It may not be the first new musicals festival of the summer-5th Avenue has a NextFest of New Musicals of its own in full sway through August 15th-but the Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals, a Puget Sound tradition for 15 years and a key part of their Village Originals programming, launches this Friday August 7, 2015 and ends on Sunday August 9. There are 5 staged readings at the Village’s Mainstage Francis S. Gaudette Theatre 303 Front Street North in Issaquah, and a developmental production at their First Stage Theatre 2 blocks down at 120 Front Street.
A great diversity of shows, some by authors new to Village audiences, others by those who have gone to the mainstage and beyond. Herewith is a description of each work.
Friday, August 7, 2015
MARCO POLO at 7:30PM
Music by Deborah Abramson
Book and Lyrics by Peter Mills
Destiny, drama, and damsels await as a young Marco Polo sets off on his intrepid quest to explore the world. With history hanging in the balance, he travels from the bustling seaport of medieval Venice to Kubla Khan’s fabled summer palace in Xanadu, and everywhere in between. Featuring music and lyrics by the lyricist of Iron Curtain, Marco Polo will sweep you away on a hilarious, heartfelt musical journey as our hero searches far and wide for the things he desires most – adventure, family, and a place he feels at home.
Saturday, August 8, 2015
BARCELONA at 2PM
Book and Lyrics by Christine Toy Johnson
Music and Lyrics by Jason Ma
When the death of her sister sends an American novelist into a downward spiral, it seems her creative spirit may be gone for good. That is, until a mysterious dream revives her with a jolt – and an inexplicable desire to visit Barcelona. In a city shining with architecture, music, and romance, time gets unlocked and stories merge as the spirit of her sister leads her on an extraordinary journey of healing and forgiveness. Featuring a magnificent score infused with the rich culture of Spain, Barcelona is a stunning new musical about the enduring power of inspiration, art, and love.
DEATH: THE MUSICAL at 7:30PM
Music, Lyrics, and Book by Paul Gordon
When a mediocre art teacher rents a small cabin in the woods, he’s simply hoping for a quiet weekend away from it all. Much to his distress, a series of strange spirits and angels begin descending from the heavens – or rather, the attic – claiming to be preparing him for his “transition.” Sensing that something is seriously amiss, he starts to question his own sanity and everything he knows. This quirky, darkly humorous rock musical is full of unexpected twists that will leave you dying for more.
Sunday, August 9, 2015
CUBAMOR at 2PM
Book and Lyrics by James D. Sasser
Music and Lyrics by Charles Vincent Burwell
Based on the film Cubamor by Joshua Bee Alafia
Welcome to Havana, the heart of Cuba – a city alive with intoxicating music, mystical forces, and amor! Here, two Americans and two Cubans find their paths unexpectedly crossed as they attempt to escape their pasts. But when romances blossom, spurred on by the spirits of the island, everything gets complicated. Can love bridge the American-Cuban divide? With a Latin-inspired score that blends traditional rhythms and contemporary hip-hop, Cubamor is a moving new musical about cultural barriers and the transcendent power of love.
BRIDGES at 7:30PM
Book and Lyrics by Cheryl L. Davis
Music by Douglas J. Cohen
In 1965, a young woman boldly joins a march to fight for her civil rights. Decades later, another young woman faces her own battle for equality. As their stories collide across time and distance, each must come to terms with who she is in the context of a changing and complicated world. Full of soulful melodies by the creator of No Way To Treat A Lady, Bridges is an empowering story that explores our country’s past and present – how far we’ve come, how far we have to go, and the bridges we must cross to get there.
Each of these shows are a part of the Festival proper which one must subscribe to in order to attend. The Developmental production is open to the General Public and will also run certain dates at the Everett Performing Arts Center which is VT’s home away from home.
GREAT WALL (see dates/times/location below)
It’s a long-shot for Kevin to become an Asian-American rock star, but that’s exactly what he’s reaching for as he struggles to smash glass ceilings and become America’s new sensation. But after the sudden death of his father, a clash of family and cultural expectations are forcing him to choose between supporting his family and pursuing stardom. Full of soulful melodies, this bold new musical takes a fresh and honest look at the American dream, examining the choices we make, the risks we take, and the relationships that make it all worthwhile.
FIRST STAGE THEATRE, ISSAQUAH
August 6 at 7:30 PM • August 7 at 2:00 PM
August 8 at 5:00 PM • August 9 at 5:00 PM
SECOND STAGE THEATRE, EVERETT
August 15 at 8:00 PM • August 16 at 2:00 PM
It literally takes a village to put on such a Festival. Take a look at this year’s assemblage of onstage and directorial talents involved in this ambitious undertaking. Great Wall boasts a number of Broadway alums, including Albert Guerzon, Francis Jue, Raymond J. Lee, and Pearl Sun. Other participants in the Festival include Greg Allen, Eric Ankrim, Kyle Carter, Krista Curry, Taryn Darr, Sarah Rose Davis, Richard Gray, Justin Huertas, Diana Huey, Isaiah Johnson, Matthew Kacergis, John Patrick Lowrie, Ellen McLain, Jennifer Paz, Jessica Skerritt, R.J. Tancioco, Leslie Wisdom and Perry Young, among many others. Isaiah Johnson, who will be playing one of our leads in the reading of Bridges, was just cast as Mister in Broadway’s upcoming revival of The Color Purple with Jennifer Hudson. Directors are: Great Wall, Jerry Dixon; Marco Polo, Brandon Ivie; Barcelona, Cara Reichel; Death: The Musical, Nell Balaban; Cubamor, Kent Nicholson; Bridges, David Ira Goldstein.
The authors of two of the festival shows and kindly offered to share some of their thoughts on this process with us, such a vital one in the birthing of new musicals (lest we still be reviving The King and I and Fiddler on the Roof in another 50 years).
Christine Toy Johnson (Book and Lyrics for Barcelona)
DEH: What step is this reading in the life of the show thus far?
CTJ Jason Ma, my composer/co-lyricist and life-long friend, and I have been working on BARCELONA for 3 years, 2 of which were spent in an artists’ residency at CAP21 in New York City. During the residency we did various round table readings of the piece in its various stages and in October of 2014 we had a 29-hour reading/industry presentation there which was directed by Alan Muraoka (featuring Ali Ewoldt, Joel Perez, Arielle Jacobs, Chris Vasquez and Stacia Fernandez). It was a wonderful experience and told us a lot about where we needed to go next. We did some big rewrites in the months after that and this staged reading in Issaquah will be the first time we are hearing those rewrites — and of course the first time we are working with director Cara Reichel on it (though we have worked with Cara in NYC on other projects), musical director Kristen Rosenfeld and all of these fabulous cast members!
DEH: In your own words, what is the show about?
CTJ: BARCELONA is the story of Julianna, an American novelist who is paralyzed with grief after causing an accident that killed her sister. When the show opens, we see her in a dream in which a man (famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi) is conducting the figures of La Sagrada Familia and her sister gives her a family necklace. When she wakes up, she discovers that she is still wearing the necklace — and decides she must go to Barcelona to find out what it all means. We travel back and forth between the present and Antoni Gaudi’s time (part musing and part history) and find out how it all connects. Ultimately it’s a story about inspiration, family and the healing power of art.
DEH: Why should VT audiences see it?
CTJ: I hope they will enjoy it! Aside from having this lush, spectacular score that Jason wrote, I think the story is intriguing and romantic and full of hope —and who couldn’t use a little dose of that these days?
DEH: Are you and Jason excited to be in this festival?
CTJ: Yes! First of all, this theatre’s reputation precedes itself and we have heard only wonderful things about everyone involved. And of course this is an incredible opportunity for us to see the piece with fresh eyes and a new creative team, in front of a brand new audience. Plus we have many good friends who are involved with many of the other projects in the festival, so we’re really looking forward to sharing the experience with them, as well, and cheering them on in their work.
DEH: Anything else you want to tell us?
CTJ: We’re so grateful for the generosity of Village Theatre and the opportunities they are providing to so many writers in the development of new musicals. It’s always invigorating to be in an environment that really wants people to thrive, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be included. Plus, look at the diversity in this festival! Fantastic! You can follow us on twitter: @JohnsonAndMa and/or visit our website::http://www.barcelonathemusical.com for more information about the show and how to stay in touch. Thank you!
Douglas J. Cohen (Composer of Bridges)
DEH: VT audiences know you from this past season’s production of No Way to Treat A Lady. Discuss the differences between the two shows.
DJC: I can’t think of two more contrasting pieces than NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY and BRIDGES. One is a musical comedy thriller based on a novel, the other is an original musical based on two landmark civil rights movements. NWTTAL boasts a very small cast of four (sometimes five), BRIDGES requires a cast of at least 15. I also have a collaborator on BRIDGES, bookwriter and lyricist Cheryl Davis. Stylistically, the music is also different: BRIDGES is set in the rural south in the mid-1960’s and Oakland, CA in 2008, while NWTTAL focuses on NYC in the mid-60’s where Sarah and Kit’s worlds are connected with the sophisticated art and theater scene.
DEH: Have you ever made major changes in a show based on talkback comments given to you at a staged reading?
DJC: I definitely listen very closely to talkbacks. It’s a time when you can learn what an audience is thinking and if something is confusing or half baked. I remember doing the first workshop of THE GIG at the Beverly Hills Civic Center, and the opening featured short monologues performed by each of the characters. When these six had finished, they broke into a song which unified them. Audiences at the reading seemed to feel the show had trouble igniting and initially couldn’t quite connect with the characters. I sensed we weren’t letting the audience know they had entered the world of a musical, so I took all six monologues and rewrote them as songlets in a musical “prologue.” It made a significant difference, and that opening number is probably the most successful opening song I’ve ever created.
Another example was the first workshop of NINE WIVES with co-writer, Dan Elish. Audiences said they were confused by the title since we hadn’t made any attempt to justify this premise in our treatment. We decided if we were going to keep the title, we’d have to show our protagonist, Henry Mann, openly discover nine candidates for marriage. Of course, now that we’ve renamed our musical MANN…AND WIFE, we’re no longer under that obligation. But we at least found a convention that delivered on its promise.
DEH: How would compare/contrast Seattle and Broadway audience responses?
DJC: I think audiences everywhere are essentially very similar. I remember attending the German premiere of THE GIG (in German, DAS GIG), and there were only two laughs which didn’t land, and one was the name of an American car, the “Pinto.” (Obviously, they didn’t get the reference!). Many New York audiences seem to expect you to dazzle them before they’ll go on the journey. There is a feeling — at least when the show is performed for industry — that there are expectations which need to be met. So reactions can be more subdued. But there are also quiet audiences in all corners of the globe, and essentially as a writer you need to do your job or people will simply tune out. This is a world where everything makes demands on our time and attention, so it’s not easy to surrender to the world of theater. But once people do, it can be exceptionally potent and rewarding.
DEH: What specific genre(s) is the show?
DJC: I think BRIDGES has a lot of modern elements in it, particularly in the inventive way Cheryl Davis tells the story. Using two distinct, contrasting time frames, she builds an intriguing and powerful story. But essentially the characters and their needs are “classic.” Musically, there are original songs and musical scenes with a beginning, middle, and end. We haven’t broken new ground in that respect, but I feel we’re using music and structure to define historical eras, propel character arcs, and access emotions. We’ve also included three famous spirituals from the civil rights era to give the piece further authenticity. My hope is BRIDGES feels fresh, even when it echoes a traditional art form.
Informed with all this information, you are going to either :
A) Enjoy the Village Originals subscription you all ready purchased; B) Check out the VT’s website at www.villagetheatre.org and subscribe or C) Stay home and watch “Big Bang Theory” repeats. Need I add there are parties with free food/beverages included with the subscription?
(Sound of hundreds of people rushing to subscribe)