The BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts presents the U.S. premiere of Chariots of Fire. The performance will begin Mar. 31 at 7:30 p.m. and will run through Apr. 15 in the Pardoe Theatre of the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU. Tickets for the show are on sale now and are available at the BYU Ticket Office in the Harris Fine Arts Center or Marriott Center, by phone at 801-422-2981 or online at byuarts.com.
During the 2012 Olympics, Music Dance Theatre director Tim Threlfall was in charge of a theater study abroad in London. While there the group went to see the first stage production of Chariots of Fire.
“As soon as the show was over, that very night I called back here to Utah and said we’ve got to do this show,” Threlfall said.
After five years of work BYU has obtained the rights and the production is nearly complete. However, obtaining the rights was only the first challenge.
When Threlfall saw the performance in London the theater was in the round and included a built-in turntable as well as a built in treadmill. While Threlfall didn’t have this same option, together with set designer Doug Ellis they found a way to provide the immersive running experience.
In preparation for the performance seats were removed from the Pardoe Theatre to make room for a track that will run through the audience. To make up for this loss of seating and to provide a more immersive experience, audience members will have the option to purchase seats on the stage. These seats will be set up as stadium seating and the audience members will double as the spectators of the Olympics.
“I want the audience to feel they are part of the spectators of the 1984 Olympics,” Threlfall said. “I want them to be completely involved.”
Aside from the set design, the actors themselves had to undergo impressive changes. Alex Diaz plays Harold Abrahams and has been running twice a week at 6 a.m. to get in shape for the production. Diaz runs with other cast members as they sharpen their techniques and increase their endurance. The performers will be expected to run while saying lines.
“The script demands that the running be real, so it’s not just a matter of pretending you’re running, but making it real,” Threlfall said. “You have to be in good shape otherwise you’re not going to make it.”
While the performance will include real running, there will be abstract running as well. Becky Wright Phillips is the show’s choreographer. Phillips said she has enjoyed the challenge of creating on-stage movement for the beloved story.
“Since there is an iconic movie version of the show that includes lots of close-ups and slow motion, it’s a fun creative challenge to figure out how we can lengthen the runs, make them exciting, make them visually interesting and help the audience to know where to focus without the benefit of cinematography,” Phillips said.
To ensure authenticity throughout the running and the performance, the cast and crew work with BYU Track and Field Coach Ed Eyestone and assistant coach Mark Robinson. The pair has been consulted about running advice as well as Olympic experience as Robinson’s father was an Olympian and Eyestone himself competed in the Olympics.
The performance promises to be authentic, engaging and unique.
“It’s things that we celebrate at BYU anyway,” Threlfall said. “The human spirit and dogged determination. Harold devotes his life to running and he wins. Eric devotes his life to God and he wins.”
Harold Abrahams: Alex Diaz
Eric Liddell: Peter Lambert
Aubrey: Derek Johnson
Lord Andrew Lindsey: Max Higbee
Sybil: Meg Flinders