When Misha Mullany was growing up in Herndon, Virginia, she fell in love with musical theater and dreamed of being on stage. She took voice lessons and did shows at Harmonia in nearby Vienna, and performed in productions like Les Misérables and The King and I.
Now she’s starring in and helming her own show, Infernal: The Musical, which will be making its Off-Off-Broadway debut at New York City’s Flea Theater from October 15 to 17, 2021.
“I started doing theater when I was 7, after seeing a production of Once on This Island,” Mullany shares. “I just fell in love with the magic of it and how everything turns into a brand-new world once you step through those theater doors.”
After graduating from Westfield High School, Mullany attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and started studying at the school’s Experimental Theatre Wing, falling in love with the experimental theater medium.
“It was a surprise to me, because I grew up wanting to do nothing but musical theater,” Mullany says. “Once I started with experimental theater, I really found a home there. It gives you all these different tools—it taught me 10 different styles of acting and 10 different styles of dance, and a taste of everything.”
When Mullany graduated from NYU in 2019, she found herself at a crossroads. She still had a love for musical theater, but being in New York, her dreams started to feel somewhat unobtainable. It didn’t help when COVID hit and suddenly most actors were out of work.
“I realized that if no one was going to be hiring me, I needed to hire myself, so I started writing,” she says. “That was also a surprise for me, because I never imagined myself as a writer. I would write funny songs here and there to show to my family or friends, but it was never something I thought about doing professionally.”
But Mullany found she really enjoyed it and it was a way to get her name out there and to work on a project that really interested her—a show that she herself would want to be in or enjoy going to.
She recalls being very sad one day, and while vacuuming, she wrote the very first line of the first song she would write, “Road into Hell,” and it goes, “I’ve made mistakes, yes I’ve dug my grave; it’s too late for me to be saved, cause there’s no going back when I started the track down to hell.”
“Classic, dramatic Misha with tunes going in my head,” she says. “I thought it was kind of cool, and I started thinking about what other stories were about hell, and how I could turn this into my own experience. I landed on Dante’s Inferno, because I had studied it in high school, and I didn’t know why no one had ever written a musical about it before.”
Mullany admits she didn’t want to write about an old guy searching for his love, because that wasn’t something she could relate to, so instead focused on a young girl who has this coming-of-age experience where she realizes actions have consequences.
“For her, it’s about what can you do when you realize the error of your ways and it’s too late to change what you’ve done and it’s too late to change yourself,” she says.
Before she knew it, Mullany had a ten-song concept album written, and she put up a posting on Backstage searching for a co-composer to help her write orchestrations and the score.
Enter Brent Morden, a recent Columbia University grad who had written music and lyrics for two comedy musicals produced at his school and is currently program manager for Every Voice Choirs, a New York City–based children’s choir nonprofit.
Together, the duo put the final pieces together to create Infernal: The Musical, a rock musical based on Dante’s Inferno that explores the consequences, the remorse, and the inescapable demons facing us all. By drawing from Dante’s remarkable text—plus influences like the Bible, Catholic tradition, and Jewish mysticism—heaven and hell are made human in a delightful coming-of-age story.
“I set very ambitious deadlines for us, because if something is perfect but never gets out in the world, it’s not as good as if it’s out there with a couple of rough edges,” Mullany says. “I was adamant about getting our show out and in front of people.”
The show was cast, with rehearsals done by Zoom, and though the original idea to play to a limited audience of 30 needed to be scrapped last winter, plans were in place for Infernal: The Musical to be performed virtually. The band and cast recorded their parts at Smash Studios in New York City, but then Mullany contracted COVID and she wound up directing the rehearsals via Skype.
Eventually, everything was edited together and Mullany got better, and the production aired, with a live watch party of about 200 cheering everyone along. The show has been shared many times since, with more than 1,800 views to date.
Besides writing and directing, Mullany also plays Lily, a reckless cocktail lounge singer who doesn’t really care who she hurts. She’s approached by the Seven Deadly Sins, who turn her recklessness into malice.
“After she dies, she ends up in hell, and she wonders why, thinking she was a good person,” Mullany says. “She goes through the different circles and meets Lust, Greed, Lilith the Mother of Demons, Lucifer and starts to realize that while she shares a lot of commonalities with these people, the main difference is that she wants to do better.”
What follows provides plenty of philosophical thought on the different outlooks we see in the world on whether you are in something for yourself or for your community.
The show also stars Chris Mauro, Julia Meadows, Rachael Chau, Richard Coleman, Autumn Hitt, Hannah Duran, Dylan Goike, Patrick Cragin, Charmien Byrd, Ty-Gabriel Jones, and Katie Jay Hopkins.
Once the show’s run at the Flea Theater ends, Mullany’s planning on writing eight new songs in hopes of getting the show from one act to a full-length production by next summer or fall.
“From there, we’re hoping to get it into a workshop, then get it Off-Broadway, and the goal is Broadway,” Mullany says. “I’m so excited to see it all come together.”