Written as a vehicle for Tony Award nominee Mary Testa (On the Town, 42nd Street, First Lady Suite, See What I Wanna See), who starred in the leading role of the female daredevil, Queen of the Mist has music, lyrics and a libretto by LaChiusa.
The piece was commissioned by the Transport Group as part of its 20th Century Project, "a ten-year initiative spanning ten productions, each production focusing on a different decade of the 20th century." Queen of the Mist focuses on the decade 1900-1910.
Under the direction of Transport Group artistic director Jack Cummings III, the environmental production began previews Oct. 18 and officially opened Nov. 6 at The Gym at Judson Memorial Church. It played an extended run through Dec. 4.
The cast will reunite in a Manhattan recording studio Jan. 3, 2012, to record the album. Kurt Deutsch and Joel Moss will produce the album that is aiming for an early spring release. The production was also filmed for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts late in its run.
Critics responded positively to the production and LaChiusa's score, which imbues character-driven material with musical undertones of the period. He described his approach for Queen of the Mist as utilizing "a panoply of music and musical styles. You think of the old piano roles and you think of the turn of the century music – waltzes and marches and Sousa marches, the old sentimental ballads – it encompasses a lot of that in this story." Orchestrations are by Tony Award winner Michael Starobin (Next to Normal, Sunday in the Park With George, Assassins) and musical direction is by Chris Fenwick. The album will feature a seven-piece orchestra under Fenwick's direction.
The cast also includes Andrew Samonsky (South Pacific, Tales of the City); D.C. Anderson (The Phantom of the Opera, The Life Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby); Stanley Bahorek (See Rock City & Other Destinations, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee); Theresa McCarthy (Titanic, Floyd Collins); Julia Murney (Wicked, The Wild Party, First Lady Suite); and Tally Sessions (The House of Blue Leaves, Yank!).
Here's how the show is billed: "Based on an astounding, outrageous, and haunting true story, Queen of the Mist stars two-time Tony nominee Mary Testa as Anna Edson Taylor, who, in 1901 at the age of 63, set out to be the first woman to shoot Niagara Falls — in a barrel of her own design. Navigating both the treacherous Falls and a fickle public with a ravenous appetite for sensationalism, this unconventional heroine vies for her legacy in a world clamoring with swindling managers, assassins, revolutionaries, moralizing family, anarchists, and activists. Convinced that there is greatness in her and determined not to live as ordinary, she sets out to battle her fear and tempt her fate. With a score that incorporates turn-of-the-century themes with signature LaChiusa elements, Queen of the Mist is the story of a single great fall, and how one woman risked death so that she could live."
LaChiusa's most recent work includes the music and lyrics to Giant (book by Sybille Pearson); Los Otros (book by Ellen Fitzhugh); and the score for Maria Aitken's production of As You Like It at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC. As a composer, lyricist and librettist, his other works include Bernarda Alba, See What I Wanna See, The Highest Yellow, Little Fish, Hello Again, First Lady Suite and Break/Agnes/Eulogy for Mister Hamm. In the 1999-2000 Broadway season, his The Wild Party and Marie Christine received Tony nominations for Best Score and Best Book (with George C. Wolfe on The Wild Party) for each show and he received a Tony nomination for Best Book (Graciela Daniele and Jim Lewis) for Chronicle of a Death Foretold. His operas include Send (who are you? I love you), which premiered at the Houston Grand Opera, and Lovers and Friends (Chautauqua Variations), which premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago where he was the Brena and Lee Freeman Composer-in-Residence. LaChiusa is an Obie Award winner for Hello Again and First Lady Suite.
Queen of the Mist was commissioned by Transport Group Theatre Company and is made possible through major support from The Shen Family Foundation, which is committed to new musical theatre writers who take risks beyond commercial boundaries.
Here's a preview of Queen of the Mist: