Roiling Conflicts of Winesburg, Ohio Come to Life in New Musical

News   Roiling Conflicts of Winesburg, Ohio Come to Life in New Musical "Winesburg, Ohio," Sherwood Anderson's 1919 novel about small town life, is on the map again, but as a new musical getting its world premiere starting June 17 by About Face Theatre in Chicago.

The production — playing to July 18 — is an expansion of an earlier musical version of the tale. A one-act About Face staging played Steppenwolf Theatre in 2002, and the collaborators Eric Rosen (book and lyrics) and Andre J. Pluess and Ben Sussman (music and additional lyrics) were encouraged to flesh out the show. Jessica Thebus directs Winesburg, Ohio at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, in Chicago.

This presentation is part of the Steppenwolf Visiting Company Initiative.

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According to the announcement, "Winesburg, Ohio is both a portrait of an artist as he comes of age in a small Midwestern town at the turn of the last century, and a journey through the secret inner lives and twisted passions of the people around him. From the young girl deserted by her ambitious lover to the teacher wrongly accused of child molestation to the reverend who is filled with forbidden desire, Sherwood Anderson's characters take the stage with dramatic clarity and powerful contemporary resonance. The Winesburg, Ohio score is given musical support by an on-stage band (including members of the ensemble) composed of violins, guitar, banjo, piano, and upright bass."

The musical was originally commissioned for Steppenwolf Theatre's Arts Exchange Program, and a one-act version produced there in 2002 and played Theatre on the Lake that summer. "When we premiered the original one-act version of Winesburg, we didn’t fully appreciate how powerfully the material would speak to its audience," said About Face artistic director Eric Rosen, in a statement. "The demand from audiences and the enthusiastic critical response fueled the passion of the artistic team to keep going, and to see if the stories of Winesburg might make a satisfying musical on a larger scale. Now, after four years of development sponsored by a unique partnership between About Face and Steppenwolf, we are thrilled to premiere this exhilarating, emotionally absorbing accounting of Sherwood Anderson's singular literary accomplishment."

A play version of the novel appeared on Broadway in the 1950s, briefly.

The cast for Winesburg, Ohio includes Ryan Gardner as George Willard, Jane Blass as his mother Elizabeth, Matthew Lon Walker as his father Tom, Andy White as the Writer (a vision of George as an older man), Lesley Bevan as Kate Swift, Jeff Parker as Rev. Hartman and Ned, Kristina Martin as Alice Hindman and the younger Elizabeth Willard, Jeff Dumas as Joe Welling and Enoch Robertson, David Bryson as Seth Richmond, Emily Albright as Belle, Gary Wingert as Wing Biddlebaum and Wash Williams, and Erica Elam as Helen White.

Designers are Geoffrey M. Curley (sets), Chris Binder (lights), Janice Pytel (costumes), Josh Horvath (sound), and Katie Bond (props). The musicians for the production are Chris Walz, Matt Krause, Emily Albright and Maria McCullough.

Opening is June 26. Performances play Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 3 PM and 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM. There is no performance on July 4.

Tickets range $20-$35. Call the Steppenwolf Theatre box office at (312) 335-1650 or visit www.steppenwolf.org.

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Steppenwolf's Visiting Company Initiative "provides space and resources to some of Chicago's finest emerging theatre companies in order to present their work to a wider local and national audience," according to the announcement. "Steppenwolf hosts companies in this initiative by invitation on an ongoing basis, continuing to celebrate the diversity of the Chicago theatre community."

About Face Theatre, founded in 1995, is Chicago's award winning gay theatre. The company hosted a developmental pre-New York run of I Am My Own Wife that wasn't supposed to be reviewed in the Windy City but got raves. The play went on to win the 2004 Pulitzer Prize, and has been nominated for the 2004 Tony Award for Best Play. Winesburg composers Pluess and Sussman designed sound for Broadway's I Am My Own Wife. Visit www.aboutfacetheatre.com.

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