A few years ago Helen Murray Pafumi, Artistic Director for the Hub Theatre, first started considering doing a stage version of O. Henry’s classic The Gift of the Magi. Then she changed her mind.
“The more I tinkered around with it, the more I realized I wasn’t really interested in doing an adaptation but instead doing more of a riff on it,” she says. “For me, this idea of all we give up for love when we’re in a relationship, and the more you love someone the more willing you are to compromise parts of yourself and parts of your life, that is where the fascination for me started.”
That fascination led to her writing The Magi, a story about a band with the titular name, comprised of lovebirds Nix and Jude, who have spent 7 years and 11 months touring and in love. Unfortunately, they may not make it to eight years because circumstances have the couple—and therefore the band—on the verge of breaking up.
“I came up with this idea for a couple on the road and I made them in a band so that it would put them in really close quarters with each other,” Pafumi says. “I’m also a huge fan of having music in my plays. As it started going on, I realized the music was going to be a driving part of it all, and that it should be more of a club show.”
Part concert, part love story, the musical explores the sacrifices people make for one another. The show stars Rex Daugherty and Daven Ralston and is directed by Kelsey Mesa and opens tonight, December 2nd.
In early versions of the play, before Pafumi began thinking about who she would use as a musician, she asked her son, Eli, if she could use some of his songs as placeholders so she could work everything out.
Eli Pafumi, although just 17, has already achieved great success with his music. As a performer, he’s played local venues like Jammin Java and Tally Ho, and his debut album, Finding North, released this year, is available online. As a composer, his music has been used in a number of productions at the Hub, and one piece he wrote was even optioned for use by Shippensberg University.
Eventually, Pafumi realized it just made sense to work with her son as composer.
“I’ve asked him to work on small things before, and with him going off to college next year, I thought this might be our last chance to collaborate for some time,” she says. “I asked him if he wanted to do it, so he read the script, was really into it, and that’s how it all came to be.”
Eli adds that upon the first read of the show, it was really evident how the progression of the love story allowed him the opportunity to write about love from a number of different perspectives.
“I wanted to approach the story musically from the point of view of what love they were feeling at this point, and what love they were feeling at that point,” he says. “As someone much younger in the understanding of love, it was interesting to approach that.”
December 2 – December 18, 2016
Details and tickets
You might think that a collaboration between mother and son might not go smoothly but unlike most relationships between teenagers and their parents, Eli notes his relationship with his mother is very strong.
“We’ve always been really close and very open with one another. We have very intimate and personal conversations about things,” he says. “Getting to collaborate with her felt extremely natural. She is the person I trust most with all of my songs. Even before this show was in existence, she is always the first person I play my music for to get feedback on. The process grew out of a lifestyle of us already working artistically.”
The first time Pafumi used her son’s music was when he was just 11 and she needed something on the fly Merry, Happy…What? which she was directing.
“Not to be braggy as a mom, but speaking of him as an artist, he was very adept at understanding the narrative of music at a very young age,” she says. “I was able to go to him and say, ‘for this show, I need underscoring for a snowball fight’ and he would create it and have it. After his first show, I would feed him to directors if they were having trouble.”
One of those was Act a Lady, under the direction of Matthew R. Wilson. When he needed some tunes, Pafumi gave him one of Eli’s songs, without telling him who the composer was immediately. He loved it and the song became part of the show. When Shippensberg University decided to stage the show, they decided to use Eli’s song.
Pafumi is excited about her son’s work on The Magi and feels he brings a great voice to the show.
“Being 17, he’s coming from a youthful perspective of love,” she says. “To hear what he’s taken away is very powerful and rewarding. He’s helped craft a piece that I think will be moving to a couple who’ve been together for 50 years as well as those who might be in their first year of love.”
Next week, Eli will head to an audition for his top college of choice—Berklee College of Music in Boston, and his goals are to find a career in arranging, writing, performing or producing.
“As long as I have a career in music, I will be happy,” he says. “This opportunity to work on a show has given me the chance to see how much I enjoy writing for others and hearing other people’s take on my music. I remember the first time Daven sang and hearing a girl sing the songs I only heard myself singing was pretty incredible.”
Since the show will have audiences feel like they are at a concert, The Magi will have opening acts perform before the show. Eli will take to the stage some nights, as well as other local musicians.
“I think it’s an awesome way to get someone’s name out there and showcase some local talent,” Eli says.