Book illustrated by W. MI artist inspires new musical

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD)— As part of the Hope Summer Repertory TheaterHope College will debut a new musical inspired in part by the illustrations of Holland-based artist Joel Schoon-Tanis.

The book, titled “Lulu and the Long Walk,” was a collaborative effort between Schoon-Tanis and writer Dan Haseltine.

“I’ve illustrated a bunch of books over my career. This one I was really excited about,” Schoon-Tanis said, adding that Haseltine is a friend. “Some people may know (him) as the lead singer of the band Jars of Clay, but also (he) has done a lot of work with a group called Blood: Water Missionbringing water to Africa.

Schoon-Tanis has also spent time in Africa, so when Haseltine approached him about creating the book, he said he was all in.

“The core idea is a serious one, that a lot of kids around the world don’t have access to clean water. And often it’s the girls who have to go get the water, which also keeps them from being able to go to school,” Schoon-Tanis explained.

(A June 2022 photo shows Dan Haseltine’s book, “Lulu and the Long Walk,” illustrated by Holland-based artist Joel Schoon-Tanis.)

Last winter, HSRT approached the pair about turning their book into a musical.

“We were instantly excited and for a second Dan and I thought ‘Yeah, let’s write a musical,’ and then they told us about this amazing playwright, Aesu Lartey who not only has the pedigree but also some cultural background. And he was just so much more equipped clearly to do this that we were like ‘Yes, you do this instead,’” Schoon-Tanis said.

The production is part of HSRT’s new GENext Program Which will commission, workshop, or produce one work every season by artists who are Black, indigenous and people of color.

“It’s important to hear those stories and it’s important to be a part of something that encompasses the human experience,” said Marcus Johnson, HSRT’s associate artistic director.

A New York City-based writer and composer, Lartey worked hard to create a show that does just that.

“I was asked to write a musical that lasts for 70 minutes, and it takes about seven minutes to read through the book,” Lartey joked.

He used “Lulu and the Long Walk” as a prompt about a variety of issues including environmental, social, and financial.

“(The book is) very much designed to say ‘Hey, I want to ask these questions after I read this book.’ You know, like why does Lulu have to fetch water? Why do animals help her? Why’s she have to go so far? And then you would talk to your parents about that. My goal was you don’t have to talk to your momma about nothing after you watch this,” Lartey explained.

Although the story is based in Africa, Lartey said it’s about real human experiences people can relate to because they’re happening all over the world, including here in the US

“There’s people who live in every single state without water access, without educational access, without health care,” Lartey said.

He added that it’s been an incredible experience watching the show come to life and witnessing the hard work from everyone involved.

“These people are dedicated. They are committed. We are walking in lock step in a single vision,” Lartey said.

“Lulu and the Long Walk” will premiere as HSRT celebrates its 50th anniversary.

“That is a huge deal for us and I think that’s also what makes Lulu so special. I can’t think of a better theater for young audiences’ project to put on the stage for the 50th than Lulu,” Johnson said.

The show will run from June 23 through Aug. 4 at Hope’s DeWitt Studio Theatre. You can purchase tickets here.