Guettel, Foley, Michelson Commissioned to Write Musicals for Signature

News   Guettel, Foley, Michelson Commissioned to Write Musicals for Signature Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, will expand its American Musical Voices Project (AMVP) for a fourth year with the commission and production of a new musical by Tony Award winner Adam Guettel for its 2011-12 season.
Adam Guettel
Adam Guettel Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Also announced as part of The Next Generation segment of the AMVP were two additional musical commissions awarded to Peter Foley and Marisa Michelson as well as honoree grants given to Chris Miller and Scott Davenport Richards for "the development of future musical ideas."

Guettel won the Tony for Best Score and Best Orchestrations for the musical The Light in the Piazza. His work also includes the musical Floyd Collins and the song cycle Myths and Hymns.

Signature, with the support of The Shen Family Foundation, has awarded $595,000 to artists in honors and commissions in the past three years. The American Musical Voices Project is billed as "the largest single musical theatre commissioning and producing initiative at any non-profit theatre in America." Signature earned the 2009 Tony Award for excellence in regional theatre. Eric Schaeffer is its artistic director.

Signature's American Musical Voices Project, funded by the Shens, started in May 2006. Though the AMVP, musical theatre composer grants have been awarded to Ricky Ian Gordon, Michael John LaChiusa and Joseph Thalken, providing each composer $25,000 a year plus health coverage for four years. Each of the grants includes a commission to create a new full-length musical to be produced at Signature Theatre during its 2009-2011 seasons.

In April and May 2009, Giant by Michael John LaChiusa received its premiere at Signature Theatre. Ricky Ian Gordon's Sycamore Trees will premiere in May 2010, and Joseph Thalken's musical will premiere the following season. In June 2008, the American Musical Voices Project was expanded with The Next Generation program. That year emerging composers Matt Conner, Adam Gwon and Gabriel Kahane each received a commission to write new musicals for Signature Theatre and honorees Peter Foley and Marisa Michelson were given grants for the development of their musical ideas.

In July 2009, the Signature launched "21/24 Signature Lab," three weeks of rehearsal and performances of new works by The Next Generation composers.

Maggie Boland, Signature's managing director, stated, "Ted and Mary Jo Shen of The Shen Family Foundation are genuine visionaries in the field of musical theatre. Their knowledge, insight, and creativity have led them to support composers and projects that are truly original and innovative. Their passion is a wonderful fit with Signature. We applaud the Shens for their generosity and are immensely grateful for their vision and support for the American Musical Voices Project."

Ted and Mary Jo Shen, executive directors of The Shen Family Foundation, released the following statement: "We are very excited about continuing to broaden our commissioning collaboration with Signature Theatre to support the work of musical theatre composers who write with exceptional originality and high artistic aspiration. Eric Schaeffer and his colleagues make ideal partners for us because of their longstanding commitment to excellence and innovation in the musical theatre works they develop and produce."

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Peter Foley wrote music and lyrics for The Hidden Sky, which earned him an NEA grant, the Richard Rodgers Award (from the American Academy of Arts and Letters), the Stephen Sondheim Award (from the American Music Theater Festival), and a Jonathan Larson Foundation grant. The Hidden Sky premiered at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia, where it received a Barrymore Awards nomination for Outstanding Original Score; it was subsequently produced at the Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich, CT, earning a Spirit Award for Best Original Score. Concert versions have been performed at Ars Nova and Joe's Pub in NYC. His other stage works include The Bear (Golden Fleece, Triangle Theater Co., Opera Unlimited), music for "To Sing" in Songs From An Unmade Bed (New York Theatre Workshop) and scores for several plays, including Newton's Universe (St. Ann's Warehouse), and Henry V (New Jersey Shakespeare Festival). Foley’s upcoming theatre projects include an untitled collaboration with playwright Ellen McLaughlin and director Michael Greif, an original musical comedy, Bloom, and a new production of The Hidden Sky at Prospect Theater Company in Manhattan.

Marisa Michelson "work is inspired by the limitless possibilities singing offers to express the authenticity of the human experience," according to her bio. Still Life With Toe Shoes, her original musical written with Joshua H. Cohen, had its world premiere in summer 2008 at Deerfield Academy. Michelson has been commissioned by Prospect Theatre Company, first to write a short piece based on Rene Magritte's painting, "The Lovers," and in 2008, as composer and co-lyricist with playwright Rinne Groff, for the "Hey Baby" storyline in The Dome. Her full-length musical, Hotel Sarajevo, which she co-conceived with Stephanie Johnstone and for which she wrote book, music and lyrics, has received readings at CAP 21/NYU and Smith College. She has collaborated with playwright Jason Grote (also for The Dome), and with Nautilus Theatre Company in Minnesota. She graduated with a B.F.A in musical theatre from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, participated in the Young Artist's Vocal Program at Tanglewood, and studied composition with Adam Guettel.

Chris Miller studied piano and voice at Elon University and musical theatre writing at New York University. With Nathan Tysen, he wrote the musical The Burnt Part Boys (Mariana Elder, book), which had an extended, sold out run at Barrington Stage Company in the summer of 2006. The Burnt Part Boys had a lab production at the Vineyard Theatre in May 2009), a production at New York Stage & Film (summer 2009), and an upcoming full co-production at Playwrights Horizons (spring 2010). Their musical The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg (Joe Calarco, book), has had readings at Lincoln Center Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Mercury Musical Developments in London, a workshop with TheatreMasters in Aspen, Colorado, and a critically acclaimed full production at Barrington Stage Company in the summer of 2008. Miller is a contributing composer (Mark Campbell, lyrics) to the song cycle Songs From an Unmade Bed. His song cycle with Tysen, Fugitive Songs, premiered Off-Broadway in March 2008 at the 45th Street Theatre, and was subsequently nominated for a Drama Desk Award (Outstanding Revue). Currently he is collaborating with Tysen on a commission for Lincoln Center Theatre, a Playwrights Horizons/TheatreWorks Palo Alto co-commission with playwright Craig Wright, a musical of Tuck Everlasting for Broadway Across America/Barry Brown, and an original musical. Miller’s awards include the 2003 Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Grant, the 2003 Frederick Lowe Foundation Grant, the 2004 Daryl Roth Creative Spirit Award, the 2006 Richard Rodgers Award, the 2007 Kitty Carlisle Hart Musical Theatre Award from the Vineyard Theatre, and the ASCAP PLUS Awards 2005-08.

"Working in many capacities at the intersection of music and drama," Scott Davenport Richards, according to his bio, "often tries to bridge disparate genres and forms." Last season, Charlie Crosses the Nation an opera in a Jazz idiom (music, libretto, orchestrations) was performed by the New York City Opera as part of the VOX festival of new opera. A Thousand Words Come to Mind, written with playwright Michele Lowe, was commissioned by Paulette Haupt played The Zipper Theatre. A Star Across the Ocean, a work for four voices and symphony orchestra, was premiered by the Montclair State University Symphony and featured Tony Award-winner Chuck Cooper. Current projects include a musical adaptation of the classic Jean Shepherd film "A Christmas Story," with a book by Joe Robinette, which is scheduled to open at Kansas City Rep in November. His other musical theatre works include music for Coyote Goes Salmon Fishing (with Deborah Brevoort), directed by Molly Smith at Perseverance Theatre and produced by Stuart Ostrow in Houston; and Sanctuary D.C., a rap musical about the homeless in Washington (Helen Hayes Award nomination). His works for children include a number of commissions from Theatreworks U.S.A.: Corduroy (music, lyrics, orchestrations), Sundiata! The Lion King of Mali (music, lyrics, orchestrations), Island of the Blue Dolphins (orchestrations) and Junie B. Jones (orchestrations). As an actor, Richards originated the role of Sylvester in the original Broadway production of August Wilson's Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He is assistant professor of musical theatre/composition at Montclair State University's Cali School of Music and has been a member of the faculty at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program since 1997. Richards earned a B.A. from Yale University and M.F.A. from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program. He is a recipient of the Jonathan Larson and the Frederick Loewe awards.

For information about The Shen Family Foundation visit www.shenfamilyfoundation.org.