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?