These latest free readings of the more polished version of the script and staging follow an August 2002 reading at the York that represented the public's first glimpse of the show. The Rodgers Award funds a series of staged readings as the first step in a show's onstage life. These readings are the culmination of a two-week workshop for the project.
The colorful Fabulist, which has the flavor of Disney's latter-day animated movie-musicals mixed with the theatrical invention of early Jones and Schmidt musicals, has music and lyrics by David Spencer, book by Stephen Witkin (based on the novel by John Vornholt) and direction by Sheryl Kaller (who helmed Christopher Durang's Adrift in Macao). Fred Lassen is musical director.
The cast includes Daniel Marcus (Officer Barrel in Urinetown) as Aesop, Elizabeth Cherry (Netha), Rob Gallagher (Pelaphus), Joel Higgins (Nebuchudnezzar), John Jellison (Xanthus), Valerie Fagan (Sphinx/Astrah), Susan Bigelow (Isis), with Nicole Halmos, Jamie LaVerdiere, Raissa Katona and Craig Fols, AJ Irvin, David Blackburn and Elisa Van Duyne.
The Fabulist also earned a 2002 Gilman/Gonzalez-Falla Commendation Grant.
Last summer's reading was intended as a first look for the authors, friends and colleagues, leading toward further honing and this winter workshop. *
Spencer told Playbill On-Line he came across the Vornholt novel while scanning the shelves of a Manhattan science fiction store. Vornholt and Spencer had a publisher in common (Spencer had penned an "Alien Nation" novel) and the composer-lyricist contacted Vornholt. As it turns out, Vornholt originally conceived the story — a fanciful fictionalization of the life of the dwarf-slave, Aesop, a plaything of the gods — as a musical and even did some work on a script, in the west coast branch of a Lehman Engel musical theatre workshop.
"What attracted me to it was the notion of actually doing an epic fantasy fable about Aesop rather than an anthology with a framework," Spencer told Playbill On-Line. In other words, no one is reciting "The Tortoise and the Hare" from the stage. The show begins in 540 BC and is picaresque in its plotting, sending Aesop across great physical, emotional (and often comic) terrain as he fights to be free, to be heard and to overcome the influence of the gods.
Vornholt gave his OK to a musicalization by Spencer, known for penning lyrics and co-writing the book to Weird Romance and handling book and lyrics to the still-dormant musical, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (both shows have music by Alan Menken).
Spencer's credits also include music and lyrics to Theatreworks' family-audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables (with libretti by Rob Barron). He is also on the steering committee of the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop.
The performances are at the York Theatre Company's digs at Theatre at St. Peter's Church in the Citicorp Center, Lexington Avenue at 54th Street.
Showtimes for The Fabulist are 2:30 PM Feb. 4, 3:30 PM Feb. 6, and 11 AM and 3:30 PM Feb. 7. For information or reservations, call (212) 935-5824, ext. 24.
The York's current winter 2003 developmental series, coinciding with The Fabulist readings, also includes the "romantic ghost comedy," The Medium at Large (music by Emma Lively, book and lyrics by Julia Cameron) 7:30 PM March 3; a musical about the first African-American aviatrix, Bessie Coleman, Barnstormer (music by Douglas Cohen, book and lyrics by Cheryl L. Davis) 7:30 PM March 17; and the "irreverent vaudeville musical comedy," Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class (book and lyrics by Charles Leipart, music by Richard Evans) 7:30 PM March 24.