Paonia woman makes musical of ‘Pollyanna’
Marty Durlin has found paradise in Paonia.
Since moving to the small community in 2007, Durlin has written and produced two musicals exclusively for Paonia’s Paradise Theater. Her latest musical, “Pollyanna,” debuts at 8 p.m. Friday, March 4. The musical is based on the 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter and will include nearly three dozen actors, musicians and stage hands from Delta County.
It is a dream come true for Durlin to become a playwright in the same county where she was raised.
Durlin, 63, grew up in Delta and graduated from Delta High School in 1965. She left the area after high school and attended college on the Front Range and later on the East Coast, where her family relocated after her graduation.
Only after being lured back to western Colorado for her 10-year class reunion in 1975, did Durlin rediscover her roots. She ended up staying in Delta for three years.
During that time, and for no particular reason, Durlin became motivated to write a musical. She grew up playing organ and piano and staging theatrical performances in her backyard, but as a teen and adult she didn’t dabble much in theater.
Despite this, she got an old piano from a friend. She moved the piano out of storage, cleaned off the mice droppings and put it in her kitchen. Then she began to write “Going Home” about a woman who returns to her hometown for a high school class reunion.
She debuted the musical in Delta in 1977.
“I got really good attendance,” Durlin said.
However, great attendance at a first musical was not enough to keep Durlin in Delta. Motivated by the fact she was not wealthy enough to simply be a playwright, Durlin returned to the Front Range for nearly 30 years, living in Longmont and then Boulder.
She spent a few years as a freelance writer before joining the staff at KGNU Community Radio at 88.5 FM and 1390 AM.
She worked at the Boulder radio station for more than 20 years, including time as station manager.
Durlin never lost her desire to write musical theater, though. She estimates she wrote 14 or 15 musicals during that time, primarily one-act plays with music, that were produced and performed in Longmont or Boulder.
In 2007, Durlin decided she was tired of spending more than $5 for a cup of coffee and navigating fleets of oversized vehicles at the grocery stores in Boulder.
She moved to Paonia, which has a population of less than 5,000 but an established arts community, and took a job at High Country News.
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Durlin said.
In 2009, she debuted her musical “Babbitt” at Paradise Theater to sold out crowds. Based on the 1922 novel by Sinclair Lewis, which inspired her musical, it’s largely a work of satire about American culture.
“Babbitt” took 10 years to write and compose because Durlin was working full-time and writing in her free time.
“It was so much fun,” Durlin said of scripting all forms of the show.
In early 2010, Durlin quit her position at High Country News and focused solely on writing a musical based on “Pollyanna,” a book she read when she was younger and thought would make a good musical.
Durlin finds inspiration in novels printed before 1925 because there are no copyright restrictions. Durlin can use the plot and dialogue and have fun with it, which is what she did with “Pollyanna.”
She knows some people might find a musical for “Pollyanna” to be odd, perhaps stupid.
“I was sort of embarrassed when I told people (what I was working on),” Durlin said. “Some people loved it. Some people gave me blank looks” because they had never heard of the book.
No matter the opinion, “Pollyanna” director Merrily Talbott promises that the musical is inspired work.
“The script and the music are fabulous,” said Talbott, who described Durlin as “bold, creative and passionate.”
In fact, Durlin booked the Paradise Theater and held auditions for “Pollyanna” before she finished the script.
Durlin, who will be among the musicians as the pianist for “Pollyanna,” is footing the bill for the production and admits she may eventually have to go back to work so she’ll be able to afford her propensity for writing musicals and holding opening night parties.
Until then, she will go on daily walks in Paonia, love her grandchildren, who live near her home, and write and compose until she no longer wants to do either.
Or perhaps she’ll just move on to her next project.
“An opera,” Durlin said.