Owen & Mzee The Musical



  • Book and Music by Michelle Elliott
  • Music and Lyrics by Danny Larsen
  • Directed and Choreographed byStanley W. Mathis
  • Based on the book by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff
  • and Dr. Paula Kahumbu
  • With Photography by Peter Greste


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



TJ Bolden (Mzee) is excited to be joining the cast of Owen & Mzee. Originally from Memphis,TN his passion for musical theatre has always been apart of his life since discovering the art of theatre at the age of 10. His passion for the art form has only grown over the years. His training includes Columbia College Chicago, HB Studio, and Cap21. Favorite credits include:Jesus Christ Superstar, Little shop of Horrors, Rent, Mahalia, Men with Money, Mind the Gap www.tjbolden.com

Eric J Willingham (Owen) is a New York based actor born in Alabama. He's grateful for the opportunity to be originating the role of Owen with this phenomenal cast! Eric is an alumna from The American Musical and Dramatic Academy where he majored in musical theatre. Some stage credits include an Off-Broadway production of LINE (Stephen) and National tour of The Berenstain Bears, LIVE! (Brother Bear). TV/film credits include a feature on HBO's new series "The Deuce," starring James Franco. He thanks God, his parents (RIP Daddy), grandma Jimmie, friends, family and looking forward to the future. Eric is repped by Advantage and UGA Talent.

Myles Phillips (Papa Hippo/Giraffe) is thrilled to be making his debut at Vital Theatre and being a part of the fantastic cast and crew of Owen and Mzee. Originally from Dallas Texas, Myles received his BFA in Musical Theatre at Nebraska Wesleyan University. His recent credits include PITS! The Unauthorized Holes Musical (Steve/Yellow Dotted Lizard), Occasion For Sin (Manco Inca), Journey to America (James Aponomith) with Orchestra Moderne-NYC at Carnegie Hall. Many thanks to Vital Theatre Company and the Owen and Mzee crew.

Brandon M. Weber (Assistant Director/Stage Manager) a New Orleans native, recently graduated from The University of the Arts with a BFA in Musical Theatre. You've probably seen him in the world premiere musical The New World (Bucks County Playhouse), one of the workshop productions of The Total Bent (The Public Theater), or Huzzah! (Williamstown Theatre Festival). Regional: Orpheus in the Berkshires (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Lost in the Meadow (People's Light Theatre Company), How Green Was My Valley (Main Street Musicals), and Better Than Abnormal (Philly Young Playwrights). He is extremely grateful to work with such an outstanding creative team and cast.

Chelsea Margaux Smith (Enselble) is thrilled and honored to be joining the cast of Owen and Mzee. Originally from North Carolina, Chelsea received her BM in Vocal Performance from The Boston Conservatory and her MM in Musical Theatre from NYU Steinhardt. Her most recent credits include Hairspray! (The Argyle Theatre) and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Live! (National Tour) Thanks again to Vital Theatre Company for this opportunity!


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.

Stanley Wayne Mathis (Director/Choreographer/Designer) is a Broadway veteran and Children's Theater Performer origionally from Washington D.C. He last seen on Broadway and the National Tour as Mafala Hatimbi in The Book Of Mormon. Other Broadway credits include: Nice Work If You Can Get It, with Mathew Brodrick and Kelly O'Hara, Wonderful Town starring Donna Murphy, later with Brooke Shields with Jennifer Westfeldt. Kiss Me Kate! with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, You're A Good Man Charlie Brown as Schroeder with Kristen Chenoweth, The original cast of The Lion King as Banzai the hyena, Jelly's Last Jam directed by George C. Wolfe starring Gregory Hines and his Broadway debut David Merrick's Oh Kay which he won the 1990 Fred Astaire Award. Off Broadway credits include City Center's St. Louis Woman opposite Vanessa Williams directed by Jack O'Brien. Real Black Men Don't Sit Cross legged On The Floor at The New Federal Theatre which won him the 2006 Audelco Award. Regionals include: August Wilson's Radio Golf at Kansas City Rep and Gem Of The Ocean at Seattle Rep directed by Phylicia Rashad. Fences At Bristol Riverside Theater PA,Death Of A Salesman at Yale Rep starring Charles Dutton, You Can't Take It With You at Pioneer Theater, Utah. Blues For An Alabama Sky at Cleveland Playhouse, Of Mice And Men at Dallas Theater Company, Master Harold And The Boys at Triad Stage, Greensboro NC. Animal Crackers and Faust at The Goodman Theater, Chicago, Abyssinia at the Arena Stage D.C. Day Of Absence at Baltimore Center Stage, Cinderella at Papermill Playhouse starring Suzzane Douglas and The Ogunquit Playhouse starring, Leslie Uggams, Anything Goes at Montclair Theater Festival starring Melba Moore and Emily Mann's Greensboro at Princeton. International: Spunk directed by George C, Wolfe at The Royal Court Theater in London and Williams And Walker at The Bermuda Theater Festival. Television: Law & Order, Criminal Intent, Gossip Girls, 20/20, SNL, Late Night With Conan O'Brien. You also can look for him in NBC's "Rise" this spring as Principal Evan Ward. Film: Magic Sticks, Dark Streets, Brother To Brother, Santa Baby (Animation) starring Vanessa Williams, Gregory Hines, Patti La Belle, Eartha Kitt, and Steve Mc Queen's Shame. Stanley's Children's Theater includes: The Library Theater Books Alive Traveling Show in D.C. CAT( Creative Arts Team), Nucleus with founders Attalah Shabazz and Yolanda King, Periwinkle Theater Company, New Jersey Playwrights, Sacred Hearts Creative Arts Summer Program, Troika Children's Theater in Bermuda and Rosie O'Donald's Broadway Kids. He has directed Little Shop Of Horrors, Westside Story, You're A Good Man Charlie Brown, True Colors (an original musical), How To Eat Like A Child, Once On This Island and recently The Lion King Jr. at Brazo Valley Troupe in Brazo Valley Texas. Stanley has his BFA from Washington International College, D.C. Studied at Career For The Arts ( Now Duke Ellington School Of The Arts) Lynn Welters Dance Studios, Melvin Deal African Drummers and Dancers, HB Studios,NYC and was a member of Ebony Impromptu Theater Company and Charles Moore African Dancers and Drummers. He hopes everyone enjoys the journey of Owen & Mzee.

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

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.

Nevada Lozano (Musical Director) is thrilled to join Vital Theatre Company in telling the story of Owen and Mzee! Music directing credits include: The Fourth Messenger, The Gold (NYMF); The Lady of the Castle (Theater for the New City); Godspell, Company, Next to Normal, Avenue Q, Little Shop of Horrors (MJR Theatricals); Little Women, Godspell (A.D. Players); Orfeo ed Euridice, La Tragédie de Carmen and La Clemenza di Tito (Opera in the Heights), among many others. Nevada studied composition at the Eastman School of Music and Rice University, and he is a proud member of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop.

Brian Everett Chandler (Lighting Design) holds a B.F.A. in theatre from Howard University. He has designed lights and/or sets for such productions as "The Wiz", "Annie", "West Side Story", "The River Niger", "Boys In The Band", "The Fantasticks", "The Gingham Dog", "Beauty and The Beast", and "Bubbling Brown Sugar". He has stage managed for Rosie O'Donnell's Broadway Kids, New York University's Creative Arts Team, Jelome Vierra's Dance Brazil, Fred Benjamin's Dance Company, Washington D.C. , Capital Ballet, Obba Babatunde's and Rena Phillip's Performing Arts Musical Theatre for Kids, Karamu House and a number of other regional theatres. As a performer, and a member of AEA, and AFTRA-SAG, notable roles include Mufasa, in the Broadway company of "The Lion King", Curtis in the national tour of "Dreamgirls", P.F.C. Peterson in the Negro Ensemble's national tour of "A Soldier's Play", and Edmund in the Pearl Theatre's production of "King Lear". T.V. credits include "Star Trek Deep Space Nine", "Phil of The Future", a variety of soap operas including a recurring role on "The Guiding Light". Brian currently teaches Drama at the Rainey Institute in Cleveland Ohio as well as teaching in an artist outreach program for the East Cleveland public school system.

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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