Who knew that “Birdie Googins,” known to many Mainers for years as “The Marden’s Lady,” is also a playwright?
Theater-goers in Anchorage, Alaska will find out on Friday, July 27 as the “Gold Rush Girls” debuts at Cyrano’s Theatre Company. The musical was written and scored by Scarborough residents Jerry and Karmo Sanders — and Mainers will recognize Karmo as “Birdie,” a character she created years ago.
“I’m more than just a pretty face,” Karmo Sanders laughed while imitating Birdie’s over-the-top Down East accent during a recent phone interview. Sanders quickly shifted to her “personal” voice as she talked about “Gold Rush Girls” and her long career as an actress and playwright.
“The actress came first,” she said. “I grew up in Norway (Maine). Every school play I was ever in, I loved it.” Sanders “worked summer stock” during her teens, performing at such theatrical locales as Ram Island Farm in Scarborough.
She later attended Phillips University in Enid, Okla. “They called it ‘P-U,’ and it had a skunk as a mascot,” Sanders joked. “The school is now defunct,” having closed in 1998.
While in Oklahoma she met Jerry Sanders, a Midwest rock-band drummer. They later married, returned to Maine in the early 1970s, and had two children.
Karmo Sanders resumed acting in 1978. She performed at the Mad Horse Theatre Company in Portland and the Seacoast Repertory Theatre in New Hampshire, among other venues.
The Sanders wrote their first musical, “Spellbound,” with Stephen Underwood in 1991, and the Brunswick Theater Project produced it. Four years later, “Jerry and Steve and I … opened a show off-off-Broadway, called ‘Radical Radio.’ We wrote and acted in that show,” which “toured the Eastern Seaboard for five years,” Karmo said. “We did very well with that show.”
She graduated from Boston University in 2001 with a master’s degree in creative writing. Noting that “I majored in playwriting,” Karmo indicated that her studies encompassed the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, which in 2000 produced “Humpin’ Glory Bay,” a full-length comedy that she had written.
The playwright bug had bit. “One day I came home, and Jerry was writing a song. I said, ‘We ought to write a musical,’” Karmo recalled. “I love musicals. It’s immediate access to emotion, when you remember a song that means a lot to you.”
According to Karmo, a friend named Lael Morgan had written “The Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Klondike Gold Rush.” Published in 1998, the book detailed the biographies of various gold fever-stricken women who pursued fame and fortune in the Alaskan and Canadian wilds more than 100 years ago.
Karmo and Jerry started writing a musical based on Morgan’s book in 2001. “Jerry is the composer; we co-wrote the lyrics,” Karmo said.
Guided by Kate Snodgrass, the artistic director at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, the Sanders held several readings of their musical during the next few years. “I’ve been trying to sell” the musical since 2009, Karmo said.
Titled “Gold Rush Girls,” the musical “is an adventure with a wild flavor to it,” she said. “It takes place at the dance hall called ‘Paradise’ … the fanciest dance hall in the Yukon.” The heroine is Eudora Dawn, who built the dance hall and fell in love with the injured Captain McNally. No Gold Rush-based musical would be replete without a bad guy, in this case the vengeful Barker Jones.
“The whole musical takes place in one day” and features “murder [and] mayhem, but it’s also full of fun,” Karmo said. She described “Gold Rush Girls” as “a Broadway-style musical with 20 songs” averaging two-to-three minutes in length apiece.
About 18 months ago, Cyrano’s Theatre Company in Anchorage “started considering our musical for the 2012 season,” Karmo said. Discussions turned “really serious” last fall, and the Sanders soon learned that “Gold Rush Girls” will debut in Anchorage on July 27 for a six-week run.
“I’m over the moon,” Karmo said, the smile evident in her voice. “It’s one thing to be an artist. It’s another thing to keep that fire burning, to keep that determination. I have total belief in our musical; I’m thrilled with it.”
“Gold Rush Girls” will utilize 14 Alaskan actors and will open at Cyrano’s Off-Center Playhouse, located at 413 D St., Anchorage. “They’re casting it up there,” Karmo said. “The entire production team is up there.
“I don’t think we could be more out of the way geographically than Maine to Alaska,” she said.
The Sanders left for Anchorage in late June and met up with Morgan, a journalist who has lived in Alaska for many years. Among other positions, Morgan was a journalism professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. She has been named to the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.
The Sanders will attend “Gold Rush Girls” rehearsals and will be present for the musical’s debut. Karmo informed Marden’s executives that “I was leaving” for Alaska, “and they made a couple of new commercials” with Birdie Googins before she left.
During a mid-June conference call, Karmo learned that Alaska Public Broadcasting Inc. “wants to film the musical and use it for its pledge week. Our musical, it’s getting a little buzz about it up there.”
More information about “Gold Rush Girls” is available at www.goldrushgirlsmusical.com. Click on “The Music” link to listen to several songs, such as “When You’re With Me” and “Standing On a Rock.”