Former Merrimac area resident Joe Vosen has been writing songs since he was a teenager growing up on Lake Wisconsin.
His solo music debut was as a junior in high school in 1976 on the stage at Sauk Prairie High School when he sang “Anything’s Alright,” a song he wrote about a girl breaking up with him, for a benefit concert.
At 54, he’s still writing music, but a lot more of it, and with deeper meanings.
His songs will be featured in a musical he scored and for which he wrote the script when the Sun Prairie Civic Theater presents Vosen’s “Caffeine Dreams” at 7 p.m. Dec. 6, 7, 13 and 14; and at 2 p.m. Dec. 15.
Caffeine Dreams is a full-length rock musical comedy with a fictional setting in a coffee shop somewhere outside of Madison.
Vosen, who now lives in Madison, wrote the script and all 17 songs featured in the production.
The story features political and social turmoil of the times as a theme, something which Vosen said almost everyone can relate.
But Vosen said it is a story of a community coming together, in spite of personality clashes and ideological differences.
“The musical is less about taking a political stand and more about learning to see the other person as a human being,” Vosen said. “I’ve always been a person who can see things from two different angles. I don’t have to be right all the time. I can see the other person’s view.”
Vosen said the play’s main character, Ricky Bonus, is not a people person.
Bonus runs the Rich Grounds coffee shop in a small town outside of Madison which is the home of divisive politics, organic food and questionable morals.
When the Rich Grounds becomes the epicenter of a local controversy, Vosen said the political rabblerousers come out of the woodwork.
Jack Hayward, a local who is dealing with his own broken heart, teaches them they are all citizens of the same human race.
“As they sing at the end of Act One, “Don’t Get Me Started” on the politics,” Vosen said. “You know how you don’t want to tread on certain subjects because you know how it’s going to go. People can be so nasty on Twitter and there’s cyberbullying going on. It’s a lot about the divisions in society.”
Vosen, who has been a state employee through much of his adult life, has had a sideline hobby of playing the guitar and writing songs of his own, but never quite found the right venue.
“I’ve kept it close to the vest,” he said. “I’ve done some playing at coffee shops, in church and for friends. I’ve always really wanted to have an audience but couldn’t sustain the drive to make myself heard. I finally had enough of that. So the last few years I’ve been trying hard to find an avenue to get my stuff out there.”
But once he saw something of a theme in the songs we was writing, he decided he would connect with the local theater group.
At the same time one of his former music students contacted him via Facebook.
It was Steven Berg asking him if he would be interested in a position as music director for “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” at the Sun Prairie Civic Theater in May 2012.
Vosen accepted the invitation, and was hooked.
“I’m not superstitious about things like that, but it was meant to be,” Vosen said. “I directed the music for that production and got to know the theater leadership, the producer and director. It was in the fall when I approached them to say I was almost done writing this musical and would they be interested.”
While the story is based in a fictional town, there is a tiny glimpse of a real place from Vosen’s childhood.
His mom, Mary Ellen Vosen, who passed away in August worked at lunch counter in a coffee shop on the Baraboo Courthouse Square in the 1960s and 70s for extra money.
One of the coffee shop waitresses in “Caffeine Dreams” has something oddly in common with Mary Ellen.
“She shares her tips with her children, and that’s what my mom did,” Vosen said.
Vosen said his hope is that the audience comes away from the production with a sense of tolerance.
“I hope the audience leaves with a little less of a tendency to be critical of their neighbor and the people they disagree with and a little more able to see the other person’s point of view,” Vosen said.