CAP21, the nonprofit organization devoted to giving voice to new musical theatre writers and performers in Manhattan, opens the world premiere of The Immigrant — the group's first venture into producing full stagings — Sept. 19.
Collaborative Arts Project 21, Inc., has a studio and classroom facility on 18th Street, but has also taken up residence at a 98-seat space on 28th Street, now called the CAP21 Theater, at 15 W. 28th Street, on the second floor.
The Immigrant, a musical version of the hit regional play by Mark Harelik, is CAP21's first professional Equity production, and not unlike other nonprofit producers, the group would embrace a longer, commercial life for their show. Previews began Sept. 13. Performances continue to Oct. 8.
The libretto is by actor-playwright Harelik, music is by Steven M. Alper and lyrics are by Sarah Knapp. The intimate, four character show features Evan Pappas (Parade, My Favorite Year) and Jacqueline Antaramian (Wrong Mountain, Pride's Crossing) as immigrants Haskell and Leah, and Walter Charles (Me and My Girl, Aspects of Love, Wit) and Cass Morgan (Pump Boys and Dinettes, The Capeman, Violet) as Texans Milton and Ima. Randal Myler, previously associated with the non-musical version of the story, about Russian Jews settling in the unlikely place of Galveston, TX, will direct. Albert Ahronheim is musical director.
The Immigrant, which was the most-produced play in regional theatres in 1991, recounts the true story of Haskell Harelik, a Russian Jew who comes to the United States in 1909 by way of Galveston. As the musical opens, Haskell is peddling bananas from a pushcart. His life is changed forever when he asks Milton and Ima Perry (a small-town Texas banker and his Southern Baptist wife) for a drink of water from their well.
The fruit peddler's grandson turned out to be actor-playwright Mark Harelik. The play, which was sweetened by projections of historical images and family photos, appeared in major regional theatres throughout the country, including Denver Center Theater, The Mark Taper Forum, Meadow Brook Theatre and The Alley Theater.
Knapp and Alper, married for 15 years with two produced musicals (Chamberlain and The Library) under their belts met Harelik at the New Harmony Project in Indiana in 1997, and Harelik suggested his hit play as a possible source for a musical.
"I was attracted to it because it was so clearly adaptable," Knapp said. "We search and search for pieces like that. Mark's use of language so often gave clear guidelines to lyrics. Words bounced off the page. You'll see all over the place that I have stolen from Mark."
"And it was emotionally grabbing," said Alper, who has been a musical director for New York City projects for many years. "The material seemed to be ready for expansion in terms of music."
Knapp, who is also a librettist and actress (Broadway's The Scarlet Pimpernel), said the idea of a small-cast show was refreshing for the team following the 30-actor Chamberlain, A Civil War Romance, which was commissioned by Maine State Music Theatre and performed in August 1996.
"We felt immediately that The Immigrant should be a chamber piece," Knapp said. Early on, they quickly dismissed the idea of having crowds of colorful townspeople as characters.
Composer-pianist Alper was actress-singer Knapp's accompanist and they fell in love and married. Their songwriting "evolved" after he broke up with his lyricist. They live in Queens.
The musical adaptation is "very close" to the original play, Knapp said. Musically, Alper said the score has "elements of Klezmer and traditional Jewish folk music, traditional American folk and country elements" and "it's jumbled together."
"You do get a taste of the time and place and where the characters are from," Knapp added, "but it is distinctly Alper."
Alper adds, "There is very little of what you would call pastiche; it's flavored by traditional elements, but hopefully never overwhelmed by it."
Designers are Beowulf Boritt (set), C. David Russell (costumes), Jane Cox (lighting) and Randy Hansen (sound).
Director Myler, linked to Denver Center Theatre Company for 15 years, co created and directed It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues and wrote and directed the current Janis Joplin piece, Love, Janis: The Songs, The Letters, The Soul of Janis Joplin.
Tickets for The Immigrant are $37.50. For information, call Ticket Central (212) 279-4200.
Collaborative Arts Project 21, Inc. (CAP21) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the creation of new work, the development of new talent and the building of new audiences.
According to the mission statement on the group's web site (www.cap21.org) CAP21's goal "is to create programs to achieve substantial and lasting contributions to the future of the arts. Every CAP21 endeavor embraces the following values: collaboration; an exchange between the emerging and accomplished artist; a nurturing support system; an infusion of the traditional with the innovative, and a commitment to serving and cultivating a diverse audience."
Readings, workshops, studio availability, classes and even full productions are part of the CAP21 mix.
-- By Kenneth Jones