The Fabulist: An Epic Fable of Aesop, a new musical that won the 2002 Richard Rodgers Development Award, will get its first public airing in a reading hosted by the York Theatre Company in Manhattan Aug. 9.
The colorful show , which has the flavor of Disney's latter-day animated movie-musicals mixed with the theatrical invention of early Jones and Schmidt shows, has music and lyrics by David Spencer, book by Stephen Witkin (based on the novel by John Vornholt) and direction by Sheryl Kaller (who helmed Christopher Durang's Adrift in Macao). Fred Lassen is musical director. Chorus vocal arrangements are by Andrew Gerle (who was also a 2002 Rodgers winner for The Tutor).
The cast includes Daniel Marcus (Officer Barrel in Urinetown) as Aesop, with Richard Aab, Beth Dunnington,Valerie Fagan, Craig Fols, Richard Gleaves, Nicole Halmos, Rich Hebert, Jennifer Giering, Jamie LaVerdiere, Stephanie Lynge, Renae Morway, Jay O. Sanders and Will Shumaker, in multiple roles.
The readings of The Fabulist, are financed by the Rodgers Development Award. The prize money for the prestigious award is being split between this first summer reading and a more elaborate fall reading for backers. The Fabulist also earned a 2002 Gilman/Gonzalez-Falla Commendation Grant.
This is the first public performance of the show anywhere, composer-lyricist David Spencer said. The show is presented in a semi-private 20-hour Equity-approved reading as a first look for the authors, friends and colleagues prior to the industry reading in October. Spencer told Playbill On-Line he came across the Vornholt novel while scanning the shelves of a Manhattan science-fiction store. Vornholt and Spencer had a publisher in common (Spencer had penned an "Alien Nation" novel) and the composer lyricist contacted Vornholt. As it turns out, Vornholt originally conceived the story — a fanciful fictionalization of the life of the dwarf-slave, Aesop, a plaything of the gods — as a musical and even did some work on a script, in the west coast branch of a Lehman Engel musical theatre workshop.
"What attracted me to it was the notion of actually doing an epic fantasy fable about Aesop rather than an anthology with a framework," Spencer told Playbill On-Line. In other words, no one is reciting "The Tortoise and the Hare" from the stage. The show begins in 540 BC and is picaresque in its plotting, sending Aesop across great physical, emotional (and often comic) terrain as he fights to be free, to be heard and to overcome the influence of the gods.
Vornholt gave his OK to a musicalization by Spencer, known for penning lyrics and co-writing the book to Weird Romance and handling book and lyrics to the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (both shows have music by Alan Menken).
Spencer's credits also include music and lyrics to Theatreworks' family-audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables (with libretti by Rob Barron). He is also on the steering committee of the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop.
The performance is at the York Theatre Company's digs at Theatre at St. Peter's Church in the Citicorp Center, Lexington Avenue at 54th Street.
— By Kenneth Jones