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Fruit Fly Ready for Its Full-Length Spotlight

Max Wojtanowicz and Sheena Janson

Max Wojtanowicz and Sheena Janson

When it debuted at the 2012 Minnesota Fringe Festival, Fruit Fly: The Musical found an instant audience for its tale of two best friends -- one a gay man, the other a straight woman -- and how their relationship changes over time. That the two creators used their own real-life relationship helped to build that connection.

After going through several workshop versions, Fruit Fly is back at the Illusion Theater starting this weekend. Creators Max Wojtanowicz and Sheena Janson return, as do songwriter Michael Gruber and director Nikki Swoboda. We caught up with Wojtanowicz for a quick email chat.

See also: Revised Fruit Fly Ready for Fresh Ink

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How does this version differ from the previous editions of the piece?

Max Wojtanowicz: We hope that the show feels complete now. The original Fringe version just skimmed the surface of the story. This version is about twice as long, with four new songs since the Fringe, and we're hoping the relationship is now fully fleshed out. We also wanted to play with the form of musical theater, and what it means to tell our story as a musical theater piece. Our relationship is so based in music that it'd be a hard story to tell without it, so there's lots of little nuggets in there for musical-theater fans, too. And it's fully staged for the first time, with a set and everything.

What have you been able to take away from each production?

Each version of this show, from the original through several workshops, has taught us a lot about exactly what story we're trying to tell. It definitely began for us as an exploration of the relationship between gay and straight friends, but we've really seen it evolve into a much more universal story about friendship and commitment. A lot of that evolution is thanks to our fearless Fruit Fly leader Nikki Swoboda, who sees so much in the story that Sheena and I are too close to see. We just see trees, she sees the forest.

Has the music evolved through the productions?

Some of the songs have remained the same. A few have barely changed at all since day one, while some have been worked and reworked. As we work on the show from start to finish, I love hearing how Michael Gruber's music grows more complex throughout the show, and matures with us as our relationship grows. The whole score has a very jazzy feel to it, and Jill Dawe plays it beautifully.

Has working on this together changed your relationship at all?

We've been working on this play for five years, and our lives have changed dramatically in that amount of time. I bought my first home, Sheena got engaged. We've both been through lots of changes, personally and professionally. We've always wanted the show to evolve with us, and to continue to reflect our current reality. It meant one thing to perform this show at the Fringe in our mid-20s, and now it means something else entirely to premiere a full version at the Illusion after turning 30. We never really questioned whether or not examining our relationship this closely was a good idea. I mean, if we had any boundaries at all, it might have been strange to put our dynamic under a microscope for the sake of a narrative. But the process has somehow brought us even closer. Sheena and I like to say that this is a musical 20 years in the making, and it's really true.

What's next for Fruit Fly?

We're hoping it has a life after this run, possibly touring to greater Minnesota and beyond, and one day we hope to license it and see the story told by other fruits and fruit flies! For our whole creative team -- Michael, Nikki, Sheena, and me -- it would mean the world to have this message heard by young people, by young fruits and their fruit flies: that they are spectacular and special and loved, that they should embrace the fabulous person they know and love and trust the same way Sheena and I do. We think this is a story that doesn't get told very often, and we're hoping to spread the good word.

IF YOU GO

Fruit Fly: The Musical Friday through April 11 Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts, 8th Floor 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis $18-$25 For tickets and more information, call 612-339-4944 or visit online.