The American Music Theatre Project is a new initiative of Northwestern University dedicated to "developing and producing new musicals in cooperation with some of music theatre's top writers, composers and directors." Upcoming projects will involve Tina Laundau, Doug Hughes and Ricky Ian Gordon.
Was is an adaptation of Geoff Ryman’s novel, with book and lyrics by Barry Kleinbort and music by Joseph Thalken. The musical "interweaves the story of the real Dorothy Gael, an orphan living a difficult life with abusive relatives on a Kansas frontier settlement, and of the kindly substitute teacher who writes the story of the life she ought to have had. It so happens that the teacher is L. Frank Baum and the book he writes is 'The Wizard of Oz.'" Tina Landau will direct.
Other upcoming shows include:
• The Boys Are Coming Home, a new musical set after World War II and loosely based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, beginning performances July 21, 2006, at Cahn Auditorium. The book is by Berni Stapleton, inspired by an idea from Timothy French, and features music and lyrics by Leslie Arden.
• The Pearl, with book and lyrics by Arthur Perlman and music by Louis Rosen, an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel. It tells the tale of "Kino, a Mexican pearl diver, and his wife, Juana. When their young son is stung by a scorpion, Kino sets out in search of a pearl to pay the town doctor, who has turned them away because they have no money. He finds a pearl of such size and luster that it becomes the envy of all who see it. The pearl, which seems to hold such promise to improve their lives, instead brings evil and tragedy." Doug Hughes will direct. Dates to be announced. • States of Independence, an original musical with book, lyrics and direction by Tina Landau and music by Ricky Ian Gordon. "History and fantasy collide in this story of a contemporary college student who travels from her 21st century world of political detachment into the heat of the American Revolution. Meeting an array of vibrant, and mostly forgotten heroes, the student discovers what it means to live in the world with personal conviction and political passion." Dates to be announced.
For more information, visit the AMTP Web site at www.amtp.northwestern.edu.
The AMTP program is fueled by a $2 million budget. Hollywood writer, producer and director Garry K. Marshall, a Northwestern alumnus, and his wife Barbara providing seed funding for the initiative. Additional funding is being provided by the Chicago law firm of Gardener, Carton and Douglas; William Donnell; the Gilman & Gonzales-Falla Foundation; The Shen Family Foundation; and Barbara Whitman and David Carlyon.
Along with developing the new musicals mentioned above, the project is also designed to "increase opportunities for education and training within Northwestern’s theatre, dance and opera programs and initiate a series of interdisciplinary research projects." The long-term goal is the creation of a permanent center for the American Music Theatre on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.
Dominic Missimi, director of the music theatre program at Northwestern, and Stuart Oken, former executive vice president of Disney Theatrical Productions, will spearhead the project. Missimi chairs the executive committee responsible for the initiative, while Oken is its artistic director.
The AMTP advisory committee includes lyricist-composer Sheldon Harnick (another alumus); Northwestern professors Frank Galati and Mary Zimmerman (both well-known directors); Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls; former Chicago Tribune chief critic Richard Christiansen; Landau, who is working on the aforementioned Was.
While writers, directors and choreographers will be professionals working in the field, the majority of actors will be students, "unless a particular role requires a quality that cannot be filled by a student."
The musical presentations will be open to both regional theatres and independent producers. "We welcome non-profit and commercial producers interested in a specific project to join us during the development phase," said Oken in a statement. "It’s critical for the creative teams that we not only introduce their material, but encourage additional productions in other venues."
Northwestern has long provide the theatre with writers, directors and performers. Among those who attended Northwestern in the past are Harnick, George Furth, Larry Grossman, Tony Randall, Craig Bierko, Sally Murphy, David Schwimmer, Patricia Neal, Kate Shindle, Penny Fuller, Donna English, Sarah Pfisterer, Ron Holgate, Heather Headley, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Kimberly Williams, Jeff Blumencrantz, Claude Atkins, Karen Black, Nancy Dussault, Carol Lawrence, John Cameron Mitchell, Cloris Leachman, Ann-Margret, Paul Lynde, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Charlton Heston, Michael Grief, Keith Reddin, John Logan, Margaret Nagle, Greg Berlanti, Denis O'Hare, Gregg Edelman, Richard Kind, Fred Applegate, Jayne Atkinson, Marg Helgenberger, Clancey Brown, Megan Mullally, Dermot Mulroney, Zach Braff and Charlotte Rae.