Only a Kingdom, the musical about the abdication of England's King Edward VIII, gets a New York City reading Sept. 21 as a special event in conjunction with the annual National Alliance of Musical Theatre conference.
Malcolm Gets ("Caroline and the City," York Theatre Company's Merrily We Roll Along) and Kaitlin Hopkins (Bat Boy) play Edward and Mrs. Simpson, respectively, in the 45-minute cutting of the musical by Judith Shubow Steir. Scott Schwartz (Bat Boy, tick, tick...BOOM!, Jane Eyre) directs.
The show had a staged reading in New York in 1994 followed by a full production at The Boston Conservatory in 1996. In 1997, it had its professional premiere at Mill Mountain Theatre in Virginia, followed by productions at Stevens Center in Winston-Salem, NC, and the Pasadena Playhouse in California. Hopkins and Schwartz have been attached to the show for several years.
The reading cast also includes Ryan Binder, Jo Ann Cunningham, Rita Gardner (the original Luisa in The Fantasticks), Jim Price, Martin Van Treuren and Sarah Gurfield. Musical director is Peter Mansfield.
The presentation is private for members of the National Alliance of Musical Theatre. *
The show focuses on the 1936 abdication of King Edward VIII of Great Britain for the American woman he loved. This is newcomer librettist-lyricist-composer Judith Shubow Steir's first produced show.
Other musicals about British royalty include 1960's Camelot (the King Arthur story), 1976's Rex (about Henry VIII) and the October 1998 Off Off-Broadway musical, Queen of Hearts, about Diana, Princess of Wales.
The abdication story was the subject of the popular British TV miniseries, "Edward and Mrs. Simpson," and also inspired a 1997 London musical called Always.
Only a Kingdom details Edward and divorcee Wallis Simpson's early romance and marriage and the opposition their romance faced. The British government, the people, the church, and those who wanted to preserve the integrity and dignity of the Royal Family all objected.
In her author's notes, Steir writes about her research (which began in 1987) into what many call the century's greatest romance: "Instead of 'Cinderella,' I began to feel the real tale was 'The Fair Maiden Awakens the Sleeping Prince.'"
Steir relied on accounts by the couple's butler of 15 years, a secretary of 10 years, and their many lifelong friends.
Writer-composer Steir has written songs throughout her life, but it wasn't until her children were grown that she pursued writing professionally. She studied composition with Boston musician Henry Lasker, and wrote an as-yet unproduced, autobiographical musical, Far Above Rubies, about a mother who longs for an artistic life. That script caught the attention of novice producer Robert T. Kuss, who suggested she explore the Edward and Mrs. Simpson story.
Kingdom premiered Oct. 10, 1997, at Mill Mountain Theatre, then played at Winston-Salem, NC's Stevens Center, Nov. 12-16, 1997.
Songs in Only A Kingdom in 1997 included "The Moment," "You Can't Be Too Rich Or Too Thin," "It's So Difficult To Please A Queen" (performed by Winston Churchill) and "Home Is Where The Duchess Is."
— By Kenneth Jones