When he’s not practicing working on a class action case, Jason Eyster ’74 loves to let his creative juices flow. An attorney by profession and a lover of music and theater by avocation, his two life tracks run roughly parallel, but have intersected occasionally throughout his career.
His current project is a stage musical that celebrates the history of Chelsea, Michigan, a small community west of Ann Arbor and his adopted hometown. Fulfilling a New Year’s resolution that he made in 1989, Eyster wrote the complete script for The Only Man in Town, including the music, lyrics, and spoken lines. It tells the story of Frank Porter Glazier (1859-1922), an influential and controversial businessman and civic leader during the late 19th century.
“When I read his story, I was taken with the drama of his life: his imprisonment, his daughter’s death, his rise to power and his charisma,” Eyster says. “It called out for expression in song and dance.”
Eyster’s musical skills are self-taught. In seventh or eighth grade, he says, he developed an interest in various instruments, and in high school he played electric guitar — in a rock band called Apricot Lotion. Later he switched to classical guitar, and from there he put guitar chords on the piano and started playing songs, developing sight reading skills. He also began composing.
Eyster studied art and archaeology at Princeton, but his interest in the performing arts shaped his legal education. One of his major interests was the effects of legal matters on the lives of actors, musicians, and artists. He became the assistant editor of a journal called Art and the Law published by volunteer lawyers for the arts.
After law school, Eyster’s went to work as a staff attorney for the Actors’ Equity Association, the union representing Broadway and off-Broadway actors and stage managers. There he monitored producers’ compliance with collective bargaining agreements and conducted arbitration when necessary.
Later, Eyster and his wife moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he became business manager for the Baroque Orchestra. Under his leadership the group received national attention, and in 1983 it performed at Lincoln Center in New York. Initial reaction by the press was positive, but unfortunately, the famous choreographer George Balanchine died later that evening, which dominated the next day’s media coverage of the arts.
“I guess if he had passed away one day later, the fortunes of our group may have turned out quite differently,” Eyster says.
After moving to Chelsea, Eyster returned to full time law practice. Today he works remotely for a New York firm specializing in class action litigation involving commodities.
The Only Man in Town, set to be performed by the Chelsea Area Players in June 2023, shows how Frank Glazier believed what was good for him was good for Chelsea and wasn’t shy about promoting both interests simultaneously. When popular support for electric street lighting was marginal, the business leader promoted the idea through the local newspaper, (in which he had an interest) encouraging voter approval of the plan to be implemented by the Chelsea Electric Light Company, another Glazier enterprise. A conviction on fraud and embezzlement charges during the Panic of 1907 resulted in Glazier’s fall from grace.
The show also touches on Glazier’s relationship with fellow local businessman Harmon Holmes. The onetime friends became bitter rivals over disagreements on how the town should embrace modernity. Holmes went on to establish one of the town's largest businesses, the Chelsea Milling Company, which produces the famous Jiffy biscuit mix, and is still run by his decedents today.