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Thanks to family and friends, the late, great artist's musical is staged by Lakewood Theater Company.

COURTESY PHOTO: JESSE VINTON - The musical initially developed by Will Vinton and David Pomeranz, "The Kiss," has been staging at Lakewood Theater Company, thanks to family and friends finishing the project after Vinton's death. His son, Jesse Vinton, serves as writer and producer.Will Vinton wasn't just about claymation, stop-motion animation, foamation, 3D graphics and making great commercials, which made him famous. He was about embracing evolution and change, which led him to devise a musical play near the end of his life. He was always reinventing himself, one of his sons said.

"He was always really receptive to new technologies, which is something he instilled in my brother and me," Jesse Vinton said.

The elder Vinton, a McMinnville native whose Will Vinton Studio gave us the California Raisins, Michael Jackson as a California Raisin and dancing M&Ms, passed away in 2018 at age 70, after a years-long battle with myeloma. Sons Jesse and Billy, inspired by their father, went the creative route as well — Jesse heads Vinton Depiction, a filmmaking/commercials company, and Billy runs the dotdotdash design company, both in Portland.

They loved him and miss him, and to honor their father, Jesse Vinton followed through on finishing one of Vinton's final projects.

With the help of musician David Pomeranz, writer/director Greg Tamblyn and others, "The Kiss" musical was completed and then put on stage by Lakewood Theater Company, as it's currently being shown at the Lakewood Center for the Arts in Lake Oswego through Aug. 17. Will Vinton talked with the Portland Tribune about many things earlier in 2018, including how he had developed "The Kiss" through character workshops at the complex of designer Michael Curry in Scappoose and some readings.

"It's a musical comedy. It's a very adult version of the (the Brothers Grimm's) 'The Frog Prince,' a battle of the sexes thing," said Will Vinton, who had started the musical project with Pomeranz. It had actually been devised as an animated feature movie back in the 1990s, but it never developed. (And, Jesse Vinton said the newer version of the play is 100% family friendly.)

As actor and Vinton friend Mary MacDonald-Lewis wrote in an email to the Tribune, "it was Will's dying wish that his son Jesse continue 'The Kiss' development into a full musical, and now that dream, at least in this iteration, has come true."

COURTESY PHOTO: JESSE VINTON - "The Kiss" is a take on the Brothers Grimm's "The Frog Prince," and it stages at Lakewood Theater Company through Aug. 17.Jesse Vinton served as writer and producer of "The Kiss," but leaned on Tamblyn and Pomeranz.

"He'd been working on it for a long time," Jesse said of his father. "A lot of great art and development and ideas went into it. Fast forward, after leaving (Will Vinton) studio, he ended up with this project and had the rights to it. He had this dream for musical theater as a thought of reinventing himself. He thought 'The Kiss' would be well suited for the stage.

"Talking with MaryMac, I said, 'I don't know anything about theater, help.' And, 10 years ago my dad sat with her and said, 'I don't know anything about theater, help.' I've learned a lot more. Filmmaking and storytelling are dear to my heart, so I worked on it."

Several years ago, Will Vinton received some backing from Broadway producer Corey Brunish, a partner of Tamblyn's, but "The Kiss" had not seen the stage until this year.

"Not that it was a bad thing, but one of the last conversations we had was about some of his projects, he never wanted us to feel burdened by his projects," said Jesse, 31. "He talked about 'The Kiss' specifically, if I wanted to pursue and complete it, he'd love it. I said I'd tried to do it.

"When dad passed, David was very supportive, a wonderful guy that I had a lot of conversations with. He made me feel welcome. He believed in me that I could help grow this project. It was really cool how good he made me feel, and allowing me to bring my own perspective."

COURTESY PHOTO: JESSE VINTON - Organizers behind "The Kiss" include (left to right) Kristin Van Sickle (music director), Greg Tamblyn (director and book writer), Jesse Vinton (book writer) and David Pomeranz (composer and lyricist)And, Will Vinton believed that Tamblyn could help the younger Vinton finish the project. He has helped greatly.

Tamblyn told the Lake Oswego Review that the "The Kiss" is more contemporary than Disney's "Princess and the Frog" and has a "real fresh feel." The music, Tamblyn said, ranges from the ilk of Justin Bieber and The Weeknd to classical musical theater numbers like those of "Beauty and the Beast."

He added: "Because of (Vinton's) legacy and because of how important this project was to him, the thing I'm most excited about is the promise that I made to him — that this show would be on stage — is going to happen. His dream will be on stage."

Tamblyn expressed awe at how the cast and crew created an entirely new world that didn't exist a year ago.

"The artistic team, the costume designer, the set designer, the makeup artist, the lighting designer — anybody who is touching this is not going off of anyone else's palette. This is all brand new. All the people that have touched this musical have brought so much to the quality and the style and the beauty of the show. Given any other combination, I'm not sure it would have happened."

Jesse Vinton said it's a fairytale but with "anachronistic 'Shrek'-style humor, satirical humor, fairytale humor that's in touch with modern day." The prince, who's full of himself, haughty and arrogant, turns into a frog, which makes him reevaluate his inner self. The princess from the neighboring kingdom can rescue him, but the one-time friends had grown apart and "they're learning to love and hopefully connect with one another through the process," he said.

COURTESY PHOTO: WILL VINTON ENTERTAINMENT - Will Vinton was a pioneer in claymation with several characters, including the California Raisins. He died in 2018 at age 70, but one of his last projects has come to fruition with "The Kiss."The organizers want to try to stage the musical at a regional theater next, and Will Vinton's goal for "The Kiss" had always been Broadway, his son said.

"The feedback from this round has been so great," Jesse said. "Every time you put a show on you learn a lot. I feel like we're getting a lot of laughs. It's touching the human note that feels good, and what people want and react to. It's a divisive time in the country, and it's important time to get laughs and get connection without being political one way or another."

It'll go down as Will Vinton's final work, we assume, in a career that skyrocketed from the claymation California Raisins, Michael Jackson becoming a Raisin for a commercial (for free) and the development of the M&Ms characters that still star in commercials today — long after Vinton had left the studio bearing his name.

"In a sense, California Raisins were the original viral," Jesse said. "Media and communication are so fragmented today. Something kids are watching viral you might not have heard of. In the '80s, California Raisins were viral — they touched a pop culture nerve, and everybody knew about it. Ubiquitous. Michael Jackson wanted to be a California Raisin. People my age might not know about California Raisins, but I just have to say he turned Michael Jackson into a Raisin."

Jesse Vinton remembers talking with his father about the success with commercials.

"He didn't live in the past too much, but if I asked for fun stories … California Raisins stuff came up," Jesse said. "He had a tape cassette from an old answering machine, and Michael Jackson was calling him in the middle of night. Michael was a creative genius and a control freak, but for a great product. He would call my dad over and over in the middle of night, and leave messages, 'The character had to be perfect.'"

Jesse added, of his father:

"The biggest lesson from his career is everything was about the character. Their studio was known for creating iconic characters, all these fascinating, outlandish characters. That to him was what storytelling was. I have my own instincts for style and message in my films but I try to answer what is the core heart of this, and what dad would say is, 'It's about the characters.'"

For more on "The Kiss," see

Read the Portland Tribune's story on Will Vinton from January 2018 here:

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