It’s a universal story of dreams and determination; a story that began in a West Virginia coal town and ended up in Hollywood. And now it returns to the state where it was born, as “Rocket Boys the Musical” is back for a third season at Theatre West Virginia. The show runs Aug. 15 through Aug. 25, excluding Monday, and discounts are being offered for students and school personnel, as well as repeat theater goers.
West Virginia native son Homer Hickam first told the autobiographical tale in his book “Rocket Boys,” which was later turned into Universal Pictures’ popular movie “October Sky.” The musical came through a collaboration between Hickam, and Carl Anthony (CAT) Tramon, who joined forces to write the play’s book, and the award-winning composing team of Diana Belkowski and Dan Tramon. “Rocket Boys the Musical” had its world premiere at TWV in August 2011 and played to packed houses and rave reviews.
“The story of the Rocket Boys likely will live on in the hearts and minds of Americans as long as there are people on the planet…It’s a story that makes all West Virginians proud…the music is sure to inspire kids everywhere.” So wrote The Beckley Register-Herald’s John Blankenship in his review of the production upon its return to TWV last year.
And this year, in an effort to make the story more accessible to students and educators, TWV is offering a special discount to those in the school system. Tickets will be available for half price for any performance of “Rocket Boys the Musical” for all Raleigh County teachers, students, or school personnel. In addition, as a way of saying “Thank You,” anyone who attended one of the summer’s other three shows, “Hatfields & McCoys,” “Honey in the Rock,” or “The Wizard of Oz,” will be given a $4 discount when making reservations to see “Rocket Boys.” Those wanting to take advantage of these offers must purchase the tickets by calling the TWV office at 304-256-6800 or 800-666-9142. Mention either of the discounts when calling. Discounts cannot be combined, and the special prices will not be available for online reservations.
“Rocket Boys” is required reading in classrooms across the country, for its inspirational story of four young men from McDowell County’s Coalwood who, motivated by the launch of Sputnik in 1957, decided to build and fire their own rockets. Mocked at first by the townspeople, but supported by a dedicated teacher, they became local celebrities when they won the National Science Fair with their display of rocketry. Hickam himself went on to work for NASA, and he and all of his fellow Rocket Boys obtained college educations.
In 2008 “Rocket Boys the Musical” was chosen as one of three top winners in the Academy for New Musical Theatre’s inaugural “Search for New Musicals” competition. According to CAT Tramon, who is directing this year’s production, the show is heading toward the “Great White Way,” step by step, a process that can take years. Tramon says the production has been a hit wherever it has been previewed, but that West Virginia is its most natural location.
“It is such a beautiful thing to be able to perform this show — tell the whole story — right here in West Virginia,” says Tramon. “When you come to West Virginia, you discover what real people are like. There is no pretense; no one is jaded. This is where it all began, and this is where the spirit of the Rocket Boys still lives.”
“Rocket Boys the Musical” will round out TWV’s 53rd season of summer productions on Aug. 25. And for the season’s grand finale, Phil Dirt and the Dozers mix vintage rock and roll with great showmanship for a concert that is one of TWV’s most popular offerings. The concert, a major fundraiser for TWV, is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m., and tickets are still available.