In ‘Opal,’ Reality and Fantasy Intermingle with Song

By Beacon Staff

When Nick Spear first appeared in the musical “Opal” more than a decade ago, Robert Lindsey-Nassif, who wrote the music, book and lyrics, was on hand to share his vision for the production.

Today, in his debut as co-director of the play, which premieres April 17 at the Flathead Valley Community College Theatre, Spear has divined his own unique inspirations for the ensemble piece.

“When I was in this musical, Lindsey-Nassif came and helped direct. It was interesting having the composer there to share his vision versus trying to produce the story from a published version,” Spear said.

The story is based on the diary of a 7-year-old girl, an aristocratic princess who was orphaned in a shipwreck only to wind up in a rough-hewn Oregon lumber camp in 1904. As the lone survivor of the tragedy, Opal is taken in by a brash, disagreeable woman and put to work as a “chore girl.”

When trying to come up with a production for FVCC, Spear said “Opal” stuck out to him as a musical that would mesh well with the Flathead Valley because of its remote setting and identity as a timber town.

“When I was thinking about musicals that would be a good fit for the valley I was going through my mental Rolodex and ‘Opal’ occurred to me because it’s set in the Northwest and this cultured girl is sort of foisted upon this simple logging town,” he said.

The well-heeled castaway and titular character is born “Francoise,” but renamed “Opal” after her adopted caretaker scoffs at her given name, forcing the little girl to address her as “Mamma.”

The girl’s one desire is to find a way to return to her parents and her former life. For escape and respite from the workaday toil of the lumber camp, she creates a world of fantasy and enchantment. She also begins writing her moving journal, chronicling her first year in the strange new world and providing the musical’s narrative.

Through her vibrant imagination, Opal peppers her life with imaginary friends from the natural world – her gentleman pig Reubens, Mendelssohn her mouse and Michelangelo her fir tree.

The story is based on the writings of Opal Whiteley, a writer whose childhood journal was first serialized in 1920 in the Atlantic Monthly as “The Story of Opal” and then published in book form as “The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart.”

The veracity of her diary, in which Whiteley claims to be the daughter of Henri, Prince of Orleans, has been widely disputed.

But for Spear, who says, “this isn’t a history lesson,” the fantastic tale of the little orphaned girl is one worth telling.

In Spear’s directorial debut, which he shares with his wife, Rebecca, he said a top-notch cast has made the production a success, while the story as envisioned by Lindsey-Nassif carries the ensemble.

“It’s really just a wonderful story that explores the resilience of the human spirit,” he said. “We have a fabulous cast and I couldn’t be happier with who showed up to audition. I expect it to be pretty warmly received.”

Performances of “Opal” will take place April 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 at 7 p.m. in the FVCC Theatre inside the Arts and Technology Building on the FVCC Kalispell campus. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for senior citizens. Admission is free for students. Advance tickets can be purchased at the FVCC Bookstore in Blake Hall or by calling 756-3814 or online at www.fvcc.edu/fvcctheatre.html

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