Karen Azenberg directs and choreographs composer Richard B. Evans and lyricist-librettist Charles Leipart's presentational show that gives zany life to the economic theories of Thorstein Veblen, circa 1900.
"We were intrigued by the challenge of turning a very American economic theory — the source of that popular shopper's phrase, 'conspicuous consumption' — into a wickedly smart and sassy musical comedy of manners and mores of turn-of-the-century America," Leipart told Playbill.com.
The writers bill the show as an "economic vaudeville" and a "satire of 1900 Wall Street and consumer antics." Leipart said the ideas in the show are "surprisingly timely."
On the stage of the Fifth Avenue Vaudeville Theatre, out-of-work economics professor Thorstein Veblen takes his book, "Theory of the Leisure Class," to the vaudeville stage.
"He announces that to facilitate the promotion and sale of his recently published economic treatise, he has engaged several unemployed actors to present a musical demonstration of his socio-economic theory," Leipart said. "He introduces the heroine of his story, Ellen Potts, a soon-to-be-heiress, with an overdeveloped social conscience. Veblen's demonstration takes Ellen through courtship, marriage, and the pursuit of her dream of social justice for the poor of New York — and ultimately into conflict with Veblen's vision of a Conspicuously Consuming and Status Driven American Society." Can heiress Ellen Potts save the poor of Broome Street and rescue her penniless, idealistic boyfriend from a Chinese shoe factory? Will corporate scandals bankrupt them all? Can America be brought to its economic senses through a few instructive and entertaining vaudeville turns?
Leipart came across a copy of Veblen's 1899 book of the same name at the Strand, the beloved used book store in Manhattan, more than a decade ago and it inspired the idea of a satiric musical. Slowly, Leipart landed on the idea of putting the colorful, crazy Veblen on a vaudeville stage in order to sell his book.
Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class was given its premiere concert performances at the Theatre Building Chicago STAGES 2002 Festival in August 2002. It was also featured at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre's 2002 Festival of New Works.
Musical excerpts were performed at the Broadway Theatre Institute's Musical Mondays series in November 2002 and at the York Theatre Company's Reading Series in 2003. Thommie Walsh directed previous readings of the show, but is not attached to the project.
NYU Steinhardt School of the Arts presents the premiere production at the historic Provincetown Playhouse in New York City.
This physically lean off-book staging was put together much the same way professional readings are created. A two week rehearsal process prompted the students to focus their energies, director Azenberg told Playbill.com.
"I think it's a great thing for the kids because doing these kind of staged readings are huge career opportunities these days," Azenberg said. "How do you get into a musical on Broadway? You do a staged reading, and the second and the third. Knowing what the techniques are to bring the work to life in that amount of time is not necessarily a skill you can teach, but something that has to develop when you're experiencing it."
This is also a rare chance for kids to get their hands on fresh material.
"It's one thing to do a staged reading of Oklahoma! , everyone knows what Laurey is like," Azenberg said. "But when you do a new musical, nobody knows what these characters are about and you have to take a big leap and experiment and try something."
Lyricist-librettist Leipart, who won the 2001 Ed Kleban Award for the libretto of The Showgirl on 52nd Street, said, "The kids realize they really have something to contribute. They aren't just learning lines, they are creating the roles in this show."
The cast includes John Allen Biles, Kristin Carlson, Jamie Cronin, Greg Kenna, Christopher LaCroix, Lauren Marcus, Eyal Sherf, Luke Smith and Amanda Webb.
Music director is Michael Ricciardone. Lighting is by Liz Tyler Brody, costumes are by Tom Smith. Production stage manager is Jacob Seelbach.
Leisure Class is scheduled to be presented in a professional workshop production later in the year. The writers are in negotiations with the producers.
The NYU performances play March 23 (8 PM invited dress), 8 PM March 24, 8 PM March 25, 2 PM & 8 PM March 26.
Provincetown Playhouse is at 133 MacDougal Street (Fourth Street). Admission is $15. For information, call (212) 998-5281.