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'Fossil'nating world premiere of Diven/Medoff musical collaboration

This is not "Seven Brides for Seven Brontos." It's not "A Steg is Born." And it's not "Tricera(Top) Hat."

"Extinction: A Love Story" official promotional poster. (Artwork courtesy of Bob Diven)

But it is the world premiere of "Extinction: A Love Story," a musical about dinosaurs. Well-known Las Cruces artist Bob Diven wrote the book, lyrics and music. Mark Medoff, artistic director of New Mexico State University's Creative Media Institute for Film and Digital Arts (CMI), and the Dona Ana Lyric Opera are producing the show with support from CMI and the NMSU Department of Music. Medoff, a Tony Award-winning playwright and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, says the show is for people of all ages - Cenozoic, Mesozoic, etc.

"Extinction: A Love Story" will be performed Oct. 25 through 28 at the NMSU Music Center Recital Hall.

The story is about six paleontologists who make a staggering discovery that takes them back to the last days of the dinosaurs where we find a story of love in the shadow of extinction. Through song, laughter, and some moving epiphanies, the audience learns how the huge animals were discovered in the New Mexico desert 65 million years after a meteorite struck the earth and the dinosaurs perished.

While you may not hear such songs as "Only (Fossil) Fuels Fall in Love," Diven's songs "Carnivores in Love," "The Paleontologist's Polka" and "Teeth" promise to enthrall the audience.

"This is a big evolution in my own artistic life - creating a theatrical work for others to perform," Diven said. While calling the work "enormously challenging and exciting," he emphasized the need to keep the work "entertaining and engaging to an audience, while at the same time containing detail that rewards the careful viewer."

"Hence, I've underscored the drama of the play with solid science, consulting with New Mexico geologists and paleontologists," Diven said.

Taking the audience on this "sedimental" journey is a six-member cast, called by Medoff "one of the best I've been involved with in Las Cruces in 40 years, a cast I could take anywhere in the country."

The cast includes Jessica Medoff Bunchman, Mark's daughter and a professional opera singer living in New York City, who earned her Master of Arts degree from the University of Michigan; Isaac Quiroga, an NMSU alumnus and professional dancer, singer and choreographer, who earned his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from New York University; Ashley Foster, who also earned an MFA from New York University; and Ian Sidden, an NMSU graduate student in voice.

Local actor Brandon Brown, artistic director of lo-fi productions, teams with Foster to play a couple of ornithomimus, a genus of dinosaur characterized by long slender arms, a three-toed foot, a birdlike skull and a long neck. Fleetwood Mac may have sung "You Make Loving Fun," but the duo of Brown and Foster make extinction fun.

"Brandon and Ashley will be our Two Stooges," Medoff said.

Rounding out the cast is Richard Rundell, head of NMSU's Department of Languages and Linguistics, as the last remaining pentaceratops, a dinosaur with an accurate if cynical view of evolution, as well as the leader of the present-day paleontologists who has to put up with a group of very bright, if puerile, graduate students.

Sets and costumes are by Deb Brunson, NMSU Department of Theatre Arts costume designer. Choreography is by Debra Knapp, an assistant professor and director of NMSU's dance program. Lighting design is by Gerald Kottman, resident Dona Ana Lyric Opera technical director.

"All of the artists involved in making this happen are people I've worked with in the past, some for years," Medoff said. "I respect each of them, as well as adore them as colleagues. We're going to have a great time and that joy will translate to our audiences."

Tickets for "Extinction: A Love Story" can be purchased by phone and picked up at the Recital Hall on performance night. Curtains are 7 p.m. Oct. 25, 8 p.m. Oct. 26 and 27, and 3 p.m. Oct. 28. Tickets can be bought at the Pan American Center box office at (505) 646-1420, through the F.Y.E. store in the Mesilla Valley Mall, or via Ticketmaster at (505) 532-2060 or www.ticketmaster.com.