Composer-songwriter Brad Ross, whose Little By Little had an Off-Broadway staging by York Theatre Company, will see his The Tales of Custard the Dragon premiered at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC May 10-11.
The sold-out work was commissioned by The Kennedy Center in honor of the 100th birthday of Ogden Nash. Nash's books "The Tale of Custard the Dragon" and "Custard The Dragon and the Wicked Knight" are the source material for the new show, which was seen in different pieces in concert form elsewhere.
Ross set Nash's whimsical verse to music and wrote seven additional songs with lyricist Danny Whitman to create a 50-minute musical story about a softhearted dragon named Custard and his motley cohorts Belinda, Ink, Blink and Mustard. Custard's cowardly demeanor is tested when a Pirate and Wicked Knight invade.
"It's a show about courage," Ross said in a statement. "The message is that we can be brave when the ones we love are in danger."
The production will have a cast of seven and the 10 piece National Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble, directed by Mary Hall Surface. The show is recommended for children four and older. Performances are in the Theater Lab, home of the long-running DC hit, Shear Madness.
Ogden Nash's Custard the Dragon came alive Oct. 28, 2001, in the world premiere of Ross' Custard the Dragon and the Wicked Knight, a concert for two actors and orchestra, part of the Westchester Philharmonic's Philharmaniacs family program in Purchase, NY.
Ross, the composer known for his Off-Broadway musical, Little By Little, set the Nash text verbatim, he told Playbill On-Line, borrowing musical themes from an earlier Custard book he set to music — The Tale of Custard the Dragon, also heard by the Philharmonic.
Both concerts were developed into the stage musical being seen May 10-11 at The Kennedy Center.
"The style is classical, tonal, boisterous, tuneful," Ross explained. "It's rooted classically but right now it has one foot on the concert hall and one foot on the stage."
Ross draws on poet-writer Nash's book (published by Little Brown) to create a madcap show about Custard, the cowardly dragon, who saves the day and shows what true heroes are made of. In New York, the characters Custard, Belinda, Ink the cat, Blink the mouse and Mustard the dog — were performed by Roger Seyer and Karen Elliott of Broadway's Les Misérables.
Ross' three-character Off-Broadway musical, Little By Little, written with lyricists Ellen Greenfield and Hal Hackady, was seen at the York Theatre in January 1999, with Darrin Baker, Liz Larsen and Christiane Noll, who are heard on a cast album. It got its Wisconsin premiere this season at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.
— By Kenneth Jones