Musical Orphan Train, Revised Since NYMF Run, Plays Upstate NY; Birch Directs

News   Musical Orphan Train, Revised Since NYMF Run, Plays Upstate NY; Birch Directs Orphan Train, the musical about urban kids getting a second chance in greener places, pulls into Troy, NY, Jan. 30-Feb. 11 in a New York State Theatre Institute production directed by Broadway veteran Patricia Birch.

Seen in a 2005 world premiere at the New York Musical Theatre Festival in Manhattan, the musical drama has music by Doug Katsaros, book by L. E. McCullough and lyrics by Michael Barry Greer.

According to NYSTI, "From 1854 to 1929, orphans and 'surplus' children from the streets of New York City were offered second chances aboard the orphan trains arranged by the Rev. Charles Loring Brace and his Children's Aid Society. This haunting new musical reveals both the successes and the failures in some of the stories of the children sent west to find new lives."

Orphan Train "tells the saga of six Iowa-bound orphans: the rebellious, headstrong Barney thirsting for fortune and a brother he hardly knows in California; the Irish lass Bridget, a brothel refugee grappling with dark secrets; privileged Jenny who never expected to land in this position; her little brother Peter, a klutzy runt who emerges as a life-saving hero; James Henry whose cynicism masks his hunger for acceptance; and Emma the good girl who meets a gruesome end. They are shepherded West by Miss Harriet Pemberton, a kind-hearted idealist struggling to reconcile do-gooder instincts with the harsh realities of the 'saving business.'"

Composer Katsaros, who initiated the project after randomly coming across the "orphan train" phenomenon on the internet, said that this production has been revised since its 2005 New York City run in NYMF. Songs have been added, songs have been cut. (After NYMF, Orphan Train had a staged reading and talk-back session with educators at NYSTI in Troy in fall 2006.)

Birch has worked on the project with the collaborators since the beginning. Birch said in a statement, "I just felt that there are an awful lot of shows being done that are pure entertainment and this one brings a kind of awareness to the audience. I think it's a very important show, it's about a problem that certainly hasn't been solved yet. I'm interested in anything oriented toward helping kids." Orphan Train will preview for a school audience Jan. 30 at 10 AM and for the public Jan. 31 at 8 PM. The official opening is Feb. 1 at 2 PM.

Guest artist Joe Quandt plays the Rev. Charles Loring Brace, founder of the Children's Aid Society and the Orphan Train movement; Elivia Bovenzi is making her NYSTI debut playing Miss Harriett Pemberton, the social worker; Charles Franklin plays the oldest orphan depicted, Barney Collins; Eleah Jayne Peal plays privileged Jenny TenBrook; George Franklin plays Peter TenBrook, younger brother of Jenny; Alison Lehane plays the Irish girl; Kyra Desireé Bechard plays the hopeful Emma Taylor, who meets a tragic end; Sam Stuto plays James Henry and Jacob Larson.

Birch has earned two Emmy Awards, five Tony nominations, as well as Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Barrymore, Billboard and MTV awards as well as a Directors Guild nomination and the prestigious Fred Astaire Award for her choreography and direction. She was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame on Jan. 26. Birch created the musical staging for original Broadway and Off-Broadway shows including Grease, You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Me Nobody Knows, A Little Night Music, Candide, Over Here, Diamond Studs, The Happy End, Pacific Overtures, They're Playing Our Song, Gilda Radner, Live From New York, Zoot Suit, Rosa, Like Jazz and LoveMusik. She also directed and choreographed the Melissa Manchester musical I Sent a Letter to My Love; the original production of Maurice Sendak and Carole King's Really Rosie; Elvis: A Multi-Media Celebration; Band in Berlin, a multi-media theatre docu-musical about the Comedian Harmonists; the Cy Coleman musical Exactly Like You and more. Birch also choreographed all musical sequences in the film "Grease," and directed and choreographed "Grease 2."

Katsaros wrote and orchestrated Laughing Room Only for Jackie Mason, re-orchestrated The Rocky Horror Show, conducted and arranged Footloose, arranged The Life. Off-Broadway he co-wrote and orchestrated A…My Name is Alice, Hal Prince's Diamonds, conducted and appeared in Cy Coleman's Exactly Like You, composed Just So and Abie's Island Rose and co-orchestrated Altar Boyz.

Lyricist Greer's work has been heard in the revues Break a Leg and The Way It Is. His cabaret piece, Columbus Avenue, was performed at Don't Tell Mama, and his musical Split was presented at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. Other musicals include Mister! (with Obie winner Leslie Lee), Legs, My Man Godfrey, Someone Seeking and Ice Cream in August.

The creative team includes Richard Finkelstein (scenery and projections), Kirk Bookman (lighting designer), Dona Granata (costume designer), Tiffany Hunt (sound designer) and Jennifer Granrud (production stage manager).

Performances play the Schacht Fine Arts Center, Russell Sage College, 5 Division St., Troy, NY.

For tickets call the NYSTI box office at (518) 274-3256 or visit www.nysti.org.

(l.-r.) Charles Franklin, Kyra Bechard, Sam Stuto, Alison Lehane, George Franklin and Eleah Peal.
(l.-r.) Charles Franklin, Kyra Bechard, Sam Stuto, Alison Lehane, George Franklin and Eleah Peal. Photo by Joe Schuyler/Schuyler Photography