Directed and choreographed by David G. Armstrong, the original fairy tale has music and lyrics by Steven Fisher and a book by Joan Ross Sorkin and Fisher. Featured in the cast as "Izzy" — a fairy godmother — is wide-eyed Ruth Gottschall of New York's recent First Lady Suite, The Music Man, …Forum, The Goodbye Girl and Cabaret.
NYMF and Kaleidoscope Productions, LLC present the work at the Lion Theatre in Theatre Row on West 42nd Street.
Isabelle and the Pretty-Ugly Spell "tells the story of Izzy, a lovable but scatterbrained fairy godmother who goofs while casting a spell to help the Princess find true love, and now has only three days to make things right," according to production notes. "Izzy's clock-ticking, cliff-hanging, nail-biting journey leads the audience through both high jinx and heart-warming moments and underscores the lesson that looks don't matter — it's what's on the inside that counts. Hummable tunes, quirky characters, and an endearing story will delight children of all ages…"
The musical was commissioned by Summer Stage (Upper Darby, PA) in 2002 where it received a week-long production. A workshop directed by Stephen Schwartz with Alison Fraser in the role of "Izzy" took place at the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop in 2003. The York Theatre Company included the musical in its Developmental Reading Series directed by Gerard Alessandrini and featuring Emily Loesser as "Izzy" in 2004. In 2005 Isabelle and the Pretty-Ugly Spell won the National Children's Theatre Festival at The Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre (Coral Gables, FL) and received a full 30-performance production on its mainstage in May 2005.
Writer Sorkin told Playbill.com, "Izzy, as our show is affectionately called, has been a labor of love since 2001. The idea to write an original 'Cinderella' fairy tale from the point of view of the fairy godmother was Steve's brainchild. We knew we wanted to write a story that was fresh and new, but at the same time had touchstones from a well-known fairy tale so that the kids in the audience could immediately catch on and still be surprised. We also knew that in addition to being entertaining, all fairy tales have a message and we wanted our message to emerge from the heart of the story, though when we started, we weren't sure what that message might be. But as we wrote, that message became clear: the beauty inside a person is what's important, not one's outward appearance. And our show was written way before 'Shrek'! Our other goal was to write a family-friendly show that would be funny and smart and appeal not only to the kids, but to their parents as well. So far the adults have enjoyed the show as much as the kids because it's written on so many levels. Our dream is that one day Izzy will become a classic in the world of fairy tales." What flavor or style is the music?
Composer-lyricist Fisher told Playbill.com, "I'd like to think the style is my own. Of course, I've been influenced by all the greats — Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein, Loesser, Lerner and Loewe, Sondheim. I guess the score is a hybrid of traditional and contemporary, though definitely not sung-through. As a composer, you always hope that you end up with something true to the genre, something built on the shoulders of all the giants that have come before you…but also fresh and original."
Fisher underlined that the show is not based on source material and was conceived long before the movie of "Shrek" became a hit.
Fisher explained, "It all began with a simple observation: Fairy tales always focus on the princess and the prince. The godmother is usually a stock character, fairly one-dimensional. But what about her journey, her trials and tribulations? After all, fairyhood is essentially a job, like waiting tables, or litigating. What's it really like to be a fairy day in and day out? Since all fairy tales need a spell of some kind and it's all been done before, we tried to find an original approach. It occurred to us that it would be more exciting to engage the audience's imagination throughout the show by having Izzy place the spell on the kingdom and not on the princess. It makes the audience imagine horns and warts and scales of green that aren't really there."
Also featured in the new New York cast are Becky Barta, Bill Caleo, Kevin B. McGlynn, Meredith McCasland, Jamie McGonnigal and Darryl D. Winslow. The design team includes sets by Ken Goldstein, costumes by Cheryl McCarron, lighting by Paul Frydrychowski and sound by Aaron Blank. Shana Solomon is the assistant director. Compsoer Steven Fisher is musical director.
Fisher (music, lyrics, co-book) also wrote Mandela (music, lyrics, book), which was a Richard Rodgers Award Finalist and was presented at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, Crossroads Theatre (Genesis Festival of New Works), the John Houseman Theater (workshop), the Windybrow Theatre (Johannesburg, South Africa-workshop) and the Crossroads Theatre (oratorio version, 2004). He is a contributor to NEO (The York Theatre/CD 2004). Other works include Oh What A Lovely Way!...The life and theatre of Joan Littlewood (music, lyrics, book — in development); Mother B (music, lyrics, book — in development). Fisher is the founder and associate artistic director of the Commonwealth Youthchoirs, which includes the Keystone State Boychoir and the Pennsylvania Girlchoir. He is also the founder and co-director of Umcolo! Kimberley, an international exchange program for music educators based in South Africa. He is an alumnus of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop.
Co-book writer Joan Ross Sorkin's other projects include The Real McCoy (co-book) at the BlackJacks Festival, NYU/CAP21 (workshop) and Toll-Taker, Toll-Taker (book, co-lyrics) at La MaMa ETC. Her work in opera includes Strange Fruit (libretto) at NY City Opera's VOX 2003: Showcasing American Composers, commissioned by Long Leaf Opera (Durham, NC), which has a production scheduled for 2007, and The Reef (libretto — in development). In the cabaret arena she has written lyrics for songs performed at Opia and Birdland (NYC). Her plays include The Survival Collection, Going Too Far, L-O-V-E (published by United Stages), The Confessional (and PBS pilot), Glimmer of Hope, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Therapy, New York-Style, 19 Angel St, Food For Thought and Sweating It Out.
The Lion Theater is located at 410 West 42nd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.
The Isabelle performance schedule is Sept. 23 at 8 PM, Sept. 28 at 4:30 PM, Sept. 29 at 8 PM, Oct. 1 at 1 PM and Oct. 2 at 1 PM and 4:30 PM.
All tickets are $15. For reservations call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.nymf.org.
Sorkin and Fisher met in 2000 at the NAMT Festival of New Musicals, when Fisher was presenting Mandela. "I was in the audience and was mesmerized by his show, and when he joined the cast for a show-stopping finale, I knew I had to work with him," Sorkin told Playbill.com. "At the time I was looking for a collaborator for my opera Strange Fruit, and never the shrinking violet, I went up after the performance and introduced myself. We discovered we were colleagues at BMI in different classes, and although we didn't end up working together on the opera, he asked me to act as an informal dramaturg on Mandela. We then started on a BMI project together, and one thing led to another, and he invited me to collaborate with him on Izzy. At the time he had developed an idea for the show in hopes of landing a commission from Summer Stage in Upper Darby, PA, a summer theatre for high school musical theatre students where he had worked as a musical director and performed in his high school days. We went on to get that commission and we wrote the show for Summer Stage 2002."