessing in his life.
Another year or two go by, and we were trying to cast someone to play Jonah for our read-throughs. We contacted David, but he was unavailable. The first time because he was in this television show called “American Idol,” and was a bit busy with that and all that entails. The second read-through he was again unavailable because apparently he belongs to some show business family that was having a conflicting gig in Las Vegas that weekend.
Flash forward a few months, and we were ready to start casting for the stage and movie version of “Jonah.” Ken and I met with David and Sam, his manager, at a deli at Thanksgiving Point one afternoon. We discussed the project over sandwiches, gave him a copy of the script and the music. We talked about how we admired how he used his talents to do good things. And how we hoped this story of “Jonah” fit within that “good things” model. We talked about David’s health. He looked good, he was keeping busy, and keeping fit. He had also recently finished another stint as Joseph in Pittsburgh. The guy is a trouper. He agreed to go through the material and we’d talk again in a few days.
Just as we were wrapping up, we heard a woman’s voice the next table over call out, “Someone please call 9-1-1!” We looked over and saw she was propping up an elderly woman who was unconscious. Immediately, a bunch of patrons in the restaurant whip out their cell phones and dial. But first one through is David, who immediately passes his connected cell phone over to the woman’s companion so that she can communicate her mother’s condition to the emergency operator. David stays with her until the medical help arrives, even though I know this is making him late to his next gig. This may not have to do much with the story of casting David as Jonah. But in a small way, I think it does. It told me just a little more about the kind of guy David is. A good heart. And a quick draw.
A few days later, we work out the arrangements and are able to announce that David will be our Jonah. Feb. 5-15, 2010 at the SCERA Center for the Arts in Orem, Utah. (Get your tix here.) Looking forward to working with him.