The sky may not be falling, but letters are raining down on Nollop's town square.
The people are in a panic because the government has declared that this is no coincidence. Chaos ensues, with the government's prohibition of anyone using the fallen letters in everyday language.
Sounds silly, but it'll be serious business in the Claude L. Shaver Theatre when the LSU School of Theatre opens "LMNOP, the Muzical" on Friday.
Opening night will be preceded by a pay-what-you-can performance Wednesday night and a preview performance on Thursday.
The production marks the regional premiere of this show, which has been staged only twice by its creators — Scott Burkell, book and lyrics, and Paul Moesel, music.
"It's a relatively new show," says director Rick Holden, also a professor in the School of Theatre. "We learned about it when an undergrad brought it up in the spring. We will be the first organization to do this play since it's won a publishing contract."
The story is based on Mark Dunn's 2001 novel, "Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters," described as part romance, part linguistic tour de force.
"LMNOP" takes place on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina, a territory in the country now known as Atlantica. The stage reflects the purity of Nollop's spirit with a pop-up storybooklike set.
Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." A pangram contains all 26 letters of the alphabet. Nollop's pangram is spelled out on his town square statue.
"The island loves language, art and culture," Holden says. "It's a place where everybody helps each other."
Then one day, a letter falls from the statue, prompting a meeting of the island's council. Instead of replacing the letter, the council decides it's a message from Nevin Nollop not to use the letter.
But it doesn't stop there. More letters fall, meaning more and more letters have to be eliminated from everyday language. Those who use the letters, even by mistake, face penalties administered by the Language Usage Guard, or LUGS for short.
"Men are flogged in the town square on their second offense, and women are placed in the stockade," Holden says. "If you commit a third offense, you're banned from the island."
Meanwhile, the LUGS are recruiting children to join their ranks, specifically Timmy Towgate, son of the town militant librarian Georgeanne Towgate, played by Lee Ann Hernandez. Timmy is played by Logan Burge, who played the title role in Playmakers of Baton Rouge's summer musical "James and the Giant Peach."
"But I can tell you that his character isn't a peach in this show," the director says.
"My character tattles on everyone," Burge says. "I'm having fun playing the bad guy."
Finally, young Ella Minnow Pea, played by Rebecca Smith, steps up to call out her totalitarian government. She is joined by Nate Warren, played by Harrison Magner, who has returned to the island after graduating college in Atlantica.
"Ella has grown up by the time Nate comes back, and a romance grows between them," Holden says. "So, this story is a romance, as well as a metaphor for losing the liberties we hold dear. The music in this show is all new, and there are a couple of songs that you won't be able to leave without humming."
Magner shares something in common with his character, Nate. The 21-year-old junior theater major transferred to LSU from a New Jersey college.
"But I'm from Shreveport, so I'm returning to Louisiana, just as Nate is returning to Nollop after six years in Atlantica," he says. "Rick (Holden) and I talked about my experience and how it related to the character, and it's been helpful."
Magner and his fellow cast members are getting the unique opportunity of setting the precedent for the characters since LSU Theatre is the first organization to fully produce "LMNOP, the Muzical."
"I did some research into the novel and used my imagination," Magner says. "I also used bits of myself in the character."
Alexandra Abney, 21, of Slidell, plays Agnes Prather and is serving as one of the production's two dramaturges, a theater's literary dramatist or manager who researches and helps develop a play's story.
"Even though Nollop is a fantastical world, it relates to the real world we're living in," she says. "This is a cautionary tale of what could happen when we lose our freedom of speech."
Abney also faced another challenge in preparing for this play: Her character doesn't exist in the novel.
"So, I'm truly building her from the ground up," she says. "This musical is like a test drive with a wonderful cast. It's been a lot of fun."
'LMNOP, the Muzical'
A production of LSU School of Theatre
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m; Wednesday-Sunday, Oct. 4-8; Tuesday-Friday, Oct. 10-13; Sunday, Oct. 15
WHERE: Claude L. Shaver Theatre in the LSU Music and Dramatic Arts Building, Dalrymple Drive
ADMISSION: Pay-what-you-can performance Wednesday; $9, preview performance Thursday; $11-$19 for all other performances.
TICKETS/INFO: (225) 578-3527 or lsu.edu/cmda/theatre/about/seasoninfo.php.