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New Utah Rock Opera Holds Summer Preview

“Pleasant Grove” is an ambitious new rock opera inspired by a tragic true story from Utah Valley in the 1970’s.

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By Mike Romero

On March 13, 1971, 16-year-old Alden Barrett committed suicide in Pleasant Grove, Utah. The son of a prominent doctor, he had a passion for science and drama and a near-genius level IQ. His death sent shockwaves through his community.

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Alden’s parents, Marcella and Doyle Barrett, decided to make Alden’s struggles public in order to help others in their community struggling with mental illness. In the 70’s, it was almost unheard of to openly address mental illness, let alone suicide. They wanted to fight the stigma and enact real, meaningful change. In an attempt to help other families, they shared Alden’s personal journal with a best-selling author named Beatrice Sparks.

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The Barretts expected Sparks to compile a biography and tell a moving true story. Instead, she wrote Jay’s Journal, a fictional account of a teenage boy who gets involved with Satanism. It was marketed as non-fiction, containing portions of Alden’s actual journal alongside fake journal entries describing “Jay” and his active association with the occult. The story depicts a fabricated spiral into the absurd, ending with Jay’s demonic possession and suicide. Sparks exploited the family’s tragedy for personal gain.

The cover of Jay’s Journal.
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Jay’s Journal went on to become a New York Times best seller. Alden’s parents were mortified. The book became immensely popular in Pleasant Grove, and the community’s reaction to the book absolutely crushed the Barretts. The connection between “Jay” and Alden was immediate, as the parallels between fantasy and reality were obvious. Alden’s gravesite was routinely desecrated, the community turned on the family, and “Jay” became an urban legend during the Satanic Panic that swept over the United States in the late 70’s and 80’s. Half a century later, the Barretts are still heartbroken over the betrayal.

For the last 25 years, Utah musician Bryan Hall has been working on Pleasant Grove Rock Opera, a show based on the Barretts’ devastating experience. Hall rented a room from the Barretts in 1995. While he lived there, Alden’s brother, Scott, told him the family’s side of the story. Scott gave Hall a draft of a manuscript he’d been working on for years entitled A Place In The Sun: The Truth Behind Jay’s Journal.

Alden Barrett, whose tragic death was exploited for Jay’s Journal.

With the Barretts’ blessing, Bryan and members of the local band, Grain, wrote a rock opera called A Place In The Sun based on Scott Barrett’s manuscript. Grain produced and performed the show in various live venues around Salt Lake City and Provo in 1997 and 1998. Although it was met with rave reviews and standing ovations, the band didn’t have the means to take the show to the next level.

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25 years later, Hall and former Grain members Jack Donaldson and Winston Lee formed the band Bay of Pigs and set out to finish what they started. A Place In The Sun is now Pleasant Grove Rock Opera. Directed by Amelia Rose Moore, the show is a raw and beautiful experience, examining mental illness, drug addiction, strained family dynamics, and the domineering conservative culture of Pleasant Grove, Utah in the 70’s.

Bryan Hall of the band Bay of Pigs.

This weekend, Pleasant Grove Rock Opera will hold its summer preview. The preview will take place on July 29 and July 30 at the West Valley Performing Arts Center. The World Premiere of Pleasant Grove Rock Opera will take place October 13-20, 2022.

If you’d like to be one of the first to witness the show, snag tickets here. You can listen to a song from the show, “The Moral Preservation Society,” below.

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