The Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center's 24th Music Theater Conference is hosting some "high flying" talent, July 27-Aug. 12, at their home base in Waterford, CT. During the two-week residency, Marsha Norman (1983 Pulitzer Prize for 'Night, Mother, 1991 Tony for "Best Book of a Musical" for The Secret Garden) will join as book-writer long-time creative team Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics) and David Shire (music), to develop Take Flight. This new musical is described as a tapestry celebrating man's need to take risks, through interweaving stories of famous aviators, including the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart, and Charles Lindbergh.
Walter Bobbie, who earned the 1997 Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for his direction of the current Broadway revival of Chicago, a 6-time Tony winner, will trade the windy city for The Road to Hollywood. Bobbie began this project over a decade ago with collaborators Michael Pace (co-founder of the tight harmony, comedy trio GOTHAM), who will be on hand this summer, and the late Rob Preston (composer of movie scores, including "Stir Crazy"). According to Paulette Haupt, OMTC Founding Artistic Director, the project was put aside as unseasonable in an era preferring "musicals with darker visions, but now its time has come." Like Take Flight, The Road to Hollywood is an original project, rather than an adaptation. Filled with "wonderful big band swing music," Haupt said, The Road to Hollywood is a musical Valentine to the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope-Dorothy Lamour "Road Series" movies, produced mostly in the 1940s."
Since 1965, the O'Neill Theatre Center's National Playwrights Conference has provided a haven for nurturing new straight plays. Producer and Conductor Haupt co-founded the Music Theatre Conference in 1978 with O'Neill Center Founder George C. White to provide what was at the time a unique forum for developing new musicals. The artists collaborate with directors, musical directors, and Equity actors to clarify their creative visions and address problems in the work. Over 50 shows have gone onto productions on and off-Broadway, and in regional theaters, opera companies and international festivals. These include Nine (Arthur Kopit-Mario Fratti-Maury Yeston), which won five Tonys in 1982, when produced at the 46th Street Theatre, Kirsten Childs' The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, which won numerous awards when produced last year at Playwrights Horizons, and The Boswell Sisters by Stuart Ross ("Forever Plaid") and Mark Hampton (Full Gallop), nominated for a MAC Award, when produced as a musical revue by New York's Rainbow and Stars in 1998, opening as a full production July 22 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California.
Although Haupt and Associate Director Michael Nassar seek out works for development during the year, both Take Flight and The Road to Hollywood arrived unsolicited in the mail as two of 96 proposals. This season's projects survived multiple tiers of evaluation, with the selection advisory panel of 12 including Gabriel Barre, Michael Feingold, Craig Lucas, and Sherman Yellen.
The public is invited to attend stage readings of Take Flight on Aug. 11 and 12 at 2:30 PM and Aug. 3, 4, and 9 at 8 PM, and The Road to Hollywood on Aug. 4 and 5 at 2:30 PM and Aug. 8, 10, and 11 at 8 PM. Tickets are $8-$12. For reservations, call (860) 443-1238. During the Conference, four other artists-in-residence will work privately on semi-finished works, which will not receive public readings. Rachel Sheinkin will contribute words and Joel Derfner music for Blood and Other Humours, a collection of three short stories in musical form, one of which, Blood Drive, premiered in April at London's Bridewell Theatre. Maryrose Wood will provide books and lyrics and Andrew Gerle music for The Tutor. Wood and Gerle previously collaborated on The Gift, a finalist for the Richard Rodgers Award.
This year the Conference invites the public to attend "Making Musicals," a behind-the-scenes discussion series. On July 28 at 8:00 PM, Maltby and Shire discussed the creation and development of Take Flight, with the cast performing selections. The duo also fielded questions about their earlier collaborations, such as Closer Than Ever, Starting Here, Starting Now, Baby, and Big.
On Aug. 7 at 8 PM, Walter Bobbie and Michael Pace will share the experience of paving The Road to Hollywood, as well as answering questions about their separate endeavors, including Pace's performance as an original Broadway cast member of Marry Me a Little and Little Shop of Horrors, and Bobbie's direction of Footloose, which he co adapted for the stage with Dean Pitchford.
On Aug. 11 at 11 AM, former conference attendees Joe Masteroff and Sheldon Harnick will discuss their collaboration on She Loves Me, as well as their separate projects, such as Cabaret, for which Masteroff provided the book and Fiddler on the Roof, for which Harnick provided lyrics.
Tickets for the discussions are $5. For reservations, call (860) 443-1238. The O'Neill Theatre Center is located at 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, Connecticut.
In other O'Neill news, as a way to raise money, the Center is offering a special premium: a $500 donation gets a pair of mezzanine tickets to Broadway's The Producers, or $750 scores a pair in the orchestra. It's a one-time per person offer that is tax deductible above the ticket price. For more information call (860) 443-1238.
-- by Barbara Gross