By Karen Isaacs
Have you ever wondered where the big musicals – The Book of Mormon or Hamilton—began and how they find their way to Broadway immortality?
At Goodspeed’s 11th Annual Festival of New Musicals, Friday Jan. 15 to Sunday, January 17, you get an inside look at the often long development process.
The Festival offers the book, lyrics and composers of three new musicals the oppotunrity to work for several weeks with a professional director and music director and a talented group of senior students. The result is a semi-staged reading that allows each team to see how the audience reacts to their work, and what the next steps in the creative process will be.
Putting together the Festival’s offering is a balancing acting said Bob Alwine, associate producer and Donna Lynn Hilton, line producer. “Since we are working with senior students from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, we want everyone to have a part in one of the shows. We don’t want a student to have two parts. So first we look at the breakdown of students we will have – how many men, how many women.” In addition, students from the Boston Conservatory of Music are auditioned.
“We also want to be sure that the characters portrayed on the stage are to some extent appropriate for this age group – we wouldn’t select a show where many characters were children or elderly.”
“We are looking for younger, emerging writers – those that are on the cusp,” Alwine explained.
Alwine and Hilton have access to many sources of potential works: Alwine reads works that are submitted to the National Alliance of Musical Theater which stages eight new musicals each summer in New York City. Hilton looks at projects from the New York University programs. In addition, the Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Colony which is held each January in Goodspeed can lead to selection.
And some shows are submitted to Goodspeed directly.
This year’s three production, each came from a different source. While sometimes a commercial producer has expressed interest in a project, this is not the case this year.
We Foxes, which will be performed in a semi-staged reading on Friday, Jan. 15, is a work Alwine read for the National Alliance of Musical Theater. This musical by Ryan Scott Oliver is described as a Southern gothic story set in Missouri in 1945 about a tough unmannered orphan who is adopted by the sheriff’s wife and discovers the secrets lurking beneath the floorboard.
The Festival will close on Sunday, Jan 17 with a performance of Only Anne written by John Dietrich (book and lyrics) and Will Buck (music). This show is billed as “Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey in this musical update of her popular novel Persuasion.” Hilton discovered this work at the NYU project.
The teams – and the student cast members – arrive at Goodspeed on Monday, Jan. 4. Auditions are held and the three shows are cast. “The writers view this as an exciting opportunity,” Alwine said. “Two weeks to work on the piece with actual bodies. They get to see how their material is landing and to revise or rewrite.”
The students are equally excited. Alwine explained that when they graduate and head to New York, this is the type of work – workshops and readings – they will most likely be doing initially.
The third musical, Milo at the Movies will be performed Saturday, Jan. 16. Composer and lyricist Mark Gaylord said that he and book writer Tom Diggs have been developing the project since 2010 when they did a reading at the Seven Devils conference and later in 2014, the musical was given a semi-staged production outside of Atlanta, Ga.
“One of the things we learned from the Atlanta production was that the opening the show (the first 30 pages) was not setting it up effectively,” Gaylord said. “So we have rewritten that part and it will be the emphasis for this production.”
Gaylord feels the Goodspeed Festival is “perfect for where we are in the development process” and it will help them get to the next stage by floating ideas and gaining exposure. Diggs and Gaylord hope it will lead to a small production or longer workshop.
The idea emanated from Diggs who had studied the history of the silent film. He happened on an interesting fact. In many parts of the US in the 1920s, audiences were illiterate and unable to read the silent film captions. So in these small towns, local people would be hired to speak the captions aloud; many became local celebrities.
In Mila at the Movies the duo have focused on Milo and Dexter, two vaudevillians at a time when vaudeville was dying who become “readers”.
Diggs and Gaylord – who had known each other as students but had lost contact – got back together with this project because a mutual friend knew that Gaylord was participating the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop.
“It is a screwball comedy in the manner of Kaufman and Hart and the Preston Sturges comedies,” Gaylord said. The music has a number of influences; some of the numbers reference the musical styles of the mid-1920s including the Charleston, while other songs reference styles that have developed since that time. Gaylord said his musical influences for this piece include Nöel Coward, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and even Charlie Chaplin who was first a music hall performer.
What is next for these shows? Each show will take a different path. Alwine pointed out that Band Geeks began as some songs performed at the Festival’s evening cabaret. From there it was at the festival the following year and then had a fuller production at the Norma Terris Theater in Chester. The show is now licensed which means it is available for high school, colleges, community and regional theaters to produce.
Another show that has had various production is The Theory of Relativity which went from the Festival in 2014 to the Norma Terrris this past year and is currently licensed.
Come from Away which was at the Festival in 2013 and tells the story of the townspeople of Gander, Newfoundland and the passengers from the 38 airplanes that were diverted there on Sept. 11, 2001. According to Alwine, that show is getting a production in Seattle and appears headed to Broadway.
For information on all the events of the 11th Annual Festival of New Musicals at Goodspeed, Friday, Jan 15 to Sunday, Jan. 17, visit goodspeed.org.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.