The National Music Theatre Network, the nonprofit New York group that sponsors readings of completed new musicals, will offer three shows in 2001, including the once Broadway-bound rags-to-riches musical, Shine!
Guest artistic director Martin Charnin was part of a team of theatre professionals that judged scripts and selected Shine!, The Rose and the Ring and Cupid and Psyche to be presented in spring 2001 for two performances each. Staged readings are seen by an audience that includes subscribers and industry professionals.
Producing director Lindsey Hanahan said NMTN is not a "developmental" series, but serves to get a producing community interested in new works. "Talkbacks" and public evaluations are not part of the process, although for the $50 submission fee, writers and composers do get a written evaluation from the panel. The panel judges the work "blind" — without knowing who penned the scripts. The 17-year-old group was founded by Tony Award-nominated actor Tim Jerome (Me and My Girl, Grand Hotel) and is run by volunteers and funded by private and corporate gifts, subscriptions and submission fees. About 100 scripts arrive a year, NMTN president Jerome said.
National Music Theatre Network's 2001 BroadwayUSA series of new musical readings will include:
• The Rose and the Ring, a musical comedy fable based on the novella by William Makepeace Thackeray, about two kingdoms, by Peter Morris (lyrics and libretto) and Michael Jeffrey (music), directed Phillip George. 7 PM Feb 26 & March 5. • Cupid and Psyche, a four-character musical comedy based on the Greek myth, by Sean Hartley (lyrics and libretto) and Jihwan Kim (music), directed by Will Pomerantz. 7 PM March 19 & 26.
• Shine!, a rags-to-riches musical comedy inspired by the Horatio Alger character Ragged Dick, by Richard Seff (libretto), Lee Goldsmith (lyrics) and Roger Anderson (composer). Director will be announced. 7 PM April 23 & 30.
Hartley and Kim's Cupid and Psyche has been seen in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and got an excerpted reading in the National Alliance of Musical Theatre Festival in 2000.
Shine!, a Horatio Alger-based musical once planned for Broadway in the early 1980s but scuttled when producer 20th Century Fox went through management changes, was seen in a 1998 reading at Off Broadway's York Theatre Company.
An earlier version of the show, about shoeshine boys in 1876 New York City, show was seen in 1983 at the Museum Theatre in Richmond, VA, featuring George Lee Andrews and Alix Korey. Seff said narrative clarifications have been made and several new songs have been written (and some scrapped) since earlier versions in 1983 and 1998. The show was announced for Broadway in 1982 but a staging fell through when producer 20th Century Fox disbanded its theatre division.
The NMTN initiative is a labor of love, Jerome said, adding that he is just starting to create ways for the company to branch out and generate more money and activity. Scripts done in New York can subsequently be farmed out to regional "affiliate" artists who will arrange for actors and directors around the county to mount local readings, giving opportunities to resident artists, but also showcasing the work for potential local producer who may mount full stock, amateur and professional stagings around the U.S. It also allows the writers to see their work again and assess it (although this is a byproduct, not the NMTN goal)
NMTN has not, so far, taken a cut of any future productions of shows that started in readings, but may explore that possibility in order to be financially practical, Jerome said.
It's up to the shows' creators to engage artists, but NYMN helps with Actors' Equity contracts, rehearsal space and sometimes recommends actors. Presentations are at the 180-seat Theatre at St. Luke's, 308 W. 46th Street. Unless the creative team wants to pay for more, the budget for the reading accommodates a cast of 10.
Works that began as NMTN readings and went on to professional productions include A Country Christmas Carol, After the Fair, Opal, Lizzie Borden, Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, among others.
For information about NMTN, checkout the website at www.broadwayusa.org.
— By Kenneth Jones