19th Century Master Actor Edwin Booth Gets a Musical Stage Bio, Opening Tonight

News   19th Century Master Actor Edwin Booth Gets a Musical Stage Bio, Opening Tonight The namesake of Broadway's Booth Theatre emerges from his brother's shadow.
Dana Watkins
Dana Watkins

Edwin Booth, one of the greatest American actors of the 19th century and namesake of Broadway's Booth Theatre, is getting a new musical stage biography.

Titled Edwin, The Story of Edwin Booth, the musical began previews September 4 at Off-Broadway's Theatre at St. Clement’s. Opening night is September 8 for a limited run through September 18.

The show has music by Marianna Rosett and book and lyrics by Eric Swanson.

Booth was born into a theatrical family and was widely acclaimed for his Shakespearean performances. He famously appeared in a production of Julius Caesar with his brothers Junius Brutus Booth Jr. and John Wilkes Booth. John Wilkes, while considered a lesser actor, gained permanent infamy as the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. The musical is set backstage on the night in 1866 of Edwin's return to the stage after the assassination, braving “death threats, public outrage, and his own scarred past,” according to production notes.

John Wilkes Booth, Edwin Booth and Junius Booth, Jr. in <i data-rte2-sanitize="italic">Julius Caesar</i>
John Wilkes Booth, Edwin Booth and Junius Booth, Jr. in Julius Caesar

Through a strange coincidence, Edwin had previously accepted the thanks of the Lincolns when he saved the President’s son from falling beneath a train.

Edwin has been a popular subject for stage treatment. Plays and films about him include Moss Hart's Prince of Players, The Brothers BOOTH! by W. Stuart McDowell, the similarly titled The Brothers Booth by Marshell Bradley and Austin Pendleton's Booth Is Back, among others.

The cast features Dana Watkins as Edwin Booth, with Adam Bashian (In Transit), Paul DeBoy, Todd Lawson, Deanne Lorette, Ben Mayne and Patricia Noonan (Death Takes a Holiday). Edwin is produced by Great Circle Productions (Jane Kosminsky, artistic/executive director) and directed by Christopher Scott, with music direction by Evan Alparone.

The creative team features Chad McArver (scenic/lighting design) and David Zyla (costume design). Maxine Glorsky is production stage manager, Paul Ziemer is technical advisor and Dailey-Monda Management serves as the general manager. Casting is by Stephanie Klapper.

Swanson released a statement saying, “Most people, when they hear the name Booth, think ‘Oh, the guy who shot Lincoln,’” and admitted that he responded the same way when first presented with the project. “As Jane outlined Edwin’s story, I was by turns fascinated and surprised—and ultimately appalled. One of the greatest actors our country has ever produced had been all but erased from history. I found myself thinking, ‘A hundred years from now, will Meryl Streep, Marlon Brando, or Paul Newman be similarly erased?’ Probably not. None of the genuine legends of recent vintage have had their names stained by an appalling crime committed by a family member.”


Edwin Booth
Edwin Booth Library of Congress

Rosett said she composed music to evoke the Civil War period. “It suggests the folk songs of the time and hints at the music of the period that people were listening to, like Schumann. It has weight and body and sometimes an ‘incredible lightness of being.’ It is full of color, melody and heart.”

Tickets can be purchased at www.greatcircleproductions.org or by calling (866) 811-4111.

(Updated September 8, 2016)

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