What goes into launching a $135,000-budget musical with a cast of 30, a 10-member orchestra, and a production team of nine?
Gary Funk should know because he’s done it.
Funk — creative director, composer, and co-writer for “No Greater Love” — said this weekend’s musical in Butte’s Mother Lode Theatre will take the audience on a journey across the emotional landscape of the 1917 fire that took the lives of 168 men in Butte.
“No Greater Love” centers on Manus Duggan, a 25-year-old miner who led a heroic effort to save his co-workers in the Granite Mountain-Speculator Mine fire, a disaster that still resonates with Butte residents today.
Funk said he and other writers consulted several sources as they sought to shape “No Greater Love,” including Doug Ammons's “Speculator Mine Disaster: 99 Years Later,” “Fire and Brimstone” by Michael Punke, and the poetry of Butte writers Joseph H. Duffy and Ed Lahey and Seattle poet Brian William Taylor.
The team even used notes from the coroner’s 1917 inquest, which Funk said laid untouched until recently, when a worker in Butte’s county courthouse came upon it by chance.
“It was quite a bit of work,” said Funk of the writing process, adding that he didn’t want to make the musical too broad and cut out the human element — making it “a mile wide and an inch deep,” he said. Instead, he wanted to focus on one narrative, which he described as “a mile high and a mile deep.”
The character the writing team ultimately chose to focus on was Duggan, but Funk said there were many other heroes on that day, including Con O’Neill and Ernest Sullau, called “Sully,” adding that the writers tried to symbolize the actions of many through a small group of characters.
As for the music, Funk said the play lies somewhere in between opera and musical theater. Some of the music draws from Americana, such as the jig, ragtime, and eight-bar blues, but the musical also draws from classical music in the neo-romanticism style with a bit of Bach and Stravinsky added in.
The set design and music for “No Greater Love” will be stored at the Butte Archives, Funk said, and the play will also be put on CDs with the aid of 30 microphones that are recording the live performances.
Aside from the technical aspects, perhaps what makes “No Greater Love” unique is the cast.
Funk said there are about 30 cast members, ranging from children and high school students to well-seasoned actors. Even Butte County Commissioner Cindi Shaw and local TV newsman John Emeigh are taking part.
The part of Duggan is being played by Bozeman actor Jeffrey Kitto. But Kitto wasn’t the first person assigned to the role.
Funk said after the initial auditions for “No Greater Love,” the production team still didn’t have all the cast members it needed.
“I was getting worried,” said Funk
To make matters worse, the original Duggan dropped out, along with the first director, who was later replaced by the current director Edward Morgan.
But the people of the Mining City did not disappoint, Funk said.
“What happens in Butte? People get on the horn,” he said, explaining residents raided their contact lists and recruited more cast members.
Funk added that he’s pleased with the cast and that the bumps in the road seemed to make the play better.
Before opening day, Funk and the cast were able to visit the site of the Granite Mountain Mine, where they took a moment to honor the lives that were lost.
“It was really moving to stand on sacred ground with all of these people,” he said.