Sophisticated Stone Age

original musical explores prehistoric caveartistry

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

LADIES, PLEASE, IT’S A DESIGNER VEST. Jerry Way’s new musical comedy, The Cave Artist, imagines a prehistoric culture where fashion and other arts are sophisticated.
LADIES, PLEASE, IT’S A DESIGNER VEST. Jerry Way’s new musical comedy, The Cave Artist, imagines a prehistoric culture where fashion and other arts are sophisticated.

Imagine a small community where the arts are highly valued. People gather to enjoy wine and food together and to experience the visual, dramatic, and musical expression that helps them explore important aspects of the human experience.

This description applies to the community that surrounds the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls – and it also applies to the fictional Paleolithic characters who populate The Cave Artist, the latest musical comedy by Jerry Way. The original show, which will be performed later this month at the Heyde Center, is an imaginative vision of what life may have been like for the artistically inclined residents of Chauvet Cave in the south of France, home to a stunning collection of cave paintings created more than 30,000 years ago.

“When I saw pictures of it, I couldn’t believe it. We don’t think of people being that advanced in 30,000 BC.” – Jerry Way, on the prehistoric French cave paintings that inspired his new musical comedy, The Cave Artist

This is the fifth musical comedy Way has created in as many years at the Heyde Center with the help of a troupe of about 40 that has been dubbed The Wayward Players. Prior shows have ranged from local history (Chippewa Falls 1869: The Musical) to the Old West tales (last year’s Gold Town Showdown). The inspiration for The Cave Artist came a few years ago when Way learned about the art in Chauvet Cave, which was discovered in 1995 and consists of amazingly beautiful wall paintings of prehistoric animals – including mammoth, bear, and bison – that show three-dimensionality and movement. “When I saw pictures of it, I couldn’t believe it,” explains Way, a retired Chippewa Falls music teacher and longtime performer and composer. “We don’t think of people being that advanced in 30,000 BC. … I started to think about what else they may be sophisticated about.”

As a result, Way’s characters aren’t knuckle-dragging cave men; instead, they are enlightened individuals who make wine and celebrate fashion and other modes of creativity. And – as with characters in any musical worth its spot in the footlights – they fall in love, fight over love, and face down challenges and conflicts with a song on their lips. In one central sequence of the show, the titular artist, Marcel (played by Tim Danielson) experiences a dream sequence and struggles with his inability to reproduce with paint the images in his head. It’s an experience Way – and many creative folks – can relate to. “(Marcel) sings a song called ‘Chasing a Vision,’ ” Way explains. “Some of the inspiration I get is that way. I write very early in the morning.”

In addition to write the words and music, Way is co-directing the play with his wife, Carol (a retired art teacher who is overseeing the visual elements of the production), and Amanda Tanzer. The three directors have cameo appearances in the play during an opening sequence in which modern-day academics explain the cave paintings. And while he’s best known in the area as a guitarist, Jerry will play string bass in a three-piece combo (also including piano and conga drum) that will provide the music for the show.

In addition to the entertainment, audiences have a chance to dine at the Heyde Center before the show at 6:30pm Friday and Saturday. Tickets for the meal and performance are $32 for adults, $31 for seniors, and $22 for those 16 and under.

Way is optimistic that the public will react as positively to the homegrown show as they have to his past productions. “I give a lot of credit to our audience for taking that leap of faith,” he says. Maybe these 21st century audience members will see a bit of themselves in the Stone Age artists – and art lovers – on stage.

The Cave Artist: A Prehistoric Musical Comedy • Thursday-Saturday, March 19-21, 7:30pm; Sunday, March 22, 2pm • The Heyde Center for the Arts, 3 S. High St., Chippewa Falls • $13 adults, $12 seniors, $6 youth • 726-9000 • cvca.net

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