Book illustrated by W. MI artist inspires new musical

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD)—As part of the Hope Summer Directory TheaterHope College will debut a new musical inspired in part by illustrations by Dutch artist Joel Schoon-Tanis.

The book, titled “Lulu and the Long Walk”, was a collaborative effort between Schoon-Tanis and writer Dan Haseltine.

“I’ve illustrated a lot of books in my career. This one really got me excited,” Schoon-Tanis said, adding that Haseltine is a friend. “Some people may know him as the lead singer of the band Jars of Clay, but also (he) worked a lot with a band called Blood: Water Missionbringing water to Africa.

Schoon-Tanis also spent time in Africa, so when Haseltine approached him about creating the book, he said he was all for it.

“The central idea is serious, namely that many children in the world do not have access to drinking water. And often it is the girls who have to fetch water, which also prevents them from going to school,” Schoon-Tanis explained.

(A photo from June 2022 shows Dan Haseltine’s book, “Lulu and the Long Walk”, illustrated by Dutch artist Joel Schoon-Tanis.)

Last winter, HSRT approached the couple about turning their book into a musical.

“We were immediately fired up and for a second Dan and I thought ‘Yeah, let’s write a musical’ and then they told us about this amazing playwright, Ayesu Lartey, who not only has the pedigree but also some culture. And he was so much better equipped to do that that we were like, ‘Yeah, you’re doing that instead,'” Schoon-Tanis said.

Manufacturing is part of HSRT’s new GENext program that commissions, studios, or produces work each season by Black, Indigenous, and artists of color.

“It’s important to hear these stories and it’s important to be a part of something that encompasses the human experience,” said Marcus Johnson, associate artistic director of HSRT.

A New York-based writer and composer, Lartey has worked hard to create a show that does just that.

“I’ve been asked to write a musical that’s 70 minutes long, and it takes about seven minutes to read the book,” Lartey joked.

He used “Lulu and the Long Walk” as a prompt on a variety of issues, including environmental, social, and financial.

“(The book is) very well designed to say, ‘Hey, I want to ask these questions after reading this book.’ You know, like why does Lulu have to fetch water? Why do animals help her? Why does she have to go so far? And then you were telling your parents. not to talk to your mom about anything after watching this,” Lartey explained.

Although the story is based in Africa, Lartey said they are about real human experiences that people can relate to because they happen all over the world, including here in the United States.

“There are people living in every state without access to water, without access to education, without health care,” Lartey said.

He added that it has been an incredible experience to see the show come to life and to witness the hard work of everyone involved.

“These people are dedicated. They are engaged. We walk in step with one vision,” Lartey said.

“Lulu and the Long Walk” will premiere as HSRT celebrates its 50th anniversary.

“It’s a big deal for us and I think it’s also what makes Lulu so special. I can’t think of a better theater project for young audiences to stage for the 50th than Lulu,” Johnson said.

The show will run from June 23 to August 4 at Hope’s DeWitt Studio Theater. You can buy tickets here.

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