Friday, October 17, 2014

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: Returning to the Festival

With less than a week until the Festival, How to Break bookwriter/lyricist and Festival Alum Aaron Jafferis reminisces about his successes and memories (albeit sporadic)
since the 2007 Festival, and why returning to the Festival proves to be an important step in the development of his latest project.

Along with Rebecca Hart and Yako 440, I’m one of the authors of How to Break, a hip-hop musical about being ill, that will be showcased at this year’s Festival.

I’m pretty sure my and Ian Williams’ show Kingdom was in the NAMT festival 2007. Though I have no memory of the year 2007, I have evidence that it worked out well, since many of the contacts in my “theatre industry” Excel spreadsheet say “NAMT 07.” I also know that it was at the NAMT festival where folks from The Old Globe first got interested in Kingdom, which is what led to our first production, first agent, first improper liaison with a cast member, etc.

(Note: that last “first” is in dispute, thanks to differing definitions of words like “improper” and

Thursday, October 9, 2014

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: Creating a 45-minute Cut of our Show

The 2014 NAMT Festival is just TWO WEEKS AWAY, and today we have Cubamor bookwriter and lyricist James Sasser giving us a special video blog capturing, in "real" time, his process of creating a 45-minute version of his musical to showcase at New World Stages.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: Preparing Orchestrations and Arrangements

As we get closer to the Festival, Mary Marie composer Carl Johnson reflects on the daunting task of preparing musical arrangements for his Festival presentation, as
well as the challenges and great rewards of live performance.

I’ve been working on orchestrating the music for our show Mary Marie for the Festival, and have been pondering the differences between writing for live theater and writing for film and television. It seems almost as if it’s the difference between planning for a worst-case or a best-case scenario!

In studio recording you plan for a best-case scenario in terms of the performance you get out of the musicians. The recording studio is temperature-controlled, the lighting is optimized for reading, there are a variety of microphones set up around the instruments so that every nuance of their playing can be captured without the musician having to overplay or hold back. Even the catering and bathroom-break schedule is designed to put the players in the best frame of mind to play perfectly.

In a live situation, you never know what the players are going to encounter! Even the best-

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


This month, we check in with Donna Lynn Hilton, Line Producer at Goodspeed Musicals, as they start rehearsals for the world premiere of Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn, based on the classic movie!

Happy holidays! Check into the tuneful world-premiere musical about a Connecticut farmhouse transformed into a jubilant nightspot—but only on holidays. From Valentine's Day to the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving to Christmas, expect a cornucopia of hit songs by Irving Berlin in a dance-dizzy romance based on the classic film that first starred Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. Raise a glass of cheer to "Happy Holiday," "Easter Parade," "Be Careful, It's My Heart" and more of the world's greatest show tunes.

Who had the initial idea to turn Holiday Inn into a stage show and what was that impulse? 
Universal Stage Productions launched the initial process of turning the beloved film “Holiday Inn” into the stage musical Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn.  Universal has a thriving development arm led by Chris Herzberger.  Chris came out of the regional theatre in Chicago and values our place in the development of new work.  Under Chris's leadership, Universal is working with partners across the country on developing their catalogue and Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn will be one of the first to make it to full production.

What is Goodspeed's relationship with Universal pictures through this process?  
Universal and Chris Herzberger have been truly wonderful partners and colleagues throughout this process. Universal brought writers Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge on board to begin developing the adaptation of “Holiday Inn” in 2012.  Goodspeed has developed several projects with Gordon as either bookwriter or director (or both!) and he suggested to Chris that Goodspeed was a natural fit as the first home of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn.  From our very first conversation at the NAMT conference in the fall of 2012, it was clear that Chris and I shared a love of this film and a vision for bringing it to life on the stage. Universal led the charge in the early stages of development working closely with the Irving Berlin Music Company, but Goodspeed's early commitment to producing the show on the Opera House stage in the fall of 2014 was a critical piece of the plan from Universal's perspective. Once the major players committed to the project, work moved very quickly. Chris and I have worked for about a year with Gordon and Chad to bring the script to the point where we are excited to begin rehearsal this week—in fact, I am writing this in the afterglow of the read-through on our first day of rehearsal.  Goodspeed suggested Sam Davis as vocal and dance arranger for the project and that has proven to be a brilliant choice—if we say so ourselves!  And we worked together with Universal to identify the remainder of the creative team.  Honestly, Goodspeed and Universal have been on the same page about this project at every turn.

 Why does Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn fit well with Goodspeed and the Opera House audience?  

Festival Show Update: MY HEART IS THE DRUM

This month, we check in on 2013 Festival show My Heart is The Drum and its authors Stacey Luftig, Phillip Palmer and Jennie Redling on their recent reading at NAMT Member The Village Theatre in Issaquah, WA and their upcoming production at NAMT Member Kent State University.

My Heart Is the Drum is a big musical set in West Africa with a driving, African-influenced score. It is about Efua Kuti, a 16-year-old girl who aches to leave behind her stifling, poverty-struck village to become a teacher, and Edward Adu, a traditional farmhand who is in love with her. Inspired by the spirit of her grandmother, Efua runs away to the city of Accra to attend the university, but on arrival gets abducted into prostitution. Edward sets out to find her. Efua has always been able to draw on her cunning to solve her problems, but will she escape these most desperate circumstances? And if Edward finds her, will he still love her now that she has been “disgraced?” At its core, the musical is about finding the inner strength to achieve your goals and create social change.​
What was feedback like for your show after you presented in our Festival?
Mainly, people told us they wanted to know what will happen to Efua, our heroine, in Act II. We took that as a good sign.

You had the opportunity to bring the show to Goodspeed’s Johnny Mercer Writers Colony this winter.  What did you work on during that time in snowy Connecticut? 
First, we went through the script and pinpointed the scenes, lyrics and music that we had always labelled "good enough for now" and that we'd fix "later." Our time at Goodspeed was our "later."
We also focused on two pivotal moments for Efua, one in Act I, one in Act II. We all feel very passionately about her, and it took several passes—including one serious crash and burn—before we found the monologue in Act I, and the completely unexpected song in Act II, that we all felt to be "effortlessly" right.

This month at Village Theatre, you had your first ever reading of the full show.  What was it like to finally hear the whole show aloud in front of a public audience? 
Thrilling and gratifying.  After so many years since its start at the BMI workshop, we could see that we had a full, working show and one that moved people. The audience also responded strongly to the script's humor. For the songs, they not only clapped, but cheered for most of them and scene moments also drew applause.  

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.