New Duncan Sheik Stage Projects Move Forward Quickly

News   New Duncan Sheik Stage Projects Move Forward Quickly While Spring Awakening continues to collect awards for its acclaimed Broadway production, composer Duncan Sheik is keeping busy working on his follow-ups to the hit show.

Currently, Sheik is participating in an NYU workshop of Whisper House, a new musical collaboration with Kyle Jarrow that was commissioned by Stamford Center for the Performing Arts.

"We're doing a workshop right now at NYU," he told Playbill.com. "Keith Powell is directing it — he's an actor on '30 Rock' and a good friend of mine. I just started writing the songs. I finished the first song the day before yesterday. I'm sinking my teeth into it now.

Sheik described the story as follows: "Basically, it's [about] a young boy [whose] father's killed in World War II, and the mother kind of has gone crazy, so he's sent to live with his aunt on the coast of Connecticut. She lives in a lighthouse. And the ghosts [are] the embodiments of all his fears but also all of his desires and his confused way of making his way in this world, having lost his parents and living in this remote place that feels very haunted. I would leave it to the audience as to whether the ghosts are real or a projection of his own making. There's a little bit of ambiguity there."

Sheik said the ghost characters will be members of an onstage band. "They kind of function a little bit as a Greek chorus, if you will. They're on stage. They're part of the play, but they're also the band, and they sing these songs that are in some way commentary on what's going on."

A production target date is the 2008-09 season at SCA's 750-seat Rich Forum. The musical is part of SCA's refreshed effort to establish itself as a resident Equity theatre, with an identity of new works that can't necessarily be seen in New York City. As for The Nightingale — a musical by Sheik and Spring lyricist-librettist Steven Sater that was once scheduled as a part of the Page to Stage New Play Development Program in the upcoming La Jolla Playhouse season — a workshop is in the offing for this coming fall.

"We're in the process of organizing our next workshop," said Sheik. "It looks like it will be September-October. We're working with director James Lapine on that, which is very exciting. It looks like we're going to do this workshop under the umbrella of American Conservatory Theatre. It will happen in New York, but we've had a great set of conversations with [ACT artistic director] Carey Perloff about possibly working with that theatre. If that does work out, it would be amazing, because it's such a beautiful place and such a perfect place to do the show. We're going to do one or two workshops, and hopefully it will make its way on stage by the end of next year."

The magical tale that follows "the Young Emperor of Ancient China [who] learns of an ordinary nightingale whose song brings hope to the lives of the common people living outside the walls of the Forbidden City" and ventures out of his court to see "the wonders of his realm with the nightingale and her protector, a young servant girl."

The work was commissioned from producer Martin McCallum and workshopped at the Eugene O'Neill Musical Theatre Conference in 2003. Des McAnuff and La Jolla became involved, and a second workshop was held in New York City in December 2005.

The Nightingale was worked on recently at TheatreWorks' fifth annual Writers' Retreat (Jan. 22-28) in Palo Alto, CA. The event — which supplies performers and accompanists to try arrangements, and a musical director to help guide the creative process — culminated with an invitation-only performance of selections.