Artistic director Jamey Green and managing director Dr. Michael Propper wanted something quirky and individual for the debut of their for-profit, non-Equity company, and it doesn't get much less traditional than Rosewater, drawn from the playful novel by Kurt Vonnegut.
Performances for the revival -- thought to be only one of a handful of Rosewater stagings in the world -- began June 3 at a space rented by Euphoria! in Nashville's Cummins Station, a converted railroad-district warehouse that serves as a multi-use retail space. The 90-seat room is a former art gallery.
The surreal comic musical premiered Off-Broadway in 1979, produced by Vonnegut's daughter, Edith, 14 years after the novel was released. The run was brief (Off-Broadway at Entermedia, then WPA Theatre), but the seeds were sown for future collaboration and musical superstardom by Ashman and Menken. They went on to write Off-Broadway's Little Shop of Horrors and songs for the Disney film musicals, "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."
Ashman died of AIDS when the pair were at the height of their songwriting popularity. Rosewater is a satirical ride through the life and mind of Indiana philanthropist and volunteer fireman, Eliot Rosewater. On a trip down The River of Money, he meets science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, the all blond Plain Clean Average Americans and his jet-setting wife who has done the Twist with Peter Lawford.
Managing director Dr. Propper, who is a psychiatrist by day, appears in the musical as a psychiatrist and a space alien. A cast of 14 is backed by two keyboards and percussion.
Dr. Propper said they was found the Rosewater title in a chapter of Peter Filichia's book, "Let's Put on a Musical!: How to Choose the Right Show for Your Theater."
What attracted them to the show?
"First of all, it's Kurt Vonnegut," said Dr. Propper. "And with Ashman and Menken and Kurt Vonnegut, I thought this has got to be pretty damn funny..."
The show is so seldom done, he said, that licensing agent Samuel French couldn't tell him the last time it was licensed, and didn't have a demo tape of songs. There is no cast album.
"[On opening night] I went before the show and had a pow-wow with the cast, and one of the things that came up was dedicating the show to Howard Ashman," he said. "Musical theatre's important: It touches us in such a different way."
Euphoria! is a new addition to the small theatre community in the city where country music is king. There are three theatres in Nashville with Equity affiliations, Dr. Propper told Playbill On-Line. He said Euphoria! is likely to focus on musical theatre and is, for now, non-Equity.
The company is still trying to find its audience and determine the shape and nature of its future direction: Profit or nonprofit? Rental or buy a space? Pay performers or remain a kind of community theatre? Equity or not?
For information about God Bless You , Mr. Rosewater, call (615) 777-ARTS.
-- By Kenneth Jones