Thirteen American lyricists and composers will have the opportunity to develop new work during residencies at the 22nd Annual National Music Theater Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, which began Aug. 2 and runs through the 14. According to Artistic Director Paulette Haupt, there weren't many "cheerful musicals" among the submissions from over 300 artists. "This season's emerging and established artists chose to dramatize very dark subjects, serious, unresolved human issues, such as racial conflicts, crime and poverty," she told Playbill.
Since 1965, the O'Neill Center's National Playwrights Conference in Waterford, Connecticut, has provided a haven for nurturing new straight plays. Producer and Conductor Haupt co-founded the Music Theater Conference in 1978 with O'Neill Center Founder and Chairman 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 Violet (Brian Crawley-Jeanine Tesori), winner of the 1997 New York Drama Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel Awards when produced at Playwrights Horizons, and Nine (Arthur Kopit-Mario Fratti-Maury Yeston), which won five Tonys in 1982, when produced at the 46th Street Theater.
The public is invited to attend staged readings of five of the seven works-in-progress:
• There will be public performances on Aug. 6, 7, 11, and 14 for Song of the Turtledove, with music by Noa Ain (1993 Sondheim Award/Obie for Metamorphosis In Miniature, a dance-theater work produced by Music Theatre Group) and Gerard Edery (opera singer/1997 Sephardic Music Heritage Award) and lyrics by Ain. In the show, which is based on the Biblical Song of Songs, the unfolding of an erotic relationship becomes the doorway to spiritual transformation.
The acting company for Song of the Turtledove consists of Rex Benincasa, Gerard Edery, Gail Hadani, Rachel Handman, George Mgrdichian, and Nell Snaidas.
Songs, scenes and selections from four new musicals will be offered in two different programs, yet to be determined. Preview A will be on Aug. 11 and 13 and Preview B on Aug. 12 and 14: • A Tailor's Tale has book, music and lyrics by John Mercurio (works produced at Ontological Theatre and Florida's Burt Reynolds Theatre). In this original fable, when a mysterious vine is discovered in Valley Falls, centuries of predictability are threatened with extinction. To save themselves, the townspeople must learn to trust in the unknown -- and a slightly neurotic tailor.
• Fire, Water, Earth, Air, with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley (Kleban Award for Violet) and music by Jeff Hardy (A Visit from the Footbinder, workshopped at Goodspeed Opera House). A musical suite of four stories, the show uses Colonial New York, the banks of the Mississippi, modern Manhattan and the Kalahari Desert to explore what is elemental in different eras and places.
• Pictures of Dorian Gray, with book and lyrics by Kate Rigg and music and lyrics by Lance Horne, who started the project while students at Julliard. A gritty, urban update of Oscar Wilde's classic novella, featuring desire, decadence, deception and drag queens.
• The Screams of Kitty Genovese, with libretto by David Simpatico (MAC: A Macaroni Requiem, Urban Stages), music by Will Todd (Between Love and Fantasies, based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, began production in London in July). The play is about the famous incident in March, 1964, in Queens, New York, when a 28-year-old woman was stabbed to death in front of her home as 38 neighbors watched...and did nothing.
The acting company for these works includes Darius de Haas, Jeff Edgerton, Sara Ramirez, John Sloman, and Barbara Walsh.
The directors for the five projects are Gerald Freeman, BT McNicholl and Eleanor Reissa, and the musical directors are Albert Ahronheim, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, and C. Lynne Shankel.
Two projects still in development, which will not be public performed are:
• Hoochy Koo and the Mack, book by Walter Moseley (author of the Easy Rawlins series of mysteries) and music and lyrics by Kirsten Childs (Kleban and Richard Rodger's Awards, as well as Jonathan Larson Foundation Grant for The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, developed at the O'Neill Center last summer), based on a story by Moseley. Another musical about Broadway- but this time, the seamier side where dreams really mean something, and nightmares come true.
• Untitled, book, music and lyrics by John Jiler (Kleban and Richard Rodger's Awards for Avenue X, developed at the O'Neill Center in 1992) and David Shire (Tony nominations for Baby and Big). As the music of the era changes from hot swing to cool jazz to the first chords of rock-and-roll, a son searches post-war Manhattan for his father's darkest secret.
Tickets are $8.00-$12.00. For reservations, call (860) 443-1238. The O'Neill Center is located at 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, Connecticut.