When We Were Singing, a quirky Canadian-born new musical about neurotic gay friends and broken relationships that sounds like the distant cousin to Falsettos, will have Jeffry Denman, Laura Marie Duncan, Joan Hess and Liz Larsen for its Manhattan workshop, producer Barbara Crook told Playbill On Line.
Crook is hoping U.S. audiences will embrace the show as much as Canadians have. Lyricist-librettist-composer Dorothy Dittrich penned the sung-through urban work about three women — filmmaker Jenny (Duncan), rich dilletante Abby (Hess) and actress Belinda (Larsen) — and their male pal, Les (Denman). Booze and dysfunction seem to be the glue that keeps these thirtysomethings together.
Canadian producer Crook of Can Play Productions is putting together the New York workshop Oct. 21-Nov. 8 (private industry-only presentations are expected 3 PM Nov. 7-8 at the Clurman Theatre). She calls the work "a chamber musical."
"It's about four friends in New York, facing turning points in their lives, careers and relationships, using telephones and martinis as their lifelines," Crook told Playbill On-Line. "Four actors — three women and a man. No dialogue, all sung."
Denman was in the original cast of The Producers, and penned the show memoir, "A Year with The Producers: One Actor's Exhausting (But Worth It) Journey from Cats to Mel Brooks' Mega Hit"; Duncan was in the original cast of The Full Monty on Broadway, where she played a variety of roles; Hess appeared recently in Bells Are Ringing, Kiss Me, Kate and Crazy For You; Larsen played Cleo in the 1991-92 revival of The Most Happy Fella, for which she was Tony Award nommed. "I couldn't be happier with the cast we've chosen," Crook told Playbill On-Line, adding that 300 auditioned. "Not only are they all brilliant singers and actors, with wonderful credits, but they had an immediate connection to the characters and music from our show. When an actor can move you to tears in an audition — or make you laugh so hard that you're in tears — you know there's something special happening."
When We Were Singing was first produced at Touchstone Theatre in Vancouver in October 1995. Crook, a Canadian theatre critic for many years, reviewed it in 1995 for The Vancouver Sun and named it one of the top 10 shows of the year. The staging won three Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, Vancouver's top theatre honors, for Outstanding Musical Direction, Outstanding Ensemble Cast and Sydney Risk Award for Outstanding Original Script from an Emerging Playwright.
It was later produced by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, September-October 2000 and nominated for several Dora Mavor Moore Awards. It made the Toronto Star's top 10 list for the year.
A third staging was produced in January-February 2002 by the National Arts Centre English Theatre (Ottawa) and the Belfry Theatre (Victoria, B.C.).
Former Ottawa Citizen and Vancouver Sun critic Crook, 45, lives and teaches in Ottawa. She left journalism after 2000 to focus on producing.
Stephen DiMenna directs the workshop. Vancouver composer Dittrich is musical director. Crook is hoping to snag a producing partner for an Off-Broadway staging of When We Were Singing in 2003. Crook said her goal is "to introduce other Canadian shows to New York" in the future.
The composer lived in New York from 1980 to 1990, working as a piano player and in various other jobs before returning to Vancouver. Before When We Were Singing, she composed scores and soundscapes for several Canadian documentaries and theatre productions, and was musical director of many top Vancouver musical productions (she still does soundscapes and musical direction in Vancouver). She recently finished her second play.
For information about When We Were Singing, e mail producer Crook at email@example.com.
— By Kenneth Jones