All in the Family | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City Weekly

All in the Family 

A six-year collaboration culminates in Different's musical story of a special-needs youth.

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If you're inclined to see things from a perspective of fate, destiny or a divine hand, there's something perfect about the six-year journey of creating Different: The Musical culminating in its premiere this week. The timing that required coordinating available theater space and the impending relocation of the director also coincided with Rick Daynes dropping off his son and Different's co-creator Tyler at BYU for his freshman year of college—something that Rick might have considered impossible a decade ago, when Tyler was kicked out of his special program for children with autism as a first-grader.

"He has had this amazing growth," Rick says by phone from his home in San Diego. "When people find out he got into BYU—not in a special-needs program, just got in—they're amazed."

The development of Different has been a huge part of that growth, according to Rick. Inspired by Tyler's own experiences, it's the story of a high-school student with autism named Henry, who feels isolated by his neuro-difference until he's befriended by another special-needs student, and finds a "tribe" of sorts called the "Best Buddies."

While the Daynes family lives in California, the premiere of Different in Utah marks a full circle of sorts, since the concept was also born here. "We were at Brian Head, on a family ski vacation, six years ago," Rick recalls. "We were on a ski lift, and [Taylor] said, 'Dad, I know what I want to do: I want to write a musical.' I said, 'Sure, you go do that.' I was sure it would be one of those fleeting ideas of his."

The idea kept coming up over the course of the ensuing year, however, and Tyler mentioned it again on the next year's Utah ski trip, when Tyler was then in 8th grade. "He still wanted to do it, so we started breaking down the ideas, the plot," Rick says.

The project became quite a family affair, beyond the collaboration between Rick and Tyler. Rick's niece Samantha Daynes, then a theater student at BYU but soon to move to Virginia, came on board to provide her expertise and to direct the show; Tyler's older brother, Jefferson, wrote the songs. And not surprising for any endeavor when a bunch of family members work together on something, it was both a pleasure and a challenge.

"There were definitely smooth-sailing times, when characters and ideas just flowed; we'd all laugh and have these great moments," Rick says. "But there's three writers, and one of them has autism. And some of his ideas are just out in space, and you'd have to say, 'Maybe we change this or change that because it's not going to appeal to people.' It's his story, so we're trying to give as much validity to that as we possibly can, but sometimes we just had to reel him in. So there were knock-down drag-outs, there were tears, there was anger, but then we'd just come together and say, 'Let's do this for now, and come back to it.'"

Rick describes the development process as on-and-off over those first few years, taking long enough that the protagonist who was initially conceived as a middle-schooler was shifted to Tyler's own experience as a high-school student. It wasn't until the pandemic lockdown of 2020, when the family was taking isolation quite seriously due to a high-risk family member, that Rick says, "that forced us to buckle down and get it done."

"Done" is a relative term in this case, Rick acknowledges, because this first full production of Different—after a few readings for an audience—is being viewed as an opportunity to learn even more about its strengths and areas for improvement. "I've never written a musical; [Samantha] was the only pro," he says. "The venue is a small theater, and we're really hoping to get audience feedback from it. We're not set on anything, and everything can change. We want something that's going to sound out a message of inclusion and acceptance and love, and we're going to do whatever we can to make that better."

That idea of providing a sense of hope is central to Different, something Rick has been pursuing in sharing his family's story ever since he turned it into a book in 2016, Keep It Together Man. "Ever since we did that, there's nothing too personal for us to share," Rick says. "A lot of special-needs families are private; they go home and don't share their struggles with anyone else. But we find that it's empowering. I don't think there's anything too personal that we wouldn't share it."

And now, the family can also share the sense of pride that comes with putting Different out into the world, and sending Tyler out into the world, too. "It has been such a rewarding project to do with my son," Rick says. "Confidence is everything for teenagers, so I wanted to build confidence and independence for my kids, and this was just a really great project that did that."

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About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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