(Above: Evynne Hollens, left, and Adriana Ripley rehearse their main roles in Milagro, a musical-in-progress conceived and written by Hollens and to be performed at The Shedd.)

By Randi Bjornstad

Vocalist Evynne Hollens says she doesn’t know why the title Miracle popped into her head when she sat down to write a new musical based on the real-life experience of a Eugene, Ore., mother and daughter, but once you hear the story line, it really couldn’t have been called anything else.

Actually, the title is Milagro, because milagro means miracle in Spanish, and this musical is a story told bilingually, because it ties together the lives of mother and daughter whose lives are deeply rooted in both Spanish and English cultures.

“Six years ago, I sat down with the mom of this girl, and she told me their story, which was completely mind-blowing to me,” Hollens said. “And this true story was so fascinating because it actually happened to real people, and I began to imagine writing a show based on their experience. Even some of the lines in the script are verbatim what she told me.”

Here’s the plot in a nutshell:

A young woman who is half Brazilian and bilingual decides to travel to Brazil to visit relatives. On the way, while in Guatemala, she falls and breaks her foot and spends several weeks there recuperating, with the idea of continuing on. But during those weeks, she decides to remain in Guatemala and start a bilingual school.

Two years later, still running the school, the young woman becomes pregnant, although she has previously been told that she is infertile. Six months into the pregnancy, she develops severe complications, including strokes and seizures. At 28 weeks (40 weeks is concerned full-term), she undergoes a Caesarean section — with0ut anaesthesia because of her tenuous physical condition.

The premature baby, a daughter, weighs 2 lbs., and the woman’s doctor tells her that it is doubtful that either of them will survive, but that they would do their best to save the child. The woman slips into a coma and wakes up seven days later. She survives, and so does the baby.

During all this, the child’s father left the scene, but returned after both mother and child survived their ordeals. The woman by then knew then that the relationship could never work, and when the baby was 10 months old, she took the child and flew back to the United States, to Eugene.

“I describe this musical as ‘inspired by a true story,’ ” Hollens said. “And I really have been working on it for six years now. It’s still in progress — we have 15 songs written in Act I, and there will be about five more in Act II.”

When it came time for songwriting, she enlisted the help of Anna Gilbert, “because she is a songwriter I really like, and I wanted her sound for this show.”

Gilbert created both music and lyrics, and Hollens wrote the script, or book.

This performance is actually a “musical in progress,” but Hollens and the cast want to bring it to the stage now anyway, to gauge how they’re doing and what else will be needed to make it sparkle, for both performers and audience.

Performing an unfinished production is not unheard of in professional theatrical circles, although Hollens, who grew up singing and acting her way through secondary school and college in the Eugene-Springfield area, said she’s never seen a musical-in-development here before.

“It’s a full concert now — we’re ready to perform,” Hollens said. “Act I is 90 percent seamless, and Act II is written, but all the songs aren’t finished yet. But this will be the first time we have shared this project with an audience — we want it to be professional, but we want it to be ‘workshoppy’ too. It’s in development, but it’s really much more complete than that. We really hope people will enjoy this look at something in progress and give us feedback.”

This introductory performance of  Milagro includes a full acting cast as well as musical performers.

Adriana Ripley, a frequent singer and actress through high school and now in college at the University of Colorado Boulder, plays the now-grown-up daughter, Gabriela. Hollens herself will sing the part of Gabriela’s mother, Luiza or Luci.

“I am doing this role only for this performance, although I am bilingual in Spanish since childhood and majored in Spanish at the University of Oregon,” Hollens said. “But eventually, if this becomes a stage production, I intend that they should cast a Latin American actress for the mother’s role.”

Another character in the musical, a close friend to Luiza and Gabriela, is played by internationally known singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno, who came originally from Guatemala and now is based in Los Angeles. Moreno sings a variety of musical genres in several languages and has nearly 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Hollens first met Moreno when she appeared at a local club several years ago and has stayed in touch since. She reached out to her about participating in the rollout of The Music of Milagro, a New Musical, first to help with translations and then to become part of the songwriting team.

The cast also includes Justin Jones, performing the part of the doctor who tended Luiza and Gabriela.

There also will be a chorus to sing the Milagro songs, including Lexy Neale, Giovanni Avila, Johanna Gilbert, Beny Penaloza, Kori Nyamute, and Charlie Arthur.

“It was hard to find people who could sing truly bilingually, and those of us who are bilingual will help out with background vocals,” Hollens said.

Lyn Burg will narrate the show. Actor Dylan Stasack has been closely involved with the production throughout its development, “but his songs aren’t written yet,” Hollens said.

The production also includes an instrumental component. Vicki Brabham is music director and keyboardist, with additional keyboard by Anna Gilbert. Other players include guitarist Ricardo Cardenas; bass player Niels Miller; Oscar Watson on percussion; cellist Lizzy Donovan; and trumpeter Alexis Garnica.

The Music of Milagro, a New Musical

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24

Where: The Shedd Institute for the Arts, 868 High St., Eugene

Tickets: $18, $24, $28 (some discounts available), available at the ticket office, 541-434-7000, or online at theshedd.org