Ahrens & Flaherty are the Tony Award-winning songwriters who wrote Ragtime and have been embraced by LCT; their Dessa Rose, My Favorite Year and A Man of No Importance were produced there. The seven-actor theatre-themed Glorious Ones has music by Flaherty and book and lyrics by Ahrens.
Graciela Daniele directs and choreographs, as she did for the show's world premiere at Pittsburgh Public Theater in 2006-07. Cast holdovers from the Pittsburgh run include Natalie Venetia Belcon, John Kassir, David Patrick Kelly, Tony Award nominee Julyana Soelistyo and Jeremy Webb, with newcomers Tony Award nominee Marc Kudisch and Grey Gardens veteran Erin Davie.
The new musical, opening Nov. 5 following previews, is based on a novel by Francine Prose and focuses on theatre history's major players, tracing the lives of commedia dell'arte troupers in Renaissance Italy.
According to LCT, it's the "backstage story about the lives, loves, merriment and manipulations of a troupe of bawdy, witty improvising street performers — the commedia dell'arte actors of 16th-century Italy. ….It tells how the troupe came to be, in all its ragged, colorful glory, and how it captured the public's adoration for so long before losing the spotlight." The troupe's life and art are — like so many art forms throughout history — "cast aside in the wake of newer artistic fashion and changing morals," according to LCT.
Performances will continue to Jan. 6, 2008. Erin Davie played Young Little Edie in Broadway's Grey Gardens and is heard on its cast album. Kudisch's Broadway credits include The Apple Tree, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Tony nomination), Assassins, The Wild Party, Bells Are Ringing, Thoroughly Modern Millie (Tony nomination) and Off-Broadway's The Thing About Men and See What I Wanna See, among other shows.
In Pittsburgh, The Glorious Ones featured Natalie Belcon (Avenue Q) as Columbina, John Kassir as Dottore, David Patrick Kelly (Festen) as Pantalone, Jenny Powers (Little Women and now, Broadway's Grease) as Isabella Andreini, Paul Schoeffler (Sweet Charity) as Flaminio Scala, Julyana Soelistyo (a 1998 Tony nominee for Golden Child) as Armanda Ragusa and Jeremy Webb (Off-Broadway's Tabletop and The Baltimore Waltz) as Francesco Andreini. Kudisch now plays Flaminio and Davie is Isabella.
The creative team will include Daniel S. Ostling (scenic designer), Mara Blumenfeld (costume designer), Stephen Strawbridge (lighting designer) — all continuing their work from Pittsburgh — plus sound designer Scott Stauffer.
Orchestrations are by Michael Starobin and musical direction is by David Holcenberg.
For more information, visit www.lct.org.
Producers and other interested theatre folk booked tickets to the world premiere, which began previews at PPT — a theatre committed to new work as well as area premieres and classics — April 19. The run continued to May 20.
Of the Italian-set show, Flaherty previously told Playbill.com, "It is both of a time and timeless in its themes. The struggles the characters go through are the same struggles every actor and writer I know goes through today. That's what attracted me thematically."
Does the time and place prompt Flaherty to flirt with different musical flavors?
Flaherty said, "The score is highly romantic and lyrical, reaching for the stars, and at the same time (since the show is about street theatre) very earthy and bawdy. It has extreme romanticism and extremely rude humor side by side. And it's very Italian. It is probably my most 'European' score and the orchestrations by Michael Starobin are stunning."
Ahrens told Playbill.com, "Stephen has an uncanny knack for taking a particular period or place's 'sound' and making it theatrical and accessible and 'his.' He's done it on all our shows, which are all set in different times and places and very diverse in that regard."
The idea of actors' art being ephemeral is central to the story, reflecting the passing nature of human life. Did that speak to the writers?
"Absolutely," Flaherty said. "As much as I try and hang onto our opening night I know it will be just a memory the next day. And it will really be a special evening since it is the first time I've ever premiered a new work in my hometown of Pittsburgh. The whole neighborhood will be there! So I intend to really try and be in the moment, to savor it."
Ahrens added, "When my father passed away, it fell to me to dispose of a great deal of his work — a lifetime of photographs, some of which were professional masterpieces, but many of which were unsalvageable. It was like getting rid of a part of him that he'd left behind. The themes of this show resonate with anyone who's tried to hold onto the past or who's wanted to leave something of worth behind or who has simply wanted to be remembered when they go. It's not just actors, it's all of us. I'm only just realizing what it means to me — it comes from a very personal place."
How did the writers discover the novel?
"A friend of mine, Margaret Pine — a wonderful composer who's married to the actor Larry Pine — introduced me to the novel," Ahrens said. "It seemed to me, when I read it, that there were unbelievable moments for songs — both offstage and on — to illuminate the lives and hearts of these 'creatures of the stage.'"
What attracted Ahrens to it? "Masks, codpieces, slapsticks, sex, dirty jokes, pure silliness — who wouldn't be attracted to that sort of comic theatrical world?," she said. "And I was really ready to write a comedy again. And although the story is set in the early 1600s [the New York version is now set in the late 1500s and beyond], it spirals forward in a non-linear way to a place that makes it completely contemporary — wait and see."
Is it a "book" musical, or largely sung?
"I would say the music and lyrics drive the show," Flaherty said. "There is almost a constant flow of music."
Ahrens explained, "As Peter Stone used to say, book is structure, so I guess everything is a book musical in that sense. This show does have spoken scenes, but for the most part it's a series of self-contained songs, flowing one after another, leading us through the story and into the hearts, minds and machinations of the characters."
Ahrens and Flaherty's songs have transported audiences to a 1950s TV studio, an island in the Antilles, the Civil War South, ragtime-era Manhattan and the streets of Dublin. With their new show, they take us right to the heart of theatre history. The writers won the Best Score Tony Award for Ragtime and also penned songs for Dessa Rose (set in the Old South), A Man of No Importance (set in Dublin), My Favorite Year (set in the world of TV comedy) and Once on This Island (set on an island billed as "the jewel of the Antilles"), as well as Lucky Stiff (set in England and Monte Carlo).
Tony nominee Daniele staged and choreographed Ahrens and Flaherty's Dessa Rose at the Newhouse, and Once On This Island on Broadway, and choreographed Ragtime. A&F's My Favorite Year and A Man of No Importance were also produced by Lincoln Center Theater, at the Broadway Beaumont and Off-Broadway Newhouse, respectively.