“Journey To The Center Of The Earth: The Musical” (1974)

West-Side-StoryCrisp fall days put me in mind of crisp fall days gone by. Today is no exception. Thirty-nine years ago this month I attended my first-ever college class. The course was called “Creative Dramatics,” a core requirement in the speech-communications department. I enjoyed it the most of all my first-semester courses.

One day the instructor, Professor Cole, directed each of us to pair off with another student for an assignment. Each pair was to select a famous work of literature, and create a ten-minute sketch to creatively present this work to an audience. I teamed up with my soon-to-become good friend John Popham, and the two of us drew “Journey To The Center Of The Earth.”

“Journey To The Center Of The Earth” is a novel written by Jules Verne and published in 1863. It tells the adventure of physicist Professor Otto Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel, who discover a cryptic note written by alchemist Arne Saknussemm detailing a pathway to.. you guessed it.. the center of the earth.

Professor Ailene Cole
Image from startribune.com

At certain times of my life I’ve been at what I can only call a creative peak. Firing on all eight, all the inventive juices flowing. This was one. In less than a day Popham and I set the Verne story to music parodying another classic, “West Side Story.” We entitled it “In Side Story.” We performed it, and we brought down the house. Heady stuff for a highly self-conscious college freshman. For years afterward, Professor Cole would greet me in the hallways on campus and rave about John’s and my creation.

I’m not blessed with the gift of long memory. I often have to re-learn work reports that are due each quarter. I generally can’t remember what I had for breakfast on a given day. But thirty-nine years later, I remember every word of these songs John Popham and I performed that crisp fall morning.


Scene: Young Axel (Popham) is working in the laboratory of his uncle, Professor Otto Lidenbrock (McKinney). The Professor bursts through the door, carrying an enormous tome.

Axel: Good morning, Professor! What have you there?

Professor (to the tune of “Maria”):

A book!
I just bought this strange, ancient book!
It didn’t cost me much –
At fifty grand, it’s such a steal!

A book!
I just bought this strange, ancient book!
And being such a nut
For history, I know it’s real!

A book!
It’s got pictures and great enlargements!
And a couple of musty, old parchments.. (drops these to floor)

A book!
I just love this strange, ancient book!

Axel picks up the discarded parchments and studies them quizzically. Brings them to the attention of the Professor, who is admiring his new purchase.

Axel (to the tune of “Officer Krupke”):

Please tell me, great Professor,
What does this writing mean?
The letters here are something
That I have never seen!
It isn’t French or Latin,
And surely it’s not Greek!
Please give me
The answers that I seek!

Oh, tell me, Professor,
I’m very upset!
There’s something ’bout these letters
That I simply don’t get!
Oh, give me, Professor,
The answer, you must!
If I don’t know soon – (stomp)
I’ll bust!

The Professor looks quizzically at the parchments.

Professor (to the tune of “I Feel Pretty”):

It’s a cipher!
It’s a cipher!
It is some sort of crypt-o-gram!
Hand them to me (snatches them from Axel)
And I’ll show you just how good I am!

It’s in code!
It’s in code!
I can read everything that there be!
I’m a doctor
And I write prescriptions, you see! (points)

See this little squiggle that’s hidden there?
(Axel: What squiggle, where?)
This is gonna take us all night..
(Axel: Take us all night..)
But see what it says..
Look at what it says..
Hold it up to the light! (flips parchments over)

Hold it backwards!
Hold it backwards!
And the message will soon be clear!
It’s from Arne
And he says, “Wishing you were here!”

Professor: Don’t you see, nephew?! This is a message from Arne Saknussemm, showing us his path to the very center of the earth! Do you realize what this means?!

(To the tune of “There’s A Place For Us”):

There’s a place for us!
(Points) Down there, a place for us!
Axel: Peace and quiet and not much air
Wait for us down there..!

Professor: Arne’s sweet to us!
He’s marked the street for us!
Axel: We’ll get going, and before long
By the end of this stupid song..

Professor: Somehow.. somewhere..
We’ll find a new way of growing!
Axel: Though I don’t know where we’re going..
Professor: (points) Down there…!

Axel: Are there monsters there?
Professor: Maybe, but we don’t care!
Both: Where we’re going’s a fool’s delight
So for us it will be just right!
Somehow.. somewhere.. (both point)
Down there…….!


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