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Creators of ‘Dis-topia’ musical embark on journey of self-discovery

The cast of “Dis-topia” rehearses together. Co-created by graduate student Robby Good, the musical will be staged at Hart High School in Santa Clarita on Saturday and Sunday. (Courtesy of Robby Good)

By Kaycie Rippe

Feb. 18, 2024 1:24 a.m.

“Dis-topia” questions if Disneyland is really the happiest place on earth.

Robby Good, a graduate student in music composition for visual media, is presenting his original musical and master’s thesis “Dis-topia” on Saturday and Sunday at Hart High School in Santa Clarita. Based on Walt Disney’s unfinished plans, the musical presents a fictional world in which Disney’s frozen head is resuscitated and builds EPCOT, an idealized city where he abuses his power. Although this is the musical’s third production, Good said this show has made instrumental changes since its premiere in 2021, including a 25 person orchestra that he is conducting.

“The music gets to be a character in the show, and it gets to have its own voice that complements whoever it’s on stage with,” Good said. “If you are listening to the soundtrack, … you can tell what the arc is, where the show is and how it’s moving. … That to me was the most important part of this whole thing.”

[Related: Q&A: Alumnus Paul Whitaker discusses lighting designer role on ‘Alice in Wonderland’]

Finishing his second degree at UCLA, Good said his academic experience has mainly taught him about classical composition. Good added that he aspired to be an animator in his youth, but when his skills fell short, he discovered he could compose music for his favorite films and video games instead. Nevertheless, the focus of scoring has proven to be characteristically different from the narrative medium of musical theater, he said. Having limited background in theater, Good said he had to learn about musicals as he was creating his own, bringing a new kind of storytelling to his craft.

“You have to navigate completely different stylistic approaches to music, … and that challenge is something I enjoy surmounting,” Good said. “To me, the exciting part of writing the music for this is to see how close I can get to really finding my voice wedged in between these two completely different stylistic sounds.”

“Dis-topia” is nowhere close to a one man show, however, beginning with three creators: playwright Matthew Deegan and co-composers Good and Abigail Torrence. Good and Deegan’s friendship began in middle school and the two quickly became a music duo, writing songs in their spare time, Deegan said. A love child of their long-standing friendship, “Dis-topia” pulls inspiration from much of the pair’s past work, even transforming their very first song into one of the major musical motifs present throughout the production, Good said. Grateful for their creative chemistry and mutual respect, Good said the musical could not have existed without each other’s respective talents in writing and composing.

Deegan and Torrence met in The Players’ Society, a student-run theater program at Chapman University, Torrence said. Beginning in 2021, Good, Deegan and Torrence created “Dis-topia” over the course of three months to prepare for The Players’ Society’s production, Good said. In June 2023, the script was given to a UCLA musical theater class for a stage reading, he added, and the musical had vastly changed since its original production. One consistency throughout the musical’s development was the people involved, as many members of the current cast and crew participated in previous productions, Deegan said.

“The cast is a lot of people I went to school with,” Deegan said. “With Robby and the orchestra, it’s the same thing. There are so many people involved in this, it boggles my mind. … It’s humbling, and it’s an honor to know that everyone is working together to build this thing that I put on a piece of paper a few years ago.”

(Courtesy of Robby Good)
Abigail Torrence, Matthew Deegan and Robby Good (left to right) pose together. The trio co-created “Dis-topia,” a musical in which Walt Disney returns to build the city of EPCOT with corrupted power. (Courtesy of Robby Good)

Good said the experience of composing this musical led him to find his voice in music composition. Creating the sound for “Dis-topia” relied on understanding the characters, the music that matched them and how conflicting roles became harmonious together, Good said. Mirroring the classic Disney sound, Good said he was inspired by the Sherman Brothers while composing, but the play also draws inspiration from grunge rock to reflect rougher characters like the Lost Boys. Torrence added that she made references to “Mary Poppins” and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” hoping to hide easter eggs in the music like Disney does in its animation. Now acting in the show, Torrence said she is thrilled to experience her work in a new way.

“I get to actually perform some of my own work with an actual orchestra,” Torrence said. “That’s a dream I didn’t really know I had until I was halfway through this production.”

[Related: HOOLIGAN Theatre Company explores the ‘art of making art’ through upcoming musical]

After this weekend’s show, the future is largely unknown, as Deegan said Monday will be the first day in years that he hasn’t had a production of “Dis-topia” to prepare for. Even though the group will no longer be involved in this musical, they hope that others will allow their work to live on, Good said. Furthermore, Torrence said the group will be recording a “Dis-topia” soundtrack for Spotify and hopes to enter the musical in upcoming festivals. Each of the artists has future projects in the works, but Good said his hope is to continue working with Deegan on whatever comes next.

“There’s a lot of history in this show between us,” Good said. “It’s a very personal production for us because a lot of those songs we wrote together, and we wrote them back in high school, and now we’re doing it at our old high school. There’s a lot of full circle moments. … It says a lot that we’ve gotten where we are.”

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