Escaping the Weather

new musical comedy is a road trip from snowy Wisconsin to sunny Florida

Haley Wright

Snowbirds, an original musical comedy by local composer and retired music teacher Jerry Way, will be performed at the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls March 23-26. The show takes place in 1963 and features two couples from Wisconsin who decide to escape the winter and take a road trip to Florida, encountering interesting characters, cultures, and locations along the way. “Snowbirds is a musical comedy road trip, so the travel route provides a strong framework for the story,” Way explains.

The show features enthusiastic performers and engaging, changing sets. Snowbirds includes 31 onstage performers from the Wayward Players, who Way describes as “an ever-evolving group of actors-singers, musicians, stage-craft artists, costumers, and technicians that make every rehearsal and performance a joy.”

Way notes that group members clearly enjoy working together and are having fun performing this show. “The comedy just keeps rolling, and our actors are having a blast with the accents and mannerisms of their characters,” he says. “ Singing-wise, the cast is wonderful with the songs and movement in the show.” In addition to the performers, the ever-changing scenery ensures the show is constantly evolving into something new and different – even unexpected. “My wife, Carol Way, creates the sets for all of our shows,” he says. “Her colorful projected backdrop artwork gives us the ability to travel from a snowbound Wisconsin neighborhood to a Georgia diner, a Florida beachside resort, a Cajun shack in the swamps, a haunted mansion, a courtroom, and a nightclub. Revolving set-pieces draw the audience into each scene.”

Way says the inspiration for this show is drawn from his own real-life experiences.  “Like most folks who enjoy writing, I’m inspired by life experiences and people I’ve known through the years,” he says. “I take a bit from here, put it together with another bit from there, mix it together, and see where it goes.  I set the story in 1963 because that’s the year Carol and I met.” In terms of the storyline and locale, Way says, “Carol and I have been on a few Florida road trip vacations that included swamps. The alligators and Cajun lifestyle seem pretty exotic to us Wisconsinites!”

Each March since 2011, Way has premiered an original musical comedy at the Heyde Center. As soon as one show is performed, work begins on a follow-up. “In the spring, I go right to work on ‘the next one,’ and it generally takes me about three months to write the script and songs,” Way explains. “Sometimes the songs come at the same time as the script, and sometimes the whole script is complete before I write the songs.” Way also writes Chippewa Valley history shows that have been performed each August at the Heyde Center since 2002.

Way says Snowbirds stands out because of the entertaining and memorable escape it provides in the middle of a cold and snowy winter. “Snowbirds is the perfect tropical getaway for everyone in the family!” he declares. “Folks should come prepared to laugh through the story, and go home humming some new songs.”

Snowbirds • 7:30pm, Thursday-Saturday, March 23-25, and 2pm, Sunday, March 26 • dinner + show option available at 6:15pm Friday and Saturday • Heyde Center for the Arts, 3 S. High St., Chippewa Falls • $14 adults, $13 seniors, $7 students • (715) 726-9000 • cvca.net