Owen & Mzee The Musical



  • Book and Music by Michelle Elliott
  • Music and Lyrics by Danny Larsen
  • Directed and Choreographed byTyrone L. Robinson
  • Associate Choreographer Patricia Gibson
  • Production Stage Manager Tanya Sapp
  • Props Katelyn Degennaro
  • Based on the book by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff
  • and Dr. Paula Kahumbu
  • With Photography by Peter Greste
  • Original Concept by Stanley Mathis


The amazing true story of the orphaned baby hippo and 130-year-old giant turtle whose remarkable friendship touched millions around the world.

The inspiring true story of two great friends, a baby hippo named Owen and a 130-yr-old giant tortoise named Mzee. When Owen was stranded after a tsunami, villagers in Kenya worked tirelessly to rescue him. Then, to everyone's amazement, the orphan hippo and the elderly tortoise adopted each other. Now they are inseparable, swimming, eating, and playing together. Adorable photos e-mailed from friend to friend quickly made them worldwide celebrities. Here is a joyous reminder that in times of trouble, friendship is stronger than the differences that too often pull us apart. Coming in 2018



Eric J. Willingham (Owen) is a New York based actor and performing artist born in Alabama. He's an alumnus of The American Musical and Dramatic Academy New York. A few credits include (Owen) in Owen & Mzee The Musical, Off-Broadway and a feature on HBO's series "The Deuce." I thank God, Mom (RIP Daddy), Grandma Jimmie, Misty @ Advantage Talent & Ally @ Roberson's Artist Management!

Justin Emmanuel Parker (Mzee) is honored to take the stage with this talented cast. NYC Credits: Urinetown ( Billy Boy Bill / understudy Bobby Strong) Hairspray ( Duane) National Tour Credits: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live! ( O the Owl/ Music Man Stan/ Baker Aker/ King Friday) Regional Credits: ELF (Store Manger) Sister Act (Eddie Souther)The Color Purple ( Mister) Scrooge No More( Ghost of Christmas present) The Full Monty ( Horse ) Annie and Happy Days. Thank you Jesus Christ and my family for being my strength. Special thanks to Holly Buczek for this opportunity. He is represented by JC William Agency. AMDA NY Alumnus 1 Corinthians 2:9

Aguel Lual (Ensemble & Dance Captian) is a New York based actor who was raised in Nebraska. She graduated from the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film with a degree in theatre performance and is excited to be apart of such a wonderful production! Some of her favorite credits include Kate Monster in Avenue Q and Ella in Ella Enchanted. Aguel is the proud daughter of South Sudanese refugees and is constantly overwhelmed by the love and support of her friends and family.

Jaylon Jazz MCcraven (Ensemble) is proud to be apart of this very beautiful & talented cast. He was recently in King's Dominions Amusement Park as a singer/dancer in Winterfest. He is a recent graduate at the University of Memphis majoring in theatre with a concentration in Performance, with a minor in Dance as well as a minor in African American Studies. His favorite performance credits are Dreamgirls, Newsies, Aida, Violet, and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. He would like to thank his mother for always supporting him and not allowing him stop believing in himself, and he would like to also thank his beautiful friends and colleagues for continuing to make such a difference in his life.


Michelle Elliott (Book and Lyrics) and long-time collaborator, Danny Larsen, have written six original musicals, including The Yellow Wood (which received a Richard Rodgers Award and the Daryl Roth Award), Cloaked (which received the Jonathan Larson Award and for which Michelle was awarded the prestigious Kleban Prize for Most Promising Librettist) and their newest work, Hart Island, about New York City's notorious paupers' field. In 2014, Michelle and Danny's musical for young people, Zombie in Love, premiere at the Oregon Children's Theatre, where it received multiple Drammy Awards, including Best Original Score and Best Original Script, as well as the Portland Area Musical Theatre Award for Outstanding Original Musical. With her collaborator, she wrote and produced an online musical for teens in response to the spate of suicides by gay youth called The Hinterlands. The show can be viewed at HinterlandsTheMusical.com and via Youtube. Michelle's first play, Promising, was produced off-off-Broadway in late 2015. Michelle has an M.F.A. from NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, an M.A. in Directing from University of Wisconsin – Superior and a B.A. in Performance from University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Prior to moving to New York City, Michelle co-founded an independent theater company in Minneapolis, Minnesota called Frontier Theatre, where she wrote, directed and produced original musicals. Michelle is a proud member of ASCAP.

Danny Larsen (Music and Lyrics) graduated from New York University's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program where he met his collaborator, Michelle Elliott. Their first musical, The Yellow Wood, was awarded the 2006 Richard Rodgers Development Award and the Daryl Roth Award. In 2007, The Yellow Wood was presented in the New York Musical Theatre Festival, where Danny won the award for Best Music. Cloaked, their second show, received workshop productions at CAP 21 (2010) and The Village Theatre in Issaquah, WA (2011), as well as a 2011 Jonathan Larson Grant and a coveted Kleban Prize. In 2013, Danny and Michelle wrote, filmed and produced a seven-part musical for teens entitled The Hinterlands in a response to the spate of suicides by gay youth. The musical web series was nominated in several categories, including Best Dramatic Series, at the IAWTV Awards. The show can be viewed at HinterlandsTheMusical.com and via YouTube. Their musical, Catch the Wind, a passionate exploration of the lives of women aboard a notorious pirate ship, was presented at the Buck Hill Skytop Music Festival in August, 2016. Their newest show, Hart Island, is about New York City's public burial ground and was shortlisted for the Kevin Spacey Foundation Artists of Choice award. Danny also holds Bachelors of Arts degrees in Music and Theatre Education from Brigham Young University. He won the ACTF Kennedy Center Composition award for his music and lyrics for Soft Shoe. Besides composing, Danny works as a professional music copyist, arranger and orchestrator and has orchestrated several musicals, including Wind in the Willows and The Ballad of Little Jo. Danny is a proud member of ASCAP.

Tyrone L. Robinson (Director and Choreographer) Tyrone is a New York City based writer, director, and actor specializing in musical theatre. He currently plays the role of King Agnarr in Disney's Frozen on Broadway and prior to that performed in The Book of Mormon and Disney's The Lion King, among others. Tyrone studied Musical Theatre Writing at New York University's prestigeous Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program which gives him a unique approach to collaborating when leading creative processes. His stage productions have been celebrated and most recently Tyrone ventured into filmmaking with the short film Un{H}armed, inspired by the tragic shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, California. Un{H}armed has been an official selection of over ten film festivals nationwide, including the Harlem International Film Festival, New York Short Film Festival, RKDS Film Festival, Georgia Shorts Film Festival, and Hudson Shorts Film Festival in Hudson, New York. Tyrone received the ASCAP Frederick Loewe Award for theatre writing and he wrote the music and lyrics for the musical Show Way, based on the beloved children's book of the same title by Jacqueline Woodson. The musical was nominated for an Off-Broadway Alliance Award ("Best Family Musical") for the production at Vital Theatre in New York City. He received the Evelyn Russell Layton Award from The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama after writing and directing an original musical there, and his music was heard at the Public Theatre in New York in the reading of Jerome A. Parker's play Bliss which starred Andre DeShields and Daphne Ruben-Vega. Tyrone is represented by The Gurman Agency in New York City and he thanks Stanley Mathis for the beautiful vision created in the original production of Owen and Mzee.

James Rushin (Musical Director) Multi-Instrumentalist, composer, and music director James Rushin is constantly working on and music directing new musicals, including: We Will Not Be Silent (NYMF Commission), Island Song (NYC Premiere), Captain Zuke, Dee, Khan!!!, Hypatia and the Heathens, and Till: the Emmett Till Story. Some of his all time favorite credits include: Walken On Sunshine (Off-Broadway, Composer), Anyone Can Whistle (MD, CMU), and Off With Her Maidenhead (MD/Composer) with librettist Amy Claussen. He recently was the Associate Music Director for Ogunquit Theater's production of Annie with Sally Struthers. James is equally at home in studio and on stage writing and performing in Hip Hop (Billy Pilgrim), Soul (Lyndsey Smith and Soul Distribution), Jazz (Ronnie Burrage), Improvised Musicals (Baby Wants Candy, Northcoast), Country (Maddie Georgi), Rock (Ribbons), Reggae (Rasta Rafiki), and Pop (Starbird and the Phoenix). He has opened for The Deftones, Tower of Power, and Nicki Minaj, and his songs have been featured on shows like CMT's Nashville.

Patrisha Gibson (Associate Choreographer) has toured internationally with the Glory Gospel Singers as well as Networks National Tour of Hairspray. For regional houses she performed in DreamGirls, Hairspray, Smokey Joe's Cafe, All Shook Up and Memphis to name a few. On screen, she can be seen in the TV series, A Crime to Remember, episode Baby Come Home. She also played Glady's Dubois in a TV mini series How To Make It Big.

Tanya Sapp (Production Stage Manager) is super excited to be back on the road Stage Managing for Vital Theatre! Previously she was on the road with Flight School and Pinkalicious. When shes not stage managing, you can find her as the Box Office/Merchandise Manager for Vital Theatre, and auditioning for her big break on stage.

William (Bill) Remington Hubner (Puppet and Set Designer) is an actor, singer, story teller, puppeteer and puppet builder. Bill is an original company member of Disney's. He worked in the Disney puppet department for 13 years and has also built puppets for Ave. Q, Broadway & Las Vegas. While at Lion King Bill helped create an educational experience called "The Pride Rock Project." That project with Disney and American Express was so popular that Bill created a spin off week long educational experience called "PUPPET CAMP. On BroadwayBill originated the role of the Audrey II in Little Shop of horrors. With his company Cat's Paw Collective Bill designed and built giant puppets for classical music pieces for three seasons at the Carnegie Hall family series. Bill helped develop the show and performed the T-Rex puppets at FIELD STATION DINOSAUR in Secaucus NJ. Most recently Bill returned from Dubai where he was puppet director for the live show NINJAGO, masters of Spinjitsu in the realm of Shadow for LEGOLAND Dubai. Bill is thrilled to be a part of Owen & Mzee permissiontocreate@yahoo.com

Katelyn Degennaro (Props) is trilled to be working on another show with Vital Theatre Company. She is currently the Production Stage Manager for Vital Theatre Company's production of Pinkalicious The Musical at St. Luke's Theatre. She has created the props for Vital's productions of Kid Frankenstein, Angelina Ballerina, Owen and Mzee, and Pinkalicious (National Tour). Katelyn has been creating props and stage managing in Northern New Jersey for the past ten years. She would like to thank her family for all of their support and hopes you all enjoy the show!

Holly Pocket McCaffrey (Costume Assistant) is delighted to be working with Vital Theatre Company again. She has previously assisted on Kid Frankenstein (2017), Wizard of Oz (2017), and the Vital tours of Pinkalicious (2017) and Flight School (2017). Holly has also worked with the Costume Design teams for the An American In Paris 1st National Tour and the School Of Rock 1st National Tour. She was also the Assistant Costumer for the Mint Theater Company's production of Hindle Wakes (2017). Holly has had the pleasure to stitch for Les Miserables North American Tour (2017), From Here to Eternity (2017) at Ogunquit Playhouse, and Jersey Boys (2017) at New World Stages. She would like to thank her family and friends and everyone at Vital Theatre Company.


Craig Hatkoff and daughters Juliana and Isabella (Authors of the Story Book) have co-authored the beloved 11-book Turtle Pond Collection, the award-winning series of nonfiction picture books chock full of teachable moments, awe, wonder and enchantment. The collection includes the #1 NY Times best-selling Owen & Mzee, Knut, Winter's Tail, Looking for Miza and now Cecil's Pride-- the incredible untold life story of the world's world's most important animal Cecil the Lion tragically killed in the summer of 2015.

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