LOUISVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) – Not to inflate the story of a boy and his balloon beyond what it was, but it seemed only a matter of time before someone set an incident with this much hot air to music.
Starting Thursday night, student thespians at Monarch High School in Louisville will perform “Balloon Boy The Musical.”
It’s a nod to the real-life story of Richard Heene, a Fort Collins man who feared his 6-year-old son crawled into his homemade, UFO-shaped hot-air balloon in 2009 before it accidentally sailed away, led police and media on a chase across Colorado’s skies, and shut down Denver’s airport.
(Spoiler alert: The boy, Falcon, was not inside the weather balloon and law enforcement later suggested the ordeal was a hoax.)
“Everybody heard about it,” Billy Recce, the playwright and a high school senior in New York, said. “Everyone was glued to their TVs.”
He said he vividly recalls watching the drama live on TV with his mom. The range of emotions he said people felt — “the shock in the beginning, the horror, the tears, and then there was the anger with the hoax” — prompted him to write.
“There was a lot of comedy in it too, to be honest,” Recce, 16, said. “I think that’s what really drew me to this story, this wide range of emotions, especially the humor in it. And I think it was something that needed to be joked about for people to accept it, so I think that’s really why I wanted to steer it into a musical-comedy direction.”
WEB EXTRA: Meet The Balloon Boy Playwright
He began working on the story when he was in seventh grade — and it had a “seventh-grade kind of feel” to it, he said. But it matured with more adult themes over the past several years.
He told his parents to prepare for a preposterous story: “I just said, ‘Now this is a musical and before I tell you what it’s about, just know it’s supposed to be ridiculous.’ ”
Recce entered his opening number, “Follow Your Dreams,” into Thespian Musicalworks, a competition in Lincoln, Neb. Representatives from Monarch met Recce at the festival and asked to stage his creation.
Performances are Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“Balloon Boy” details, in part, the media’s obsession with the story. A gaggle of reporters follows Richard and his wife, Mayumi , and peppers them with questions.
The musical’s characters, many of them reporters, are unsubtle about the incident’s duality: There was concern for the child, sure, but there was more concern for the story.
“Follow that story, follow that balloon,” the media sing in frequent refrain.
The dad, seemingly torn between worry for his son and fame for himself, sings, “I really, really, really want my son to survive,” just after asking the media throng: “By the way, is this on TV?”
Apoplectic in apparent ginned-up grief, he shouts: “My son is not here! My son is not here!”
Mom wonders: “Honey is there anywhere else he could be?”
A reporter asks him: “Sir, is it possible that your son may have fallen out of the balloon?”
“No, it can’t be. Yes, it can!” Dad yells.
His wife suggests their son may be hiding in the attic. After he’s found safe, the media descend on the family and ask Falcon why he didn’t come out of the attic. Just as Falcon starts blow the family’s cover, Dad interjects to say he’s happy his son is safe.
That’s a salute to a live TV interview with the Heenes, when the real Falcon was asked why he didn’t come out of the family’s garage in which he was hiding.
“You guys said that we did this for the show,” Falcon said to his dad during the interview. That led many to speculate Richard had concocted the episode and coached his son what to say.
The reporters in the musical and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (in real life) declined to question Falcon’s odd statement and left ambiguity.
Solomon Abell, who plays Richard, said interpreting the father’s bizarre behavior was difficult.
“It is challenging at times just because when you’re playing a crazy character, sometimes you don’t know what to do. Sometimes you don’t know whether something is too much or not enough,” he said.
Elise Falkenstein, who plays Mayumi, says her character is similarly torn — but not between fame and family.
“She’s got two extremes in her character. She loves Richard, but she also loathes what he does,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Heenes continued to deny their part in any hoax. Richard pleaded guilty in November 2009 to a charge of attempting to influence a public servant. A month later, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Mayumi received 20 days in jail. The family was ordered to pay $36,000 in fines.
Recce, the playwright, said the musical is fair to the Heenes.
“I think it really is an even ground,” he said. “It’s really about this guy (and) his driving emotion to get what he wants. And (in) this reality TV culture, everybody is obsessed with being a celebrity.”
Celebrity or not, Richard likely sought some attention, Falkenstein said: “I feel like some part of Richard — being the person he is — would be really, really excited about the fact that there is a musical about him.”