NAMT'S Festival of New Musicals Showcases Works by Menken, Zippel, Jones, O'Keefe, Rafter, Sept. 21-22

News   NAMT'S Festival of New Musicals Showcases Works by Menken, Zippel, Jones, O'Keefe, Rafter, Sept. 21-22
The annual pilgrimage to the National Alliance for Musical Theatre's September conference in New York culminates with the Festival of New Musicals, and this year NAMT members will pray at the altar of Alan Menken, David Zippel and Tom Jones, among others.

The Sept. 19-22 weekend of events includes more than just 45-minute cuttings of new shows presented by Broadway talent: There are panels, a song showcase, meetings and social gatherings. But the words "new musicals" get the blood pumping inside the hearts of producers, directors and others who are members of the industry group.

For creators of new shows, the 15th Annual Festival of New Musicals — presented Sept. 21-22 on the stages of the John Houseman Theatre and the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre on West 42nd Street — is all about showing their goods in a concentrated marketplace. Presenters can sample musical wares and determine if those shows will have a future at their regional theatres.

"The NAMT Festival is a great opportunity for any new musical," Tony Award-winning lyricist David Zippel told Playbill On-Line. "It provides writers a chance to present their show to a large number of non-profit theatres from all over the country as well as to the community of Broadway commercial producers. The NAMT staff is extremely supportive and makes every effort to help the creative team realize there goals."

Zippel's new musical, Princesses, penned with composer Matthew Wilder and Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, is part of the 2003 festival. "This presentation is the first time we have presented the book and songs for Princesses to anyone, and working with an extraordinary New York cast of performers has helped us to take our material to the next step," Zippel said.

The eight works in the festival, held at the John Houseman and Douglas Fairbanks Theatres on 42nd Street, are Matthew Sheridan's The Ambition Bird; Alan Menken, Marion Adler and Connie Grappo's Ballad of Little Pinks; Tom Jones and Joseph Thalken's Harold and Maude, known as a cult-hit film, which is being developed at Musical Theatre Works; David Zippel, Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, and Matthew Wilder’s Princesses; Julia Jordan, Nell Benjamin and Laurence O'Keefe's Sarah, Plain and Tall, previously produced by TheatreWorksUSA in an abridged version at the Lucille Lortel Theater and featured this summer at the O'Neill Music Theatre Conference; David Armstrong's Swing Shift, with musical arrangements and new music by Michael Rafter and new lyrics by Mark Waldrop; Jevetta Steele, Thomas Jones II, William Hubbard, and J.D. Steele's Two Queens, One Castle, recently produced at Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis; and Barry Kleinbort and Joseph Thalken's Was, previously developed at Lincoln Center Theater. A breakdown of shows and casts follows. Descriptions were provided by NAMT and the creators.

  • The Ambition Bird, book, music and lyrics by Matthew Sheridan. Enter the suburban Boston kitchen – and world – of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton in this riveting one-woman musical. Home alone one windy night, estranged from family, haunted by memories, Anne turns to her art for solace…and her imagination soars. Join the legendary housewife-turned-poet on her wild ride though the terrors and exhilarations of creative genius in this theatrical tour de-force. Cast: Victoria Clark, Timothy Jerome, Kevin O'Rourke, Carol Sirugo.
  • Ballad of Little Pinks, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Marion Adler, book by Connie Grappo. Based on a Damon Runyon short story, this Depression-era musical pairs up Your Highness, an ambitious, tough-talking chorus Judy with her pick of all the swells on Broadway, and Little Pinks, a big-hearted busboy named for the small size of his ego and his inseam. When life deals Your Highness a mighty fall, Pinks is the only one there to catch her. With nothing for fuel but her indomitable will, the two set out on an improbable journey to fulfill her impossible dream, encountering dozens of colorful Runyonesque characters along the way. Cast Frank Vlastnik, Lee Wilkof, Michael McGrath, Kevin Brummel, Sarah Jane Nelson, Jennifer Smith, Trisha Gorman, Kim Cea.
  • Harold and Maude: The Musical, book and lyrics by Tom Jones, music by Joseph Thalken, based on the film by Colin Higgins. Like the cult film favorite on which it is based, this first collaboration of veteran writer Tom Jones and emerging composer Joseph Thalken (Was) tells a funny and life-affirming story about the unlikely romance between an eccentric young man morbidly obsessed with suicides and an equally eccentric old woman who is as much in love with life as he is with death. This heartfelt and quirky chamber musical is currently being developed at Musical Theatre Works. Cast: Rita Gardner, Michael Arden, Donna Lynn Champlin, Donna English, Steve Routman.
  • Princesses, book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, conceived by David Zippel, lyrics by David Zippel, music by Matthew Wilder ("Mulan"). Princesses is a musical-within-a-musical story of a group of upscale teen girls forced to put on a school production of A Little Princess. When superstar of stage and screen Kevin Finch pays a visit to his daughter, Miranda, at the elite Reardon Boarding School where he has warehoused her since the death of her mother, he winds up taking over as director and co-star. Suddenly, the rebellious, reluctant students find a reason to be interested in putting on a show, and Miranda and Kevin find a way to connect for the first time. Cast: Tom Wopat, Julie Halston, Jenny Fellner.
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall, book by Julia Jordan, lyrics by Nell Benjamin, music by Laurence O'Keefe. Living in 19th-century Kansas, widower Jacob places a personal ad in the newspaper which is answered by the strong-willed and unconventional Sarah, a fisherwoman from Maine, who travels to the prairie to see if marriage is a possibility. Based on the Newberry Award winning novel by Patricia MacLachlan, Sarah, Plain and Tall is a touching portrait of how Sarah struggles to fill the role of wife and mother to Jacob and his two children. Cast: Becca Ayers, Herndon Lackey, Debra Wiseman, Kenneth Boys, Eddie Korbich, Jessica Molaskey, John Lloyd Young.
  • Swing Shift, book by David Armstrong, musical arrangements and new music by Michael Rafter, new lyrics by Mark Waldrop. Set on the American home front during World War II, Swing Shift, tells the story of two women – Kay, a timid young housewife, and Hazel, an aspiring band singer – whose lives change completely when their men go off to war and they take jobs working the swing shift in an aircraft factory. In this topsy-turvy world where the workday starts at night, and women do men’s work, Kay discovers inner resources she never knew she had. She takes chances, both professional and romantic, that come crashing down on her when her husband returns home on leave. Loosely based on the film of the same name, the score is comprised of new musical arrangements of great hits from the 1940s. Cast: Kim Huber, Judy McLane.
  • Two Queens, One Castle, book and lyrics by Jevetta Steele and Thomas W. Jones II, music by William Hubbard and J.D. Steele. Through 15 soulful and rousing gospel, R&B, jazz, and pop tunes, Jevetta Steele explores life’s complexities – catapulting career, motherhood, marriage, extended family, and church –which are even more complicated with the discovery that her husband is clandestinely gay. Attitudes of homosexuality in the African- American community are explored and exposed, and the foundation of love collides with deceit and illness in an ultimately harmonic affirmation of self. Created and performed by Academy Award nominee Jevetta Steele ("Bagdad Café," Tony nominated The Gospel at Colonus), Two Queens, One Castle just completed an extended run at the Mixed Blood Theatre Company in Minneapolis. Cast: Jevetta Steele, James Rich, Dennis Spears, Regina Marie Williams, Thomasina Taylor, Austene Van William Clark.
  • Was, book and lyrics by Barry Kleinbort, music by Joseph Thalken. Based on the celebrated novel by Geoff Ryman, Was interweaves two stories told a century apart – the first, in the 1870s, involving a young orphan named Dorothy Gael; the second, in the 1980s, regarding Jonathan Wood, a successful but dying actor, whose obsession with "The Wizard of Oz" leads him to Kansas searching for proof of Dorothy Gael's existence. Winner of the Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Commendation Award and first developed at Lincoln Center Theater, Was is filled with compelling characters whose interconnected journeys create a poignant and unforgettable experience. Cast: Malcolm Gets, Andrea Burns, John Jellison, Kirk McDonald, Brooke Sunny Moriber, Barbara Walsh, Danny Burstein, Lovette George, Jessica Kostival, James Moye, David Pittu, Addison Timlin, Melanie Vaughn. *

    Since 1989, NAMT's Festival of New Musicals has introduced musical theatre producers to 131 musicals and 268 writers from around the world. Past Festival shows have included Tony Award-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Children of Eden, Songs for a New World, The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Summer of '42 and Honk!

    The mission of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre's Festival of New Musicals is "to expand the musical theatre repertoire by encouraging the production of new musicals; present works that are diverse in ethnicity, subject matter, style, and concept; discover new work and new voices; and nurture creative writing teams."

    The Festival is funded entirely by contributions to NAMT, a not-for-profit organization, and is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Admission is by invitation only to theatre producers.

    For more information, visit

    Daniella Topol is NAMT's new works director.

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