PORTSMOUTH — Jon McCormack, a Dover guitarist and songwriter, was standing in a hardware store checking out paint colors with names like “French Chocolate” and “Gypsy Teal,” when he was unexpectedly inspired to write music.
Sixteen songs later, he has an album, and his rock opera, “Paintbox,” will open Friday and run through March 24 at the Players’ Ring. The show combines a band, actors and a script in a multi-media production that defies traditional definitions.
“The multimedia project will combine the power of a live band with the actors and will present visual material and dialog that bring the characters within the songs to life,” said McCormack, who has been creating and playing in the Seacoast for nearly three decades.
“The combination of what McCormack put in the concept album and what he took out of it to put in the theatrical show is fantastic,” said Director Tomer Oz of Portsmouth, who plays music with McCormack. Paintbox is “incredibly original.”
McCormack didn’t necessarily like the colors “French Chocolate” or “Gypsy Teal” for the room he wanted to paint, but the names hit the spot when it came to inspiring music. McCormack’s wife, Nicki Connors, soon pointed out that a character and a story were percolating in the lyrics, and she became central to the creation of the album and the rock opera.
“It was really gratifying to collaborate with my wife,” McCormack said. Connors now acts in the show and is billed as a co-producer.
The character that evolved from the songs was Annie Pepperberry, a creative person trying to find her way. The show follows Annie from age 8 into her 50s as she dreams of being an artist but finds life getting in the way, starting with her mother.
“It’s a kind of tragedy,” said McCormack. “Her mother is very abusive and discouraging and so Annie has all these hurdles.”
But ultimately, McCormack said, the production boils down to a relatively upbeat message: “It’s never too late, no matter what life throws at you or how discouraged you are.”
McCormack himself had parents who supported his quest to be in the arts, but he empathizes with the challenge.
“Anyone who has had that dream of being creative and artistic and felt like life and all the responsibility has gotten in the way will understand Annie’s situation,” said McCormack, an English major in college who sells real estate in the day.
“Paintbox” has a cast of eight actors and five band members, who are also on stage and integral to the show. McCormack himself is in the band and has a small role. Fellow band member, Richard Habib collaborated with McCormack on the album, which was released Dec. 8.
Although McCormack wrote the dialogue and created the characters, Oz was instrumental in bringing what McCormack wrote to life on the stage from casting, editing, organizing and adding his vision and creativity to the scenes, sets and performances.
“He’s super talented, energetic and positive,” McCormack said.
Jordan Formichelli of Portsmouth plays the lead in a cast that includes: Connors, Christian Maurice, Bruce Pingree, Elizabeth Feinschreiber, Haley DeValliere, Jordan DiTore and Bob Porzio.
“Paintbox” will be performed March 8 to 24 at the Players’ Ring Theatre, 105 Marcy St., Portsmouth. Shows are Saturdays and Sundays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $18, with discounts for students, seniors and Players’ Ring members. Reservations can be made at playersring.org or by calling 436-8123.