Musical about Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes its world premiere at CBU

Riverside, Calif. (Nov. 9, 2023) – The musical “Dietrich and Maria,” a story about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi dissident, and Maria, his fiancée, makes its world premiere at California Baptist University on Nov. 17-19.

Dr. Glenn A. Pickett, professor of music at CBU, composed the music, and Dr. David Goodman, a former pastor and mentor of Pickett, wrote the libretto — the script and lyrics. An orchestra of nearly 20 musicians will share the stage with the cast of about 30 actors.

Musical about Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes its world premiere at CBUThe story, told through the eyes of Maria, tells how Bonhoeffer went to New York to attend seminary. There, in nearby Harlem, he gains a vision for how a church should rescue the oppressed. Returning to Germany, he finds Hitler unleashing a campaign against the Jews and others. Rather than looking the other way and surviving, Bonhoeffer chooses to stand and speak for those with no voice and joins a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.

The idea to write this musical came about more than four years ago when Pickett and Lee Lyons, director of the theatre program, were discussing a musical. Pickett said he thought he could write a better one.

Lyons response? “Why don’t you try.”

The idea appealed to Pickett. He has published about 20 choral pieces and a symphonic suite, but this would be different.

“With the state of the country and the world — I was looking for a project that could help people understand that integrity is important,” Pickett said. “Bonhoeffer held to his integrity, even when he didn't have to.”

For the past three years, he and Goodman have been working on the production. Adjustments were made after two staged readings. Even with the production just weeks away, the work is not finished.

“Now the biggest challenge is rewrites. It was all written, ready to go, and then we cast it,” Pickett said.  “The people that I wrote for the staged readings had different voices.”

Pickett must reorchestrate certain sections in the production, which includes classical, Broadway-style music and gospel.

Goodman is also fine-tuning the lyrics as scenes are cut or adjusted after seeing them come to life on stage.

He was fascinated by Bonhoeffer, also a theologian, after reading a biography about him 15 years ago. To help prepare for writing the libretto, he read all the major biographies on Bonhoeffer and watched documentaries and fictional accounts to get a feel for the era.

“One of the things that impressed me about Dietrich was he was quite young to go against all of the senior people in academia, in the church, in a government, to stand up as he did,” Goodman said.

The student actors are excited to portray the characters.

“My favorite part about originating this role is being able to delve into the character and who he was as a person,” said Drake Lyons, who plays Bonhoeffer. “From a musical theatre standpoint, it’s really awesome to be able to work so closely with the people who created the music and how we’re telling this story; I’m just really excited.”

Sophie Hepton, a music junior, portrays Maria.

“Originating the role of Maria is very exciting,” Hepton said. “I think she’s a lovely character. I think she’s a person who’s just looking for love and finally finds it and when she does she just wants to hold onto it forever.”

The musical’s creators hope the audiences get to know Bonhoeffer and Maria and what they stood for.

“I want the audience to meet two of the most fascinating people in the previous century and to be enchanted by them. And then to be challenged by their willingness to engage and speak out for the marginalized,” Goodman said.

“I hope the audience will understand that integrity is important,” Pickett said. “We want to be engaging and entertaining and at the same time help people hear Bonhoeffer’s message, which is stand up for those who have no voice.”

“Dietrich and Maria”
 7 p.m. on Nov. 17-19; 2 p.m. on Nov. 18-19
Where: Wallace Theatre, California Baptist University, 8432 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, CA 92504

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8432 Magnolia Avenue
Riverside, CA 92504