Monday, June 9, 2014

New Work in Progress: PLAY IT BY HEART

An interview with Kevin Moore, Producing Artistic Director of The Human Race Theatre Company, about their upcoming production of Play It By Heart with a book by Brian Yorkey (Making Tracks, NAMT Fest '01), music by David Spangler and Jerry Taylor, and lyrics by Spangler, Taylor and R.T. Robinson.



As a teenager, she became the breakout star of the Jasper Family Singers. Now, Jeannine Jasper is the “Queen of County Music,” but she has hopes of getting off the road and having a life. After a concert, a long lost love appears and they discover the spark is still there. But their “history” could be her undoing. Her record label has been purchased by a Dubai businessman who has his own plans for her career, and her rebel, younger sister is always in the news for all the wrong reasons. Family secrets are revealed to the sweet sounds of old and new country in this quintessential story of a family.
 
Play It By Heart was originally produced out at The Village Theatre. How did it find its way to Dayton, Ohio?
It actually came to us from one of the writers, David Spangler. After their production at the Village Theatre in 2005, the writers all went off to work on other projects. Brian Yorkey had this little show brewing called Next to Normal. In 2006, we workshopped the musical Nefertiti by David Spangler and Rick Gore. We stayed great friends and in 2009 he told me about Play It By Heart, and that the writers all wanted to get back to it. I read it, listened and was hooked. I offered them a residency – brought them in and gave them a space to live, work and gave them actors to play with. That was Fall, 2009. In the summer of 2010, we did a full workshop. Our audience loved it. Over and over I heard, “I’m usually not a country music fan, but I really liked this music and this show.” 
 
You presented a reading of the show last year in your Festival and clearly must have gone over very well. What work have the writers put in on the show since then?
Based upon our workshop experience that incorporated new material and plot ideas, the writers and I identified certain story lines that needed to be clarified, songs that needed to be replaced, and development of some of the new ideas that didn't have enough time to fully ferment during our workshop. Brian, David and Jerry have been working on both the book and the score and are working to deliver our starting materials. We have engaged a music director/arranger who will refresh the old score and make it more “actor friendly,” as well as prepare the new material and orchestrations.
  
Why is the show a good fit for your season and your audience? 

Festival Show Update: ELMER GANTRY



Elmer_Gantry_Poster_web
This month, we check in on Elmer Gantry from our 1993 Festival of New Musicals as it prepares for its upcoming revised production at Virginia's Signature Theatre. Composer Mel Marvin has been hard at work preparing the show for this next step.  

Elmer Gantry is a musical with a country-pop-gospel score, set in the Depression-era Midwest. The title character is a down-on-his-luck former minister whose life as a traveling salesman takes an unexpected turn when he walks into the tent of Sister Sharon Falconer, a beautiful and charismatic woman evangelist. Joining her troupe, he's soon preaching again and using his entrepreneurial instincts to make the troupe so successful, it's invited to play Zenith, the biggest city in the Midwest. He also becomes Sharon's lover. Their success in Zenith leads to opportunity, intrigue, tragedy and reaffirmation of Americans' ability to deal with their circumstances and get on with their lives. The musical is adapted from the novel by Nobel Prize-winner Sinclair Lewis.

The original version of the show appeared in our 1993 Festival, having been originally commissioned by Ford’s Theatre and presented there in 1988. What was your Festival experience like back in 1993 and what kind of response did you get from your presentation of your show?  
There was a second production of the show in 1991, before we did it at NAMT, at La Jolla Theatre, directed by Des McAnuff. In 1993, we had a wonderful time at NAMT, and we felt the presentation was very successful. Several theaters showed interest. Frankie Hewitt, the producer of the show at Ford’s Theater in 1988, decided to revive the show at Ford’s in 1995 in a production directed by Michael Maggio. After that production, there was a New York City workshop in 1997, directed by James Lapine, and an outstanding production in 1998 at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theater in Chicago, directed by Eric Schaeffer.
 
It is rare for a show to be rediscovered so many years after it was first presented. Where did the idea for a new production come from? 
Eric Schaeffer, who has been a friend and promoter of Elmer Gantry since he directed it in 1998, always wanted to do another production of the show, and he called us to say he would like to make it part of the 25th Anniversary Season at the Signature Theatre in Arlington.
 

How much rewriting/reworking will there be of the script? 
Part of the renewed interest in Elmer Gantry is that there IS a rewrite. There are a substantial number of changes in Act 2, both in the book and in the songs. We believe this is the best version we've ever done, and we can’t wait to see it onstage. Several numbers have been reworked, and there are two entirely new songs. It has now been 15 years since the last production, and the new version has been waiting in the wings. Work is still going on and will be, from now through the rehearsal period. What could be better?
 
What are your hopes for this new production?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New Work In Progress: DOG AND PONY

An interview with Barry Edelstein, Artistic Director of The Old Globe, about their upcoming premiere of Dog and Pony with a book by Rick Elice and music and lyrics by Michael Patrick Walker.

Mags and Andy are a screenwriting team with a track record of hits and a professional relationship that’s firing on all cylinders. But when Andy’s marriage hits the rocks, forever single Mags finds she wants something more. Will romance ruin their perfect relationship? A witty and irreverent look at what women want and whether men fit the bill...or don’t. 
 
How did Dog and Pony find its way to The Old Globe? 
The first thing I did when I was appointed Artistic Director was call a bunch of talented people I’m fortunate to count as friends. I asked them what they had cooking that might be in need of a home. One of the wonderful artists I called was the great Rick Elice. He told me about this musical he was writing with Michael Patrick Walker, a funny, witty and urbane piece about two screenwriters whose professional relationship is buffeted when romance enters the picture. I read it and listened to the score and was just beguiled by it. Another person I called was Roger Rees. I asked him what he had up his sleeve to direct, and he said, “Rick’s musical!” So the piece’s charms, plus the considerable charms of Rick and Roger, made me say, “I’m in!”
 
What about the show did you see as a good fit for The Old Globe and your audiences? 
I was looking for a small-scale musical for our Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, a 250-seat theatre in the round. San Diego has an incredible musical theatre audience, of course because of the reputations of the Globe and the La Jolla Playhouse for premiering these works, but also because the small theatre scene in town is rich in musical theatre talent. So Dog and Pony had it all: the right size and scope we were seeking, a winning tone, really terrific score and a group of artists who are top flight.
  
This is the first production for the show. What are some of the challenges for the team as they prepare to bring this show from the page to the stage?

Festival Show Update: ANALOG AND VINYL

Festival 2013 show Analog and Vinyl is jumping up to Vermont's Weston Playhouse this summer for its world premiere. This month we check in with the show's writer Paul Gordon about preparing for the musical's first production.  

Harrison is obsessed with LPs from the sixties and the superior quality of analog. Rodeo Girl, a quirky Silver Lake hipster, is obsessed with Harrison but he barely notices. With his vintage record store about to go under, Harrison and Rodeo Girl are visited by a mysterious customer who makes them a devilish offer they can't refuse.

What did you learn about Analog and Vinyl while preparing it for the Festival? 
Preparing for the Festival wasn't as much a learning experience as it was an "inspiring" experience. Once you know your show is going to be seen by an industry audience, it does strange things to the creative process. You start looking at the material with more fluid eyes. You start questioning and examining the material (all while trying to create a 45-minute presentation), and suddenly you begin asking yourself the serious dramaturgical questions of theme and character (that you had previously avoided) that are vital to the developmental process. One of the great gifts that came out of my preparation for the Festival was that I felt incentivized to write a new song for the lead character that helped to transform the show.

Your show only had readings leading up to the Festival and now is preparing for a world premiere this summer at Weston Playhouse. What has it been like to jump from reading to production without a workshop in between?  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Work in Progress: CHASING THE SONG

An interview with Dana Harrel, Associate Producer, and Grabriel Greene, Director of New Play Development, at La Jolla Playhouse, about their upcoming production of Chasing a Song, by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, directed by Chris Ashley.  

Elegant Edie's team of ambitious hitmakers are upended by the arrival of the newest aspiring songwriter — Edie's daughter Ginny. As Ginny strives to earn her place in the male-dominated world of the early 1960s music scene, American rock and roll finds itself under siege from the incoming British invasion.


Chasing The Song is a reunion of the Memphis team (director, writers, producers) and La Jolla Playhouse. Why was La Jolla Playhouse excited to work onChasing the Song?  
Chasing the Song continues Memphis’s exploration into the history of American rock and roll, and the way that it shaped – and was shaped by – social movements. Memphis tracked how music was a bridge during the turbulent racial conflicts of the 1950's and 60's. Chasing the Song carries the story forward, and focuses on a completely different part of our social history: the attempts of women to break into and succeed in male-dominated fields.
 
La Jolla Playhouse has been working on the show for a while now. What has changed, shifted and grown with the show over the last year? 
We started working on Chasing the Song as part of our DNA New Play Series in 2013. The work we were able to do during that workshop process was invaluable in discovering that the central arc of the musical was a mother-daughter story. This happened right as we were about to give our first concert reading. It was a wonderful and nerve-wracking moment. A lot of the work over the last year was making this piece as much about strengthening the relationships between characters as it is about the music industry in the 1960's.
 
Why do you think Chasing the Song will sing to your audience and be a good fit for this season?

Festival Show Update: BLEEDING LOVE

This month, we check in on Bleeding Love from our 2012 Festival of New Musicals as it prepares for productions in Connecticut and Denmark. The show's writers, Harris Doran, Jason Schafer and Arthur Lafrentz Bacon have been hard at work during the past year to prepare the show for its next steps. 

Bleeding Love is a post-apocalyptic musical comedy about a sixteen year old cellist who has never left her building, who risks going out into the dangerous world in order to get her one chance at love.

When you presented Bleeding Love at the Festival, it was the premiere of the musical for any audience. What did you learn about the show from finally seeing it in front of an audience? 
Yes, NAMT was our very first reading! We learned a great deal about how specific the tone was, because it rides the line between bleakness and comedy, and honest emotion and farce, so we had to make sure we were making that balance clear to the audience.

You were up at Goodspeed Musicals last winter for the Mercer Writers’ Retreat.  What was the focus of that devoted time away?
That was an incredible experience. More productive than we ever could have imagined. The three of us, who do not all live in the same city, got to be together for a week straight and just write. We ended up writing an entirely new opening number, completing a very complicated multi-scene song and brainstorming what the end of the musical would be. An unbelievable amount of productivity in such a short period of time.

The show will have a premiere production this season at The Spirit of Broadway Theater in Connecticut.  What work are you doing on the show to prepare for its first production? 
We are tightening the show to make sure it is production-ready as well as getting our first orchestrations together. We are very excited.

What are you hoping to discover and sort out when the show finally gets on its feet in a production? 
We are excited to finally get the chance to see what the show is as a whole without the rhythm being impeded

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Festival Show Update: THE TROUBLE WITH DOUG

An interview with the writers of The Trouble with Doug, Daniel Maté and Will Aronson, about the developments on their 2010 Festival show as it prepares for a production at NAMT member theatre Arts Garage down in Florida this spring.  

A contemporary re-imagining of Kafka’s "Metamorphosis," The Trouble With Doug is a hilarious and moving new musical about a healthy young man who transforms inexplicably into a giant talking slug. Thrust together awkwardly under the same roof, Doug, his family, and his fiancée all struggle to understand and respond to this strangest of crises. 

Last time we checked in with you, Doug was heading to Palo Alto, CA for TheatreWorks' festival.  How was that process for you and the show? 
We had a great time in Palo Alto. TheatreWorks provides a unique workshopping opportunity – a chance to perform the show in front of an audience, rewrite, re-tech, perform again, and then repeat that process three times. You can really take the show into the laboratory and experiment. (There’s really no better way to see what works and what doesn't than to watch the show in front of actual people a few times!)

What changes did you make to the show while in California? 
After watching the show, we felt that our titular character was under-developed — so we added several new musical moments for Doug throughout the first act to clarify his arc and round him out a bit more. We also tried out a number of new scenes for Doug’s family, and also ended up with a slightly gentler ending.
 

You are currently rewriting the show for a production down at Arts Garage in Florida.  What are your goals with this rewrite?