Published on March 29, 2024 by Anne Madison Adcock  
Tomorrow The Island Dies

Samford University School of the Arts is excited to present its second commissioned world premiere production of the season, Tomorrow, the Island Dies. The musical will debut from April 11-14, 2024, in Harrison Theatre. Chelsea Reynolds Nicholson, assistant professor of musical theatre at Samford, SAG-AFTRA actor and the director of Tomorrow, the Island Dies, collaborated with the esteemed composer, Ryan Scott Oliver, to realize her vision for the production.

In 2021, Nicholson discovered an extended play (EP) Oliver released called Future Demons, which was made up of musical theatre songs based on the short stories of American author, Shirley Jackson. Coincidentally, many of Nicholson's favorite literary pieces, which significantly influenced the main themes of Tomorrow, the Island Dies were from Jackson's mid-20th century gothic literature. Nicholson believed Oliver was the ideal composer for this piece. Not only was he a successful composer, but he also had a passion for mentoring young artists. She was confident he would be an excellent fit for an original production involving student actors and musicians.

“The experience of hearing these kids sing this music and hearing the orchestra play this music is absolutely incredible,” said Oliver. “There are some tremendous voices and tremendous players. At a college program like this, you know it’s going to be great, but it really far surpassed even my best expectations.”

For nearly two years, Oliver worked tirelessly on the book, lyrics and music of the production, resulting in a fully orchestrated piece. This represents a significant achievement in the musical theater industry, given the challenge of developing all the musical elements for a world premiere. The Samford orchestra will perform all musical elements in the production.

“The opportunity to have a working director in [New York City] fully realize the show is something that doesn’t happen a lot,” said Oliver. “That’s what’s really special about the Samford experience. It’s one thing to commission a show or do a reading of a show; but when a university is willing to back an entire vision of not only a writer but also the director, it’s unparalleled.”

Everything from set design to costume design, character development, and music compositions, received significant attention to detail. Nicholson ensured each part of the production interconnected smoothly to represent the overall themes and vision she had for the production. Anna Sularin, under the faculty mentorship of costume design instructor, Mary Gurney,  worked closely with Nicholson to craft each character's wardrobe. Nicholson explained when she presented her ideas for the character's wardrobes to Oliver, his ideas were strikingly similar.

“Ryan is the kindest soul and so giving and humble,” said Nicholson. “It’s been a true gift to work with someone I really admire and now someone I consider a collaborator. It’s been amazing.”

Nicholson also partnered with David Glenn, associate professor and technical director for the Department of Theatre and Dance at Samford, to create a stage island that echoes the theme of isolation. In an innovative move, they relocated the orchestra pit from the front of the stage, bringing the island closer to the audience for added excitement. The Samford orchestra will perform from backstage, enhancing the surprise and thrill for an optimal viewing experience.

“It’s surreal,” said Nicholson. “To see the characters and music come to fruition with the students and the passion and commitment they have shown, it’s unreal. It’s been really cool to see the design elements come together and the creativity from our design faculty.”

The themes of Tomorrow, the Island Dies bear resemblance to the popular TV series Lost and Survivor, as well as the book Lord of the Flies. These themes encompass isolation, people on the fringes of society being ostracized by their community, extending undeserved mercy and forgiveness and finding light in the darkness. Nicholson drew inspiration from the Bible verse John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” She was also inspired by a quote from Galadriel in the Rings of Power: "Sometimes to find the light we must first touch the darkness." This story revolves around a lighthouse, and what better symbol for the hope we have in Christ in the midst of a dark sea? Nicholson’s goal is to leave her audience feeling kinder, empathetic and openhearted.

Join us for the thrilling world premiere of the musical, Tomorrow, the Island Dies.

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*Please note, this production includes content and strong language only suitable for adults.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.