The book and lyrics are by five-time Emmy Award winner Joe Keenan, a writer on TV's "Frasier." He won the Edward Kleban Award for his lyrics for The Times more than a decade ago. His new series, "Out of Practice," premieres this fall on CBS, starring Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing.
Music is by Brad Ross, who composed the Off-Broadway musical Little by Little, which has also been seen in resident theatres around the country. His symphonic work for family audience, "A Family for Baby Grand," has played concert halls around the country, including the Kennedy Center.
The Times was awarded a Richard Rodgers Development Grant, which led to a workshop at Manhattan Theatre Club and the fully realized 1993 production at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. Ross and Keenan met when they were students in the NYU graduate musical theatre writing program.
Jess McLeod directs the presentation in Sonnet Repertory Theatre's Bard's Backyard series of staged readings, with Jordan Leeds as Ted (a novelist and playwright) and Lisa Brescia as Liz (an actress and advertising executive). Leeds did an early 1993 reading of the show but was considered too young to play the lead in the full staging later that year in New Haven; Ross said the actor has finally grown into the role. After the Long Wharf debut, a commercial production did not transpire, although producers were attached at the time, because Keenan was called out to Hollywood to a TV career that still continues. The collaborators are now revisiting the material in the hope of a wider life for the show. Songs from The Times (including "Watching the Show") have been recorded and published in recent years.
"It's the story of a couple over a 17-year period, 1974-1991," Ross told Playbill.com. "It's about Ted and his relationship with his wife, Liz, and how it evolves — as seen through the pages, stories and characters in the New York Times. It's underlying idea is how the media infiltrates our lives — but it really packs an emotional punch."
People who know Keenan for his high comedy and farce writing on "Frasier" will be impressed with the depth of feeling in The Times, Ross said.
"This is a great deal more serious in intent and effect," Keenan agreed. "This is extraordinarily different from anything I've ever written. Though comedic and rather funny in sections, it's ultimately something of a tragic story: We wanted to write about the 98 percent of the people who come to the city for a career in the arts — and it doesn't happen. It comes to a much much darker, troubling and dramatic place than anything I've ever done. In the end, there is a kind of salvation, an epiphany."
An ensemble of six plays people from stories in The Times, and friends and colleagues of Ted and Liz. In one song, Ted fantasizes about John Updike reviewing Ted's new work in the paper. Meryl Streep appears to say she'd loved to do the movie version of the book.
Among the changes since its 1993 staging at Long Wharf: The show is now intermissionless, Ross said.
The Sonnet Rep cast includes Leeds (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) as Ted and Brescia (Broadway and national tour of Aida) as Liz, Jennifer Ferrin (Jennifer Munson on "As the World Turns"), Kevyn Morrow (West End's Ragtime), Anne L. Nathan (Broadway's Thoroughly Modern Millie and Chicago), Bill English (Broadway's recent Twentieth Century), Michael Arkin (Boys Gets Girl Off-Broadway) and Robyne Parrish.
The Times gets public presentations 8 PM July 13-15, 2 PM and 8 PM July 16 and 7 PM July 17 at The Blue Heron Arts Center, 123 E. 24th Street (between Park Avenue South and Lexington). Tickets are $15.
Reserve online at www.theatermania.com or call the Sonnet Rep box office at (212) 560-2432.
The Bard's Backyard program is Sonnet Rep's "annual workshop series of new and revised works presented as enhanced staged readings."
Sonnet Repertory Theatre, Inc. is dedicated to "Classic Theatre for the Modern Planet." As a non-profit organization, SRT "seeks to promote classic theatre to a contemporary audience by producing insightful and relevant interpretations, while also providing diverse and challenging opportunities to its core acting company." Dedicated to the cultivation of new works during its summer season, SRT "strives to bridge the gap between the old and the new, looking for commonalities that illuminate the human experience."