Pacific alumnus creates a Broadway-attention getting musical over Zoom

Nic Rouleau performing "They're Here, Now" from White Rose, The Musical

Not many people would be able to say they spent their pandemic year writing a musical – using Zoom – and getting the attention of Broadway stars.

Except for University of the Pacific alumnus Brian Belding, a volleyball player who studied (and later taught) history in the early 1990s, and colleague Natalie Brice, who can now lay claim to that feat.

The pair developed “White Rose, The Musical” in a completely virtual environment.

In early 2020, Brice was in charge of a Santa Cruz youth theater group performing at the famed Below 54 cabaret in New York. Belding’s daughter Samantha had the lead in the play.

That led to a discussion where Belding shared with Brice the script he was writing and turning into a musical. He needed someone to handle the music.

“I told him he did not have to know music to make this work,” Brice recalls. “He would do the lyrics and I would write the music.”

Weeks later, the pandemic hit, and the pair developed the musical over Zoom calls. In fact, they have not seen each other in person in more than a year.

The true story of White Rose is about a group of university students and a professor who clandestinely write and distribute thousands of leaflets about Adolf Hitler’s tyranny to expose the threat of Hitler and Nazi Germany, putting their lives at risk.

“I taught history for 20 years and kept dabbling with the White Rose story,” said Belding. “I had been working on the words for so long until one day it hit me: ‘This should be a musical.’ The play has serious and dark scenes, but it also includes irreverence and joy.”

“One of the things I try to hammer home is these were the privileged kids who wanted to disrupt Hitler (for the horrific things he was doing),” Belding said. “These are the German kids who were celebrated by Hitler. They looked like the kids he wanted on the Nazi posters. They were the privileged, not the persecuted.”

Added Brice: “The story has been developed for so long, but not in this format. It is historically important, politically important and an allegory for a lot of things going on currently in the world.”

Belding and Brice have been able to test the play’s songs with top Broadway talent. Theaters in Manhattan and across the country have been shuttered during the pandemic, leaving actors without work.

Nic Rouleau, whose credits include “Book of Mormon,” performed the songs “They’re Here, Now” and “The Sheep Chose a Wolf” from the White Rose repertoire. Rouleau is the nephew of Jim Dugoni, senior director of development for Pacific’s Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry.

Christine Dwyer, who portrayed Elphaba in “Wicked,” joined Matt DeAngelis (“Hair” and “Waitress”) on the duet “Munich.”

Those are among eight songs on the White Rose, The Musical web site.

“What a great way to showcase a new work with that level of talent,” Brice said. “We had connections to some of these stars from previous work. They were eager to help out and keep themselves fresh with a new challenge.”

Added Belding: “We could see what talented actors and actresses could do with our songs.”

The next step for Belding and Brice is Berkeley. Play Café, a non-profit which facilitates the development of theater works, has chosen “White Rose, The Musical” for a series of workshops with actors and music. Since 1997, Play Café has been an industry leader in helping to develop the work of individual playwrights as well as entire productions.

“They have a pool of actors and their goal is help you progress. This is a big step in the development of our work,” Belding said. “I think there is going to be a renaissance of theater when the pandemic breaks. People are going to want to see theater, including new work.”

Could this lead to “White Rose, The Musical” on Broadway?

“You have to dream,” Belding said. “That’s certainly the ultimate goal.”