Former Le Mars teacher has 'Great Expectations' for musical

Friday, June 6, 2008
Margaret Hoorneman

Remember orphan Pip's antics in the novel "Great Expectations?"

A former Le Mars teacher, Margaret Hoorneman, liked Charles Dickens' classic story so much she transformed it into a musical -- writing its first script when she was 80 years old.

Now Hoorneman's musical has been on stage and she is hoping it will eventually hit Broadway.

It was her students' enthusiasm that inspired her, Hoorneman said.

"Very often at the end of the school year, 'Great Expectations' was listed as their favorite book," said Hoorneman, now 94, in a telephone interview from her home in Florida. "It was appealing because they (students) could relate to the characters."

Hoorneman's musical version of "Great Expectations" has been performed in rented theaters in California and Florida. It will also have a six-week stint in July at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles.

Currently the musical is still in the developmental stage known as the "workshop phase," but its creative team hopes to soon bring it to full production.

"There's some areas where the transitions are not quite smooth," Hoorneman said. "These are the kinks we are trying to work out in the workshops."

The next step is to entice either commercial or nonprofit theater companies to put money behind "Great Expectations" and premiere it in their own theaters, which could lead from there to Broadway.

Georgia Darehshori, Hoorneman's daughter, said in an email that the Florida Repertory Theatre "is very likely" to pick up the musical for its 2009-10 season and if it does it would become "the premiering venue for 'Great Expectations.'"

"If we can raise the $250,000 here in Florida, they will do it here," Darehshori said. "What we're hoping for is corporate sponsorship."

Getting the musical production to this point has been a journey.

One that started with Hoorneman's dream of making "Great Expectations" into a musical, after teaching Dickens' classics at Le Mars Community High School.

She taught ninth grade English literature for 17 years.

"When I was teaching in Le Mars, 'Oliver' and 'A Christmas Carol' became successful musicals," Hoorneman said. "I thought 'Great Expectations' has as much potential as either of those two."

So, long after she stopped teaching, she decided to do something about it.

"After I was retired, I thought 'well maybe I would just play around with it,'" Hoorneman said.

After writing her six-hour script, Hoorneman contacted her grandson, Brian Van Der Wilt, who was working in television, in Los Angeles, with her idea. He then enlisted script writers and a lyricist to help continue the adaptation.

"My grandson and a friend of his found ways to eliminate some of the characters and find a few ways to shorten it," Hoorneman said. "We reviewed a lot of movies that had been about 'Great Expectations.'"

The classic story features a young boy, Pip, and his development through life after an early meeting with an escaped convict. Later Pip meets Miss Havisham and falls in love with her daughter Estella. As he grows into an adult Pip faces many challenges including losing all his money and his love, according to www.

Five years later with financing through her son-in-law, Gholi Darehshori, a script specialist was hired to whittle the plot down from six-hours to two.

"When I was 85 we went out and made the first demo," Hoorneman said. "That demo caught the attention of a New York director. At the time he thought the play could go to an original theater or go to Broadway."

But then production of the musical stalled again after 9-11 when money for Broadway productions of new shows dried up, Hoorneman said.

"Right now there has been renewed interest in it. We're getting bids from theater companies," she said. "We don't know where it's going. We do know we need to seek money to get it started."

But whatever happens all the hard work -- from writing the musical to bringing it to the stage -- has all been worth it, Hoorneman said.

"I don't ever think I will live to see any gains from it," she said. But "I would like to see 'Great Expectations' out there because I think it deserves a place in the entertainment world."

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