Jack-of-all-trades Carden masters the stage

PVCC Theatre gets in touch with its inner Flavio at the first reading of John Carden's new musical.

For local singer, composer, and hairdresser John Carden, being a jack-of-all-trades is second nature. After finding international success as an opera singer, Carden unexpectedly shifted his tune and began performing jazz with iconic local pianist George Melvin in 2007. Now Carden has shifted once more and embraced a new form– the musical.

During the summer of 2006, Carden put on his composer hat and began penning a musical based on an Italian play from 1682. "I had never written a musical before, so I really gave it a lot of thought," Carden says. "I wrote a whole new script, changed characters and it became Fabulous Flavio."

The musical, which follows the comic and tragic trajectory of King Flavio and his kingdom, combines all aspects of Carden's musical career. In composing the score, the opera-turned-jazz singer brought all his musical influences to the task.

"I decided to compose the music according to who the characters were," Carden explained. "The comic characters live in a jazz world while the tragic figures live in more of a popular-rock-opera kind of world. The king lives in a very traditional Broadway world."

But how did Fabulous Flavio, which Carden composed "for himself", make it to the big stage of Piedmont Virginia Community College? After entertaining salon client Wendy DeVere-Austin with tales of his composing experience, Carden was surprised when her husband Raymond Austin– Hollywood producer of such shows as The Avengers and Loveboat– approached him at a party.

"He asked about what I was doing and then asked to have a chance to hear the music and script," Carden says. "April 2007 rolled around and he wrote me an email to ask if it was done. That's when I knew he was serious."

So serious, in fact, that after he heard it, he began to try to help Carden line up a venue. On a whim, Carden approached friends at Piedmont, who quickly invited him to direct it as the college's spring production.

"Raymond said, 'I would like to do it as a community production because I've never had the opportunity here to do that,'" Carden says. "The performers who are in this are all local, but it's the first time I've seen this much firepower under one ensemble."

The 18-person cast ranges in age from 17 on up and includes the king, two "star-crossed" couples and an ensemble of dancing ladies. The entire production has benefited from Austin's experience, according to Carden. "He really gets to the essence of it. If there's an actor struggling, he knows immediately how to remedy the situation and make it easy for them," he says.

As the curtain goes up on Flavio's opening night, Carden will be content to stay in the shadows backstage. After letting his singing take the spotlight for the majority of his musical career, that will be a new experience: "Writing was the hardest part for me because I knew it was important to create characters we would care about," he says.

He'd better get used to it, since he's already gearing up to work on another script with Austin and might very well end up taking that one all the way too – that is, if he doesn't change course again before then.

PVCC Theatre presents Fabulous Flavio April 2-4 at 7:30pm, April 9-11 at 7:30 pm, and April 4 & 11 at 2:30 pm in the V. Earl Dickinson Building. Tickets are $10 adults, $8 students/seniors.