Hudson Stage Company, Westchester County's only professional theatre devoted to new works, launches the world premiere of revised version of actress-writer Cass Morgan's memory musical, True Home, which boasts a score by a collection of songwriters — from Stephen Schwartz to Jeanine Tesori — Oct. 17 in suburban New York City.
The songwriters who penned show-specific material for the Morgan's musical include Steven Alper, David Bucknam, Randy Courts, Mark St. Germain, Jack Herrick, Stephen Schwartz, Jeanine Tesori and Morgan herself.
HSC co-founder Dan Foster directs the work, which officially opens Oct. 18 and plays to Nov. 3 at The Julie Harris Theatre at the Clearview School in Briarcliff Manor, NY. Morgan stars in the impressionistic show about a woman at a crossroads, with other characters in her world — "apparitions," as Foster calls them — played by Maureen Silliman (Is There Life After High School?) and Jeff Talbott (Off-Broadway's Home of the Brave).
Morgan, who co-created and starred in the original Pump Boys and Dinettes in 1981, told Playbill On-Line the foundation of True Home was imagined in the mid-1990s as a way for her to create personalized material for herself, but in a context that avoided a cabaret show.
"I decided that it had to be some sort of theatrical thing," she said. "I'm not comfortable with cabaret — just me hanging out with an audience. I'm too much of an actor, I guess, to feel comfortable that way. I decided it had to be a theatrical venue, where I could sing a bunch of wonderful songs that dealt with issues that were important to me." The "bunch of wonderful songs" — on topics from isolation and loneliness to family joys and losses — were solicited from songwriter friends and colleagues. Morgan penned sketches or essays of events that she wanted included in the work and gave them to the songwriters, and songs slowly emerged from artists respectively known for the Red Clay Ramblers (Jack Herrick), Pippin (Stephen Schwartz), Jack's Holiday (Randy Courts and Mark St. Germain), Thoroughly Modern Millie (Jeanine Tesori), and the new musical, The Immigrant (Steven M. Alper). Morgan appeared in developmental, Off-Broadway and regional stagings of The Immigrant. The late David Bucknam's work is also heard in True Home. He was associated with Playwrights Horizons and collaborated with the director Lisa Peterson.
"I started writing my story, my life," Morgan explained. "I made a list of my favorite composers. The rules were: They had to be nice people and people I loved working with. And then there are songs I wrote myself. I wouldn't call them composed, they are just sort of — made up."
The show had a developmental production at Charlotte Repertory Theatre in 2001 (preceded by workshops sponsored by the Dodgers) that was more "concept concert," directed by John Carrafa. This new staging by Hudson Stage Company will have the fourth wall raised so Morgan can lose herself more in the character.
Although the show explores incidents in Morgan's life, "I don't use my name," Morgan said. "I really attempted to make it a piece that can eventually be done by other people. It's the story of a woman who has reached a point in her life where she's stuck and she needs to resolve some things, resolve issues and take responsibility for decisions he's made. She's Everywoman."
Each story and each location in the piece "is about looking to belong somewhere, looking for home," said Morgan, a Rochester, NY, native. "I think that's what everyone is always doing. I wondered what a 'true home' was."
The show takes place in the early morning hours, as a woman finds herself in her dewy, verdant back yard after waking from a nightmare.
Steven Tyler, the musical director of Broadway's Jane Eyre, musical-directs a band of piano, guitar, bass and percussion.
Designers are Victor Whitehurst (scenic), Andrew Gmoser (lighting), Myra Oney (costumes), Jon Kadela (sound). Executive producers are Denise Bessette & Olivia Sklar, who founded Hudson Stage, a troupe committed to new works, with Foster.
Performances play Thursdays-Sundays at The Julie Harris Theatre at the Clearview School, 550 Albany Post Road (Route 9) in Briarcliff Manor, NY. Tickets are $20-$25. For information about Hudson Stage Company, call (914) 271-2811.
— By Kenneth Jones