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5 Questions with 'Animal Farm' composer Jeff Ellis

Chris Dorst
The cast of "Animal Farm." From right to left: Kim Waybright (white horse), Barbara Bayes (brown horse) Sarah Fox (pigeon), David Comer (brown horse), Ronald T. Clark (pig), Will Taylor (redhead pig), John Halstead (raven), Gary Brown (black pig), Dan Heyman (pig) Jeff Ellis, center with guitar and harmonica.
WANT TO GO?Charleston Stage Company presents 'Animal Farm'WHERE: Capitol Theater, 123 Summers St.WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25-27TICKETS: Adults $15, Students and Seniors $10.INFO: 304-343-5272 or www.charlestonstagecompany.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Veteran singer/songwriter Jeff Ellis has been sort of M.I.A. lately. Best known for several very well received indie records, including his second album "Front Seat at the End of the World," Ellis has almost dropped out of sight.Now, he's back, working as a composer with Charleston Stage Company's production of George Orwell's "Animal Farm," which opens Thursday at the Capitol Theater on Summers Street.The Gazz spoke to Ellis about his first foray into theater as well as his absence from the West Virginia music scene.   Q: How did you get involved with this?A: "The skinny of it is Rebecca Kimmons and I were at that "Words and Music" show back in 2009. That's the only interaction with any kind of theater I've ever had. Then I guess Frieda [director Frieda Forsely] was looking for someone to do some music, and Rebecca threw my name in the hat."Frieda gave me a call. I'm a fan of 'Animal Farm' so I was interested immediately. We met, and she told me she wanted me to come up with a couple of tunes and some music for 15-20 second segments."Q: What did you write?
A: "Well, one full song called "Sugar Candy Mountain." That's Moses' [a crow] biggest rant. I put together the music for "Beasts of England." The lyrics for that come right out of the play. I also did a song for Minimus the pig."With "Sugar Candy Mountain," Frieda said she wanted something that had an old-timey gospel sound. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church so I was familiar with the song format."Q: What was the hardest part?
A: "Coming in with no theater experience, I guess, aside from writing with a set script, the hardest part was teaching people the songs."Q: What's the play like?A: "It's kind of a quasi musical now. Two of the songs the whole cast sings. The Minimus song is very over the top. The guy playing him really hams it up--no pun intended --but he's really great."They use some puppets and some live actors in masks with tails and stuff. It's kind of a weird mixture."The play kind of reminds me of Roger Waters, like something from Pink Floyd's "The Wall." Yeah, it's got kind of a folk-rock opera quality to it."Q: What's next and would you do it again?
A: "Yeah, if the piece was right, I'd absolutely do it again. This thing worked out perfectly for me, but I'm a fan of "Animal Farm." I don't know if I'd be all that interested in "The Nutcracker," but if the material was right..."Doing "Animal Farm" is really good timing. It kind of got me back into things. Over the past two years, I got married, had a kid, bought a house and started a career. I haven't done a whole lot musically, maybe five or six shows this year, but I've been recording and booking some shows toward the end of the year and there should be an album next year."Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.
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