Festival of New American Musicals, produced by Marcia Seligson, Bob Klein and Linda Shusett, runs through Aug. 21. Various locations and ticket prices. For further information, go to www.lafestival.org.
The Two Stephens (Schwartz and Sondheim) share honorary co-chair duties in the 2010 Festival of New American Musicals, which began in May in greater Los Angeles and continues through Aug. 21.
FNAM, now in its third year, is home to full productions, staged readings, workshops of musicals in progress, cabaret events and concerts. This year, the Festival announced a new partnership with the distinguished New York Musical Theatre Festival, headed by executive director and producer Isaac Robert Hurwitz. The New York Musical Theatre Festival has presented 232 new musicals since 2004.
There’s quite a similarity between the NY Festival and the FNAM. They share a mission of providing a launching pad for the next generation of musicals and their creators to ensure the continued vitality of “America’s greatest art form.”
To that end, this year’s performances range from students at Marquez Charter School to the College of the Canyons to several professional companies, including the Long Beach Opera, the Blank, the Geffen and several other theaters.
The first part of the exchange will bring Carry On! to New York as an official selection of this year’s festival. The new musical tells the story of Thurgood Marshall and the beginnings of the civil rights struggle. There are 30 fourth through seventh grade students at Marquez Charter School in Pacific Palisades who will perform Carry On! in the New York Festival after premiering it on June 13 at the Magicopolis Theatre (1418 4th Street, Santa Monica).
“Carry On! exemplifies the work of the festival,” said Marcia Seligson, the organization’s executive producer. “It speaks to our education program, one of the major components of the festival. Our program engaged students of all ages in musical theater as performers, creators and audience.” Seligson organized this year’s event with Bob Klein and Linda Shusett.
A hundred of Marquez’ fifth grade students, meanwhile, will perform Water and Power, a musical that dramatizes the birth of the American labor movement in Lowell, Massachusetts. There will be two rotating casts of 50 students performing at Marquez School on June 15 and 17.
Academy Award and eight-time Tony Award winner Sondheim said, “What impresses me most about the festival is its producers’ vision for developing new and young musical theater audiences all around southern California. By working directly with ethnically diverse high schools and colleges, and helping them produce new musicals in their schools, the organizers of the Festival hope to ignite a passion for theater in these young people.”
Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Godspell) agrees. “In my capacity as artistic director of the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop and as one of the judges for the Jonathan Larson Foundation grant, I have heard the work of so many promising and talented young musical theater composers and lyricists. The fact this festival continues to give many of them a chance to be showcased and celebrated very publicly here on the West Coast is a truly fantastic gift.”
In February, Schwartz helped inaugurate the festival’s newly formed Academy for Young Performers with a master class for aspiring musical theater performers. On May 23, young composers and librettists attended a day-long workshop at Los Angeles’ Barnsdall Park, under the direction of Jason Robert Brown (13), Jeff Marx (Avenue Q) and composer-lyricist Georgia Stitt.
A program that brings together culturally diverse teens, “City at Peace — Los Angeles” takes place at Inside Out Community Arts. The work asks the teenagers to create, produce and perform an original musical based on their lives, and their ideas for addressing the issues that concern them most. These high school students will also design and lead community action projects around the city in order to realize their creative vision for change. (July 9-11; 2210 Lincoln Blvd., Venice 310.397.8820 www.insideoutca.org.)
In this age of statewide educational cutbacks, College of the Canyons in Valencia will introduce a new credit course devoted to the development of a new musical, Sing Me a Happy Song. Composer-lyricist Georgia Stitt will be on hand to work with students as they develop and produce a new song cycle. The course is limited to 45 students and is presented by the College of the Canyons Theatre Department and the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center. It continues through July 10.
Pre-festival events included a world premiere of the festival’s first internet musical, The Sunset Players; The Story of My Life by Brian Hill and Neil Bartram; Michael John LaChiusa’s See What I Wanna See at The Blank; the Geffen’s Nightmare Alley by Jonathan Brielle, based on the William Lindsay Gresham novel of the same name; The Women of Brewster Place — the Musical which has been extended at the Celebration Theatre through June; and Linda Hopkins’ original one-woman musical Ruby Hayes Sings Bessie’s Blues at the Whitefire Theatre.
Upcoming or continuing productions include:
Orpheus & Euridice — Long Beach Opera’s notorious opera in a pool by Ricky Ian Gordon, composer of the acclaimed The Grapes of Wrath. Metropolitan Opera star Elizabeth Futral and Grammy nominated clarinetist Todd Palmer transform the indoor Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool into the River Styx. Gordon, who’s also staging Sycamore Trees in Arlington, VA, developed O&E as a musical theater piece in October, 2001. “It had a clear narrative and two acts,” he says, “sort of as a monodrama. I saw it with clarinet, soprano and piano. I approached Jane Moss at Lincoln Center and asked if she would let me do it as a theater piece in their new space. She and Jon Nakajawa encouraged me to find my own director and choreographer. I did, and the show won an Obie Award.”
O&E was performed two years ago in Long Beach. “We took advantage of the pool,” Gordon recalls. “But we couldn’t rehearse until 10 pm when swim meets ended! And as soon as Elizabeth [Futral] turned her head, I couldn’t hear her — the water diffused the sound. So we got a wonderful sound designer.”
Actors, including Futral as Euridice and Palmer as Orpheus are “in the pool” in a set designed by Alan Muraoka and costumes by Marcy Froehlich. Steven White conducts. Andreas Mitisek directs. Dan Weingarten, lights. Performances are Friday, June 11; Saturday, June 12; Sunday, June 13 at 9 pm. Belmont Plaza Pool, Long Beach.
Das Barbecü — Book and lyrics by Jim Luigs. Music by Scott Warrender. LA premiere through Musical Theatre Guild. An official participant in the Ring Festival LA, this off-Broadway hit is set in various locations throughout present day Texas. Loosely based on Richard Wagner’s massive Ring Cycle, the story is compressed into a two-hour musical comedy with a country and western score.
Ken Sawyer directs. “I told the actors to imagine themselves as five Texas friends sitting around a campfire, telling stories. Now, these five become 29 characters. They do not play it as a spoof, which you could, but they’re there to just talk. The campfire itself is symbolic of the ring. The script is clever, an homage, really; sort of like the way Rent is to La Boheme.
Sawyer contends those who know The Ring Cycle will laugh at Das Barbecü. He adds, “The difference between musical theater and opera is that opera lives in each moment for as long as it possibly can while musical theater moves on to the next moment as fast as it can!” The cast includes Stuart Ambrose (Reprise’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) at the Alex Theatre; June 14.
The Night of the Black Cat is set in the French Cabaret Le Chat Noir in Paris 1881. It takes place on one magical night when some of France’s most famed artists, including George Sand, Jane Avril, Edith Piaf and Pablo Picasso, travel through time to entertain in the salon of Germain de Stael. Directed by Deborah LaVine. Edgemar Theatre through Aug. 8.
Other shows include:
It’s Top Secret — set in 1942, the world is at war and treachery is afoot in this Marx Bros. musical comedy at NoHo Arts Center (11136 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood; June 19-July 18)
Lost Lady With a Violin — 1940s Philadelphia. Explains the existence of an old violin player in a modern neighborhood. (El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; June 22)
Serrano — Directed by Tony nominee Joel Zwick. A fresh take on Cyrano de Bergerac set in modern day Little Italy where two mob families fight for power and territory. Cast includes Olivier Award Winner Lesli Margherita (Zorro; See What I Wanna See). (El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; June 20, 21)
Super Sidekick — a new children’s musical from LA playwright Gregory Crafts (Friends Like These) with original music by Michael Gordon Shapiro. (Sherry Theatre, 11502 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; July 11-Aug. 15).
Three: Songs from the Heart — A married man who’s attracted to men. A devoted wife who wants to keep her family together. A son who loves both his parents. A football coach who’s gay. A teacher’s assistant who’s in love with the married man he works with. An ex-porn star who tries to go legit. A talent manager who will stop at nothing to see his client more famous than Elvis. A couple of Las Vegas chorus girls. And, the television talk show host who is trying to get the “real” story of these people’s lives. Book, music and lyrics by Frederick Keeve; directed by Lance Roberts. Original cast members from Wicked, Sweet Charity, The Lion King, Flower Drum Song and other Broadway productions. (Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; July 16-18)
The One & Only — A series of sung-through vignettes that tell the story of Jen Claire, who would have been an average teenage girl were she not born with a single eye. Director Ray Buffer says, “There is no target audience. It is meant to be a general attraction piece. However, I could see it being produced by a youth opera company as well as a regional theater company. I could also see the piece as something that teen girls might connect to since it addresses the perception of beauty.” (The Relevant Stage Theatre Company at San Pedro’s Warner Grand Theatre, July 1)
For details on Robin and the 7 Hoods, Trails — a New Musical, Hello My Baby and ASCAP staged readings and a songwriters’ showcase, along with performance dates, click here.
Feature image of Cheridah Best, Lisa Tharps, Charlene Modeste, Christine Horn, Kim Yarbrough, Julanne Chidi Hill and Kelly M. Jenrette in The Women of Brewster Place by David Elzer
Article by Steve Julian