This new reading will offer the latest draft of the Depression-set musical by co-writers Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull, who share book, music and lyric credits. McKneely (The Life, Smokey Joe's Café) is new to the project. Patrick Vaccariello (West Side Story) is music director.
Empire was seen in full productions in Los Angeles (2003) and Stamford, CT (2004). A private industry workshop of the property was presented in April 2008 starring Karen Ziemba, Matt Cavenaugh and Michael McCormick. Another Manhattan reading was presented in December 2008.
The September 2009 reading cast includes Ryan Silverman, Nancy Anderson, Jessica Phillips, Eric Michael Gillett, Nick Wyman, Ryan Bauer-Walsh, Christina DeCicco, Kevyn Morrow, Becca Ayers, Katherine Tokarz, Stacie Bono, Dawn Timm, Aaron Simon Gross, Bill Evans Jeremy Davis, Robert Rokicki, David F M Vaughn, Brian O'Brien and Jeff Williams.
The producing team consists of Ricky Stevens (Glory Days, A Catered Affair), Douglas C. Evans (Off-Broadway's Frankenstein musical), Jeff Davis, Howard Olah-Reiken and The Rivet Gang.
Producer Stevens previously announced an intention to bring the show to Broadway in the 2009-10 season, following a summer 2009 tryout. Those plans have been adjusted following interest from London producers, Evans told Playbill.com. The aim now is a London launch in spring 2010 followed by a Broadway life. The producers are in discussions with Brooke Shields (Wonderful Town, "Lipstick Jungle") to star in the show. No casting, dates or theatre have been announced for the future of Empire.
According to the producers, "Empire is a celebration of the American spirit embodied by those who built what was then the tallest structure in the world, the Empire State Building. With big dance numbers, pop-driven melodies and captivating spectacle, Empire puts a contemporary spin on the classic musicals of the '40s and '50s."
The musical mixes fictional characters and two historic figures. According to a synopsis at empirethemusical.com: "It's 1929. New York City, pre-market crash. John J. Raskob, a high-powered financier, and Al Smith, charismatic, beloved, ex-governor of New York, are driven to compete with other industrialists to build the tallest building in the world. The curtain opens on a hopping New York City street scene that descends chaotically into the…market crash.
"New Yorkers find themselves in dire straits. But hope is spurred by the oversized dreams of these industrialists. They embody the American spirit by continuing to exercise their ambitions despite the times. They face adversity with boldness, hope, and daring.
"As the structure develops both industrialists and laborers alike face the nearly insurmountable professional and personal hurdles of creating such a huge project in the middle of a bustling city in the worst economy ever. And through this process, each of the characters push toward their goals, grappling with the trade-offs and sacrifices their ambitions demand, and finally coming to grips with the new perspective of hard-won achievement or failure. Michael, a starry-eyed young architect … Hilda, a driven journalist who believes in the good of the people over industrialist folly … Smith and Raskob, the industrialist achievers … Ethan and Emily, a couple just starting out, looking for security and safety … young Bucky, who dreams of working with the Mohawk Indians, the sky-walking tribe responsible for many of the city’s tallest buildings … Gladys, the fast-talking, don't-mess-with-me contractor who teaches both Hilda and Michael about trade-offs … Henry, the jazz musician … and Sam, the dedicated laborer with a secret, which, once revealed, will change everyone.
"In the end — after their great accomplishment — it's 1931 and the Depression has only just begun. But it's different for all of them now. They face these uncertain times with a new found hope that no one and nothing can shake from them. And we are left with the building, its observatory glowing soft gold, a harbinger of hope, the building forever a symbol of American fortitude."
Empire the Musical was nominated for three Los Angeles Ovation Awards, including Best New Musical. It won for Best Choreography.
Sherman and Hull (co-librettists, lyricists and composers) wrote the musicals Goodney's Ghost, Byzantium and a children's show Diggy Hoffen Pepper Zee and The Colors of The Rainbow. They wrote Empire in 1999-2000 and have refined it over the years.
Visit shermanandhull.com or empirethemusical.com.