From Behind-the Scenes to the Business Side of Musicals

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book-coverBy Karen Isaacs

 One of the highlights of the symposiums on Saturday, Jan. 14, presented as part of the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals will be the conversation by Jack Viertel with theater writer and critic Frank Rizzo.

Viertel’s book, The Secret Life of the American Musical is a must read for musical theater fans. In it, he draws on his years of experience as a critic, producer and teacher at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, to dissect what makes the some musicals great and others also-rans.

jack-vierte“I wrote the book because whenever I gave a talk to lay people about musical theater, they would also ask when would I write a book. So, six or seven years ago, I started writing,” Viertel said. It is based on the teaching he did at NYU for theater professionals who wanted to become writers of musicals –lyricists, composers or book writers.

He has developed a series of what he calls “patterns” that are present in all outstanding musicals. He said that these patterns are still necessary if today’s shows. “They aren’t being broken,” he said. “They’re being up-dated and rethought for a different world.”

“We’re in a period of tremendous vitality for musicals,” Viertel said and pointed to Hamilton, the recently opened Dear Evan Hansen and the off-Broadway The Band’s Visit as three examples. “The new writers have different approaches to telling a story.”

When a musical fails there can be a number of reason, Viertel said. “It isn’t engaging enough, maybe the story doesn’t need to be musicalized, the writers haven’t found the key to tell the story or musicalizing it, or sometimes all the elements just aren’t good enough.”

Viertel is the artistic director of the Encore! series at City Center and senior vice president of Jujamcyn Theaters.

But the conversation with Viertel is just one of many symposiums that day.  For those interested in the backstage life of a musical, Chris Zaccardi will share stories on a stage manager’s life. He will be the stage manager for the revival of Hello, Dolly! this spring. Gillian Lane-Plescia will demonstrate the techniques she uses to help actors with accents and dialects. Tony winning lighting designer Ken Billington will also be featured.

Jayna Neagle and Elizabeth Shumate will share experiences in bringing Cirque Soleil’s first musical Paramour to Broadway. Michael Rubinoff, one of the producers of Come from Away which began life at the Festival and opens on Broadway this spring, talks about the journey that show has taken.

Sean Cercone will share insights about the process of acquiring performance rights and licensing of material including bring stories from the big screen to the stage. He is senior vice president of new musical development for Theatrical Rights Worldwide.

The symposiums are open to Festival gold package ticket holders. For information, contact or call 860-873-8668.

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