Natty Bumppo, the hero of American novelist James Fenimore Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales," including "The Last of the Mohicans," sings about his love of the wilderness and his love of a pioneer woman in the new musical, Glimmerglass, beginning performances Nov. 11 at Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT.
The world premiere presentation, directed by Tony Phelan, is part of the Goodspeed Opera House's commitment to developing new musicals. The book is by Jonathan Bolt, lyrics by Ted Drachman, music by Douglas J. Cohen.
Performances, which are open to the public but not reviewed due to the developmental nature of the projects there, continue to Dec. 5.
Glimmerglass began as a non-musical play by Bolt, drawing on five Cooper novels set around New York state (near Cooperstown) and the lake known as Glimmerglass. Natty grows from youth to old age during the period before and after the American Revolution. Guided by the Native American, Chingachgook, Natty becomes known as Deerslayer, Hawkeye, Pathfinder and Leatherstocking over the years.
"It really tells the story of a time that hasn't been musicalized," composer Cohen told Playbill On-Line. "We have a show about the signing of the Declaration and of The Civil War, but this time and the kind of people who developed this country, to my knowledge, has not been addressed." Cohen recently won the coveted Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Award. He wrote the book, music and lyrics to No Way To Treat a Lady, based on the William Goldman novel, and The Gig, based on Frank D. Gilroy's screenplay. He and Bolt previously worked on a show about Christopher Columbus.
"One of the chief attractions [of doing Glimmerglass] was that I liked working with Jonathan," Cohen told Playbill On-Line. "I like the way he makes history come to life, and I feel there's certain relevance to this piece. It's about something we need to be mindful of today: We're living in a world that's growing and expanding beyond expectations. We have to be very sensitive to the ecology and the fact that we are comprised of two halves: People who really want to develop as a culture, but another half rooted in...an appreciation of this wilderness."
In the musical, wars ravage the land and civilizations spring up. "We have to ask, 'Is this progress?'," said Cohen.
Beyond a gunshot-filled yarn "very much in the spirit of an adventure story," said Cohen, there is a romantic interest for Natty, and they mature together from childhood, fall in love and are separated. The title songs offers this line, suggesting the musical's tone: "Glimmerglass breaks my heart and makes it whole."
The musical had three readings prior to the Goodspeed staging. Over the past eight months eight new songs have been written. The script was reinvented over several years, changing from a play to a libretto that prompt songs (19 in all).
Lyricist Drachman wrote new lyrics for Goodspeed's 1990 staging of The Chocolate Soldier and co-wrote the book, music and lyrics for a Horatio Alger spoof called Work & Win! and wrote lyrics for three Theatreworks/USA shows for Young People.
What does the score sound like?
"There is a sense of Americana," said Cohen, "but it is also an American 'Broadway' score. It's not through-sung or a pop opera. It's a book musical. In places, there's a Native American influence, and an Irish-English influence and feel to it."
The cast of 16 features David Aron Damane (Chingachgook), who appeared on Broadway in The Life; Richard M. Davidson (Mayor March), who created the role of Nathan in the Off-Broadway production of 2 .5 Jews; Jay Douglas (Natty), who has performed on Broadway as Chris in Miss Saigon; Jennifer Piech (Elizabeth), who created the role of Kate McGowan in the Broadway production of Titanic; Casper Roos (Leatherstocking), a Broadway veteran who played Charlie Anderson on Broadway in Shenandoah; Marla Schaffel (Judith), who appeared on Broadway in Les Miserables and Titanic and originated the title role in Jane Eyre; and Tom Zemon (Harry), seen on Broadway as Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.
The company includes Erin Browne, James Fall, Henry Gainza, Catherine Anne Gale, Jeff Gardner, Stephanie Kurtzuba, John Little, Kalani Queypo, Dan Sharkey and Brandon Sean Wardell.
Designers, who ink in the 18th-century America of trees and vistas, are William Barclay (set), Martha Bromelmeier (costume) and Phil Monat (lighting). Musical director is Michael O'Flaherty.
Librettist Bolt is the author of Eleanor, a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt, seen in March 1999 at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., Threads, his first play, which premiered at Circle Repertory Company in New York, and adaptations of Treasure Island and The Prince and the Pauper.
Cohen's next work is a new musical, The Big Time, to be produced by The Drama Dept., and a musical revue, Children's Letters to God, based on the best-selling book.
Glimmerglass tickets are $27. The Norma Terris Theatre, Goodspeed's second stage, is located on North Main Street in Chester, CT (Exit 6 off Route 9). Call (860) 873-8668 for information.
-- By Kenneth Jones