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



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?