Written by Tanya Terry
Book writer and lyricist Gordon Leary was 14 when the 1996 U.S. Olympics were happening. Since he was the same age as some of the younger gymnasts, he found it was amazing to see people his age competing.
Leary told the Courier recently that in 1996 he was also just starting to think about writing musicals, and “The Magnificent Seven” was one of the first ideas he had for a musical!
In 2016, Leary, along with Julia Meinwald, who wrote all the music, finally began writing about the story of 1996 gold medal-winning U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team.
Fast forward to the year 2023 and “The Magnificent Seven” is showing from March 31 – April 16, 2023 at the FIM Elgood Theatre, in Flint!
“We love to explore stories about communities of women, about growing up, about the search for identity and the search for our character’s places in the world,” Leary said.
He believes the story of the characters and their high stakes in the competition is one that resonates with many.
Leary described the musical as an “ensemble show” in which each of the seven gymnasts is highlighted.
“We see each of them compete through song and also trying to explore the things they are up against and the things they are wanting out of being an elite athlete,” Leary added.
“One of the goals of the show is to really dig into the emotional life of the gymnasts,” said Meinwald. “We’ve seen them do these amazing physical feats, and we hope that the songs let you channel into their heads and into their hearts-and see, and feel and experience the emotions they might be having. I think music is a really effective way to do that.”
According to Meinwald, one song, called “Middle of the Moment,” attempts to tap into a pure, unadulterated joy Dominique Dawes had in doing a sport she has worked hard at and is very good at. Another song,” Always, Almost” taps into Kerri Strug’s frustration of working hard, being good but having a certain type of recognition out of reach. There are also songs of sadness, such as “The Girl Who Fell,” which is about when Jaycie Phelps fell off the balance beam.
“That’s balanced by, in the second day of competition, the song about the true joy of friendship with her teammate Amanda Bordan,” added Leary.
Duane Lee Holland Jr. choreographs the production. He was able to bring in elements of what was going on in the ‘90s.
“1996 was the end of The Golden Era of hip hop,” Holland pointed out. “So, I’m bringing that aspect into the performance, as well as stylizing certain aspects of ‘Showgirl,’ as far as ‘Chorus Line,’ Broadway feel, but really a mixture of who I am as an artist, being I am of the original company that brought street dance to concert dance, and also being an original member of the Broadway show ‘Lion King.”’
Holland participated in the Junior Pan American Games with Dominique Dawes, as well as other events. He called Dawes “a beacon of light for people of color in the sport.” He said being part of the production “The Magnificent Seven” offers him closure as a Black athlete in a predominantly white sport.
Holland also pointed out the actresses in “The Magnificent Seven” are portraying real human beings going through life experiences and the first multicultural team able to create this historical event.