Thursday, August 21, 2014

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: Cutting Down Your Show

We kick off this year's Festival season with our first Festival Countdown Blog!  In this
entry, Duane Poole, bookwriter of Beautiful Poison, gives us insight on how to prepare the 45-minute cut of the show for the Festival.

So we get the news that we made the cut.  (By “we” I mean composer Brendan Milburn, lyricist Valerie Vigoda, and bookwriter me.)  Our “Beautiful Poison” is in this year’s NAMT Festival!  The thrill of the announcement is still fresh when we realize we have yet another cut to make -- bringing our two-hour musical down to a strict forty-five minutes for the presentation.

Okay, this shouldn’t be a problem.  As both a writer and producer, I’ve done this sort of thing countless times over the years.  But there seems to be extra pressure on this particular cut. Perhaps it’s knowing who might be in our audiences this October.  What can we show these theatre insiders in that abbreviated time that will truly represent the variety of music, the twists of plot, and the richness of character we three have worked so hard to create?

We briefly consider using a narrator to present the entire musical, speeding past plot points

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New Work in Progress: THE MAX FACTOR FACTOR

This month, we check in with Elise Dewsberry, Artistic Director at New Musicals Inc. as she tells us about the reason for their new name and tells us about their brand new musical, The Max Factor Factor. 

It’s 1936; the golden age of Hollywood, and two rival movie studios are in a heated battle for survival when their opposing leading men fall in love. Reminiscent of screwball comedies of the past, this new musical takes place in a world of artifice, backstabbing, lavender weddings, double-crossing starlets, and a moral crusader from the Legion of Rectitude, making it increasingly more difficult for the leading men to hold on to the one real thing each has ever found.  It’s funny, charming, romantic, happily nostalgic, and very tuneful.

Before we dive in to the show, Academy for NewMusical Theatre recently rebranded as New Musicals Inc.  Tell us a bit about the motivation behind the change and what this means for the company. 
This is actually our second name change:  for 30 years, we were the Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, focusing entirely on writers.
But in 2002, we added workshops for actors and producers, and felt we needed a new name to reflect the larger vision.  Since THAT time, we have expanded our mission to include public performances, concerts, and production.  That expansion has been very successful, giving us national presence, national partners with producers and theatre companies, and so we felt the need to make a distinction between our academic programs and our professional production and development branches.  We wanted a name that would characterize us as a professional organization with ties to the commercial producing world, that also runs a school.  So..."New Musicals Inc."
(We will still be running our academic division under the name "Academy for New Musical Theatre," as a program at NMI.)

This show was born out of your workshop/reading process. Tell us a bit about how NMI helps develop shows. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Work in Progress: NINE WIVES

An interview with John Simpkins, Artistic Director of SharonPlayhouse, about their upcoming production of Nine Wives with music and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen (Barnstormer, Fest '08; Glimmerglass, Fest '00; The Gig, Fest '94) and book and lyrics by Dan Elish.

Based on the novel Nine Wives by Dan Elish, this new musical tells the story of Henry Mann, a 32-year-old bachelor who discovers that the love of his life has met someone new and is about to get married. What's worse, he's been invited to her wedding! What follows are Henry's frantic attempts to find a woman he can take as his date – a potential future wife – to prove to his ex-fiancĂ©e (and the world) that he too is ready to move on.
How did Nine Wives find its way to Sharon Playhouse?
I had seen a reading of the show a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It had always been on my radar – and then Jayson Raitt, one of the producers on the show, approached me and wondered if it might be a nice fit for Sharon. I had worked with Dan Elish before…and I’ve admired Doug Cohen’s work for years. It seemed like a great fit to join their team. They had done quite a bit of really good work on the story since I had seen the reading and we had a terrific meeting about the things they wanted to accomplish with a developmental production in Sharon.
What drew you to this story?
I have a tendency to really fall for stories about the everyman. The protagonist, Henry, is one of those people who rarely shows up in musicals. He is, as he describes himself “a perfectly acceptable athlete, an excellent musician, passably good-looking, and disease free.” He just happens, like many people, to not be able to find someone with whom he clicks enough to have a real relationship. I tend to connect as a human with characters who are in the kind of turmoil that regular people experience in their life.   

Why is the show a good fit for your mission and audience? 

Festival Show Update: THE CIRCUS IN WINTER

This month, we check in with Ben Clark, composer and lyricist of 2012 Festival show The Circus in Winter, as he prepares for its premiere this October at Goodspeed Musicals. 

Meeting an elephant can change a man’s life. The Circus in Winter is a folk/rock musical inspired by the novel by Cathy Day, where legend and lore collide under the big top filled with disheveled hustlers, death-defying acrobats and a dreamer named Wallace Porter searching for redemption and grace. 

A lot has been happening with the show since it was in the Festival. The biggest change is that Hunter Foster (Summer of '42, Fest '99) has joined the team as a bookwriter. Why did you bring on a bookwriter and what drew you and the rest of the team to Hunter? 
Bringing Hunter on is a huge plus for us. We chose Hunter because we feel he can take the feel and spirit of the score, as well as the language of the source material, to give the piece a unified voice. Within the conversations about our first professional run, he agreed with a lot of feelings we had moving forward in regards to creative team, and was able to open some doors to benefit our creative process.

You've also made some changes to the score and story. What changes are you most excited about?

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

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?