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Musical is part of the annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Work Jan. 27-28 in Portland

Milwaukie residents who remember Paul deLay, as well as fans of the late blues legend's music, will be delighted to hear that Portland playwright Wayne Harrel has adapted deLay's songs into a musical called "Just This One."

PHOTO BY ROSS HAMILTON - Bluesman Paul deLay is best known for his singing, songwriting and harmonica playing.  The musical is part of the annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Work and will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27, and at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28, at Michelle's Piano Company, 600 S.E. Stark St., Portland.

The Fertile Ground Festival of New Work is an 11-day arts festival held every January in Portland. This citywide festival focuses on new work in the arts and features world-premiere projects, staged readings, developing works and more.

Harrel has done shows with Fertile Ground before and said the organization has been "a huge help in providing marketing support and bringing in an audience."

Local man

Harrel noted that deLay was born and raised in Milwaukie's Ardenwald neighborhood, and his father, Allan, was a well-known Boy Scout master, newspaper photographer and musical saw player.

"Paul was even more famous for his singing, songwriting and internationally acclaimed harmonica playing," Harrel said.

 PHOTO BY JANELL DENK - From left, Saeeda Wright, Lisa Mann and LaRhonda Steele play three blues singers, interested in performing Paul deLay's songs in 'Just This One,' opening Jan. 27 in Portland. "He was a great talent who never got focused until he was arrested for selling drugs in 1990," Harrel said, noting that deLay spent 41 months in Sheridan Penitentiary.

"He kept writing songs all through prison, and when he came out of jail he married Megan Gill, and they had 10 good years together," Harrel said.

About 12 years ago, deLay became ill and was diagnosed with end-stage leukemia; he died March 7, 2007, at age 55.

'Just This One'

Harrel used to work for an events company, and he hired deLay and his band and came to love the music.

After listening to the lyrics for "If She Is," deLay's song about being contacted by an ex-girlfriend, Harrel said "the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I thought 'This is a show.'"

It was a "creative struggle," Harrel said, to write the musical, but his goal was to "get his best songs out there in a compelling story."

"Just This One" is loosely based on deLay's songs with a fictional story to "free up dramatic possibilities," Harrel said.

The story revolves around Moe Dupree, who is going to jail after playing one final gig. But as he passionately sings his songs one last time, three sultry female singers show up, and they want to get in on the action.

Audiences will like hearing deLay's songs and enjoy seeing the interaction between characters, Harrel said.

"Paul was a huge talent and called himself a 'stage hog.' He sang all his songs himself, and it will be a treat for people to hear his songs coming from other PHOTO BY VAL K. DAVIS - Paul deLay, who grew up in Ardenwald, called himself a stage hog, when he performed with his band.  people," he said.

"The sparring among the three women is funny, and each woman sings a beautiful ballad."

Professional musicians

Ben Rice, an Oregon native and the latest winner of the Cascade Blues Association's Traditional Blues Act Award, will play Moe. Joining him onstage will be LaRhonda Steele, the CBA's 2017 Female Vocalist of the Year; Lisa Mann, a multi-CBA award-winning performer; and Saeeda Wright, featured soloist at the Oregon Symphony's Gospel Christmas concert.

"It's a thrill to be in the room with this kind of talent," Harrel said.

Even before he started writing the musical, he knew that "I Win" was going to be the final song in the show.

"It's a gospel tune; he's been through all kinds of terrible difficulties and he's found a woman who makes him a better person. It's a glorious song," Harrel said.

His main goal in writing the musical was to "help people understand where [deLay] came from. He persevered and conquered. He was a deep thinker, poignant and funny."

Looking ahead, Harrel said he hopes a "big, theatrical company will fall in love with the show" and produce it for a longer run.

"I would love for Paul's story to be heard."

Sing the blues

What: Whink Productions presents "Just This One," a musical about a prison-bound blues singer's last chance, written by Wayne Harrel

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27, and 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28

Where: Michelle's Piano Company, 600 S.E. Stark St., Portland

Cost: $25 at fertilegroundpdx.org or $30 at the door

Details: The musical is part of the Fertile Ground Festival of New Work.

Cast: Ben Rice, LaRhonda Steele, Lisa Mann, Saeeda Wright, Hank Shreve and Dave Fleschner. Judy Straalsund directs and Dave Fleschner is the musical director.

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