The entire cast and creative team behind the world-premiere musical Trevor at Glencoe's Writers Theatre know they're facing huge expectations.
"The biggest challenge with this piece is taking what is a 16-minute film, and to create a two-act musical out of it," said Trevor director Marc Bruni, who is best known for helming Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway.
Trevor is about a Diana Ross-obsessed suburban gay teenager circa 1981. Yet Trevor starts contemplating suicide when he becomes ostracized and bullied at school.
Trevor received the 1994 Academy Award for best short film. It won in a rare tie with Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life, which was directed by then-future Doctor Who actor Peter Capaldi.
"The bones of the story are the same," said Bruni about the new musical. "But the characters are much richer and there's much more plot."
Yet there's something even more important for Trevor than just living up to its Oscar-winning source material. The acclaimed short film went on inspire a vital resourcenamely The Trevor Project, which was formed in 1998 to be a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth.
"We feel a weight and responsibility with that film and what it has become," said playwright and lyricist Dan Collins, who is collaborating on Trevor with composer Julianne Wick Davis. "Ultimately we have to keep that out of our heads as much as possible in tackling the adaptation and making it our own story."
There was also another major writing challenge faced by Davis and Collins. The lead Trevor producers, U Rock Theatricals, also obtained the rights to use some iconic Diana Ross songs in the show.
"These Diana Ross songs are woven in," said Davis, adding that her Trevor score has more of a contemporary musical theater sound rather than being a 1980s pastiche.
"We use five different [Diana Ross] songs, but some of them are just recognizable quotes," Davis said. "But then there are a couple of them that we're using larger amounts of because they play a part of the fantasy world of Trevor and his Diana Ross obsession."
Davis and Collins notably won a GLAAD Award for their stage adaptation of Southern Comfort, an acclaimed 2001 Sundance Film Festival documentary about a constructed transgender family reunion in rural Georgia. Davis and Collins' bluegrass-infused musical was staged off-Broadway in 2011 and 2016.
Collins and Davis note the importance of collaborating again on another LGBTQ musical in America now, particularly given the current presidential administration's attacks on transgender military service members and its refusal to stand up for LGBTQ workers in employment discrimination suits.
"With the rise in intolerance and anti-LGBTQ laws that are happening right now, we just feel like it's a really important story to be telling," said Davis, noting that a song from the musical was recently performed at the 2017 TrevorLIVE Fundraiser in New York.
"It was mentioned at the event that [The Trevor Project] had the highest call volume ever in this past year," Davis said. "The organization is needed today more than ever."
One thing that really sticks out for director Bruni is that Collins and Davis wrote Trevor featuring a cast of characters who are mostly teenagers.
"We're telling a coming-of-age tale about emergent sexuality in the early 1980s," Bruni said. "There's a unique quality to the show. It's not college-age people playing teenagers, it is actual teenagers in a professional show."
Right now the creators of Trevor are just focused on the world premiere production at hand. They're all also amazed by the sparkling new Writers Theatre complex and all of the support they've received from the staff under the leadership of artistic director Michael Halberstam.
"This is exactly what we need in where we are with the show and the development," Collins said. "[Writers Theatre] totally gets it and understand and we couldn't ask for a better group of people and a better place to be."
Whether Trevor will go on to have New York or London productions remains to be seen. But the creators of Trevor hope that the musical might have a future afterlifeespecially with amateur and high school productions.
"It has become more and more necessary to tell this story," Bruni said. "Hopefully we can play a small part in helping kids who feel marginalized or who feel like they don't have a place. We hope they are given some sense of hope and a reason to not be overcome by those dark feelings."
Trevor: The Musical continues through Sunday, Sept. 17, at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe. Previews run through Aug. 13 with an official press opening 7:30 p.m. on Wed., Oct. 16. Tickets are $35-$80; call 847-242-6000 or visit WritersTheatre.org .