Not only will Broadway enjoy a spate of original musicals this fall, an octet of even newer shows will be tested out Sept. 21 and 22 as part of the 9th Annual National Alliance For Musical Theatre's annual Festival of New Musicals.
The Festival is specifically designed to give the theatre community a look at shows being developed by companies across the country. The general public can attend the free staged readings (book in hand, no choreography), though attendees of a concurrent Alliance conference can reserve seating. The 55-minute presentations are not open for critical review.
Two Off-Broadway venues, the John Houseman Theatre and the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, will house the eight shows in the Festival. Here's the line-up:
Ophelia's Cotillion (Sept. 21, 6:30 PM, Houseman; Sept. 22, 3 PM, Fairbanks)
Subtitled "An Invitation To The Nightmare Years," Ophelia's Cotillion looks at racial divisions in 1896 -- the era of Jim Crow laws separating white and black public facilities. Elmo Terry-Morgan wrote the book & lyrics, Clarice LaVerne Thompson the music.
The Molly Maguires (Sept. 21, 8 PM, Fairbanks; Sept. 22, 4:30 PM, Houseman)
William Strempek wrote the book, Sid Cherry the music for this story of a cocky Irish detective infiltrating a gang of Pennsylvania coal miners in 1877. MN's Ordway Music Theatre & IL's Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre are co-sponsoring this entry. Yes, Virginia -- There Is A Santa Claus (Sept. 21, 8 PM, Houseman; Sept. 22, 6 PM, Fairbanks)
How does a curmudgeonly newspaper editor restore a little girl's faith in Christmas? This musical by Myles McDonnell (book) and David Kirshenbaum (music/lyrics) tells the answer.
Songs For A New World (Sept. 21, 9:30 PM, Fairbanks; Sept. 22, 6 PM, Houseman)
This one has already seen a full NY production, at the WPA Theatre Off Broadway in 1995. This musical revue by Jason Robert Brown mixes gospel, rock and other American idioms. Earlier this year, RCA Victor/BMG released a cast CD of the show, including the tunes, "The World Was Dancing," "I'm Not Afraid Of Anything," "She Cries" and "King Of The World."
Twist Of Fate (Sept. 21, 9:30 PM, Houseman; Sept. 22, 1:30 PM, Fairbanks)
Los Angeles Civic Light Opera presents this work by Lissa Levin (book/lyrics) and Ron Abel, about a gypsy fighting the law after she's arrested for fortunetelling.
4 A.M. Boogie Blues (Sept. 22, 10:30 AM, Fairbanks & 1:30 PM, Houseman)
From Chicago's New Tuners comes this a cappella musical, with music by Jim Owens and libretto by Marsha Meyers. Here's the plot: "Diana's problems have been waking her up at 4 o'clock every morning for weeks. Tonight, her `boogies' are determined that she pay attention to them!"
Heart Land (Sept. 22, noon, Fairbanks & 3 PM, Houseman)
Darrah Cloud and Kim D. Sherman collaborated on this tale of three sisters traveling back to their Iowa hometown for the 4th of July. For more information about the show's history, please see the July story, "Cloud's Heartland Closing July 6 at CA's TheatreWorks."
About Face (Sept. 22, noon, Houseman & 4:30 PM, Fairbanks)
A rollicking updating of Much Ado About Nothing, set in 1955 and brought to us by composer Jeffrey Lodin and lyricist David Arthur. About Face pits Coach Benedick against Beatrice, professor of English Lit.
Recently added to the festival is a reading of the musical, Pete n' Keely, The free, 55-minute presentation, backed by piano, will take place downstairs at the John Houseman Theatre, 450 West 42nd St., at 6:30 PM.
Mark Waldrop, who penned the acclaimed lyrics for Off-Broadway's When Pigs Fly serves as lyricist and director for the show, which features music by Patrick Brady, as well as pop standards.
Starring in Pete `n Keely are George Dvorsky and Sally Mayes. Dvorsky appeared on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and in Leading Men Can't Dance at Rainbow & Stars. Mayes starred on Broadway in Welcome To The Club and She Loves Me, and Off Broadway in Closer Than Ever. Librettist James Hindman (who's currently a standby for Robert Westenberg in 1776), told Playbill On-Line songs in the show include "This Could Be The Start Of Something Big," "I Thought About You," and "But Beautiful." "We have a lot of Sammy Cahn-kind of songs," said Hindman, "as opposed to, say, well-known numbers by Irving Berlin. They're songs that you know but you don't know you know." New tunes in the musical include "Tony And Cleo."
The story, set in 1968, concerns a show biz couple, now divorced, who reunite for a live television taping. Author Hindman told Playbill On-Line he hoped the show's concept would turn out similar to Forever Plaid (which played at the same theatre when it was called "Steve McGraw's"). Hindman is fairly new to the playwriting game. He's been workshopping two plays, Sammy, and Mercada And The Talking Stars, which a one-person show for Carol Woods.
Dedicated to preserving the American musical theatre as an art form, The National Alliance for Musical Theatre hopes to provide "a forum for sharing resources and information relating to the profession of musical theatre." This year's NAMT conference, of which the Festival is the centerpiece, offers panels with field professionals on such topics as legal rights issues, commissions and transferring works.
--By David Lefkowitz