‘Uranium the Musical’ coming to Star Hall

KZMU Radio’s annual fundraising play set for March 9-10

Meet the cast and crew of “Uranium the Musical,” back row from the left: Kate Lloyd, Jeff Gutierrez, Gabriel Woytek, Sam Bus’sard, Scott Clabby, Page Kannor, Terry Carlson, Jenna Whetzel, Liz Ballenger, Miriam Graham, Nicole Fox, Melissa Graciosa, Brett Bentley, Jessical Retka, Joanne Savoie, Sam Newman. Not pictured: Dylan Fixmer, Marty Durlin.
Courtesy photo

Uranium is no laughing matter. It is the raw material inside nuclear energy and atomic bombs, a mineral with a half-life of billions of years, a substance that can cause cancers.

Yet KZMU’s fourth annual radio play, “Uranium the Musical,” is undoubtedly a comedy. Set in the Moab of 1956, the play features real people, such as, “Uranium King” Charlie Steen, young park ranger Edward Abbey, Milt and Audrey Galbraith of Milt’s Stop ‘n Eat, and the “Goatman” Jack Holley, as well as fictional characters, according to Sarah Mead of KZMU.

While the play is a fantasy, the setting is real: boomtown Moab, when the town’s population stretched the limits of its infrastructure, and Geiger counter-carrying prospectors were everywhere. Eisenhower was president, initiating a uranium giveaway to select countries around the globe in his “Atoms for Peace” program, and Elvis Presley had just released “Heartbreak Hotel.” Not far away, the US was testing bombs in Nevada, and winds carried the fallout of these tests directly through St. George and southern Utah. In Moab, Charlie Steen’s uranium money was funding churches, housing developments, property for an elementary school, and other noble causes, said Mead in an email.

The play focuses on Steen’s story, as he persists in his belief about the location of a vein of uranium that would ultimately make him “Uranium King.” Backed by his mother, Rose, urged on by his wife ML, Steen, a geologist who had been blackballed out of the petroleum industry for being “innately rebellious against authority,” was determined to strike it rich, and uranium looked to be the way.

KZMU’s radio plays were born out of the station’s defunding four years ago by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB said KZMU was too small to survive). Faced with a diminished budget after the elimination of federal funding, KZMU turned to radio drama to boost the station’s profile and add something to the coffers.

Two seasons of “Downtown Abbey” (featuring the fictional fifth cousin twice removed of Edward Abbey), followed by last year’s “Beautiful Radiant Things” (about the anarchist Emma Goldman’s birthday in prison), have nurtured a stable of local actors, musicians and crewmembers who have dedicated themselves to the art of radio drama and the future of KZMU.

This year’s production sees the return of three actor-singers and six newcomers to the cast of performers. Jenna Whetzel stars as a private eye, Melissa Graciosa plays multiple roles, and Brett Bentley plays Abbey. Newcomer Gabriel Woytek is Charlie Steen, and the rest of the cast – Page Kannor, Terry Carlson, Liz Ballenger, Sam Newman and Nicole Fox – play multiple roles, conjuring up the Moab of the ’50s.

The orchestra features returning players Jessica Retka, Jeff Gutierrez and Miriam Graham, as well as newcomer Scott Clabby. Sam Bus’sard debuts to create sound effects, along with foley operator Kate Lloyd. Joanne Savoie returns as assistant and stage manager, and playwright Marty Durlin directs.

“Uranium the Musical” will be performed at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 9 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10 at Star Hall. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at Back of Beyond Books, WabiSabi, Canyonlands Copy Center, KZMU or at the door. It will also be performed in Paonia, Colorado at the Paradise Theatre at 7 p.m. March 16, a Saturday.

All proceeds benefit KZMU. Call the station at 435-259-8824 or visit KZMU.org for more information.

Other upcoming KZMU events

  • April 2: KZMU turns 27! We’re bringing back the arm wrestling tournament, have some live DJs, and more. Keep an eye out for more details about our birthday festivities.
  • April 14: KZMU Presents Shana Cleveland at the Seekhaven Chapel. Suggested donation, $10. Local opener TBD!
  • April 19 – 27: Spring Radiothon
  • May 4: Kowz Mü Kid Songs Album release celebration at the Moab Valley Multicultural Center.