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ELA Hosts Tesla-Edison Musical Rehearsal

The feud between inventors Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison is full of drama, so it makes sense that their rivalry has been the subject of documentaries, plays, and even video games. Now, writers and producers Allen Zipper, P’19, and Dave Caplan hope to see the drama unfold on stage with song.

Zipper and Caplan, along with composer and lyricist Mark Hollmann and actor Joseph Leo Bwarie ’99, were on hand in the Bill Bordy Media Conference Center on September 27 to rehearse for the musical.

“This is the story of two guys driven to do something greater than themselves and do good in the world,” said Hollmann, who won a Tony Award in 2002 as the composer and lyricist of the musical Urinetown.

The team came together to rehearse for a presentation to the public that they hope will help raise seed money for the musical. The idea to create a project based on the Tesla–Edison rivalry began when Zipper and Caplan met while working on the sitcom George Lopez. The duo thought about bringing the Tesla–Edison rivalry to the silver screen, but over time found that the story would work better as a musical.

From left: Mark Hollmann, Allen Zipper P'19, and Dave Caplan rehearse in the Bill Bordy Media Conference Center at Emerson College Los Angeles. Photo/Daryl Paranada

“We would get lost in the woods trying to tell this story in a movie,” said Zipper. “Doing a musical, we can bring out the emotions.”

To find the right actor to play Tesla, Zipper relied on his network of former colleagues and friends. A connection through the College led him to Bwarie. In his first email to the actor, Zipper pointed out that his daughter, Marni ’19, attends Emerson College.

“You had me at Emerson,” said Bwarie. “You always keep in touch with your Emerson friends.”

Bwarie, who has played Frankie Valli in the Broadway production of the musical Jersey Boys for more than 2,000 performances, a record, said what most excited him about the musical was having the opportunity to originate a character.  

“Some of the best characters in musical theater have big dreams and Tesla is one of those characters,” said Bwarie, who hopes to take the role to Broadway one day, but knows that the process of getting a musical to the Great White Way takes many years.

Joseph Leo Bwarie ’99 practices a song with Mark Hollmann. Photo/Daryl Paranada

A handful of Emerson College Los Angeles students got to sit in on the rehearsal and then receive career advice from Zipper, Bwarie, and friends. Zipper and Caplan both encouraged students to be persistent, find ways to create and produce their own work, and keep in touch with friends from college.

“You just have to keep working it,” said Caplan, who has been working on the project with Zipper on and off for about three years and gone through 11 drafts of the musical’s book. “Persistence is every bit as important as talent.”

Shelly Nicholls ’17, a Writing for Film and Television major, took Caplan’s advice to heart.

“Something that they said that resonated with me was that a great idea is a good idea with a lot of work being put into it,” said Nicholls, an aspiring TV writer. “If I believe in something, I should keep at it until I find someone who believes in it too.”

Joseph Leo Bwarie ’99 told students to enjoy their youth and to be ambitious. Photo/Daryl Paranada

As he was leaving rehearsal to go home and practice songs, Bwarie pointed out that there’s one number in the musical titled “Dreamer and Doer.” It’s a fitting title for the players working on getting the musical to the stage—and the students in the audience.  

“For success, you’ve got to balance both,” he said.

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