Pulitzer Prize winner Shanley (Doubt: A Parable) also directs the small-cast show, for which he penned book and lyrics. Krieger (Dreamgirls) is the composer. Performances began Sept. 30 at Off-Broadway's New York City Center Stage I, where Doubt premiered.
The passionate kind of New Yorkers made famous in "Moonstruck," the movie comedy that won Shanley an Oscar, sing in Romantic Poetry. Divorce and jealousy are major flavors in the musical, which has Emily Swallow playing Connie of Woodmere, Long Island, who marries Fred (played by Ivan Hernandez) of Newark, NJ. Turns out, she may still be married to her previous husbands: Carl (Mark Linn-Baker) and Red (Jeb Brown). We also meet Frankie (played by Jerry Dixon) and Mary (played by Patina Renea Miller).
Expect mixed-up feelings, urban poetry, bigger-than-life emotions and a little social commentary.
Comedy and drama are not new to Shanley — who is widely known for Doubt: A Parable, winning the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for it — but musical comedy is fresh territory. This marks the Bronx playwright's debut as a musical writer.
David Korins (Passing Strange, Bridge & Tunnel) provides the abstract retro set that resembles something one might have seen in a Poconos resort nightclub in the '60s — a sweeping ramp, diaphanous crimped curtains that rise and fall, glowing globular light fixtures. Sam Davis is the musical director and arranger. Musical staging is by Devanand Janki (Zanna, Don't!).
Of his new handle "librettist," Shanley told Playbill Radio, "It's a really interesting job and it's a really interesting art form. I'm trying to sort of reinvent it a little bit by being naïve. I think that it's working. This musical has, in the best sense of the word, somewhat of a homemade feeling and doesn't play by any particular formula. It's more of a personal expression and I hope the better for it."
Krieger wrote the Tony-nominated score of the hit Dreamgirls, and with Shanley also worked on a stage musical version of "Moonstruck" that has yet to see the light of day.
According to MTC, "From the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Doubt and the two-time Tony-nominated composer of Dreamgirls comes this crackpot musical romance. Connie of Woodmere has just married Fred of Newark, but her exes are back in the picture and not sure they approve of the union. Mary of Greenpoint climbs Frankie of Little Italy's fire escape with amorous erotic intent — but things go awry as she reaches for her dream. They are all mad and they are all sane and they are all creating Romantic Poetry. Genuine emotion and the excitement of living an ideal crisscross like a night of shooting stars."
Tickets are on sale to Dec. 14.
"It's a story about the value of poetry, the lack of it in our lives now, and what it might be to consider bringing it back," Linn-Baker told Playbill Radio's Robert Viagas. "It's a play about what is important in life, what's missing in life, what we can restore to life."
The music is eclectic, cast members told Playbill Radio. Italian opera, rhumba and a vaudeville sound all seep into the score.
Krieger said, "I like so many different kinds of music. I love Indian music. Obviously because of my previous musicals I am very adoring of African-American music. I listen to opera, mostly, at home — Italian opera, French opera, German… I'm an eclectic music person. I love to hear all kinds of music, and I write different kinds of music to what the lyric and the story are asking for and the characters involved. I am kind of a spontaneous character writer. That's what I like to do most. But for group numbers, it's the character of the story that's happening at that moment that I'm aiming for."
Shanley directed and adapted Doubt for the silver screen. It's due in movie theatres in December. The began at MTC and moved to Broadway, and spawned a national tour. It's a staple of regional theatres now. Shanley's plays also include Defiance, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Italian American Reconciliation, Dirty Story, Where's My Money?, Sailor's Song, Four Dogs and a Bone, Psychopathia Sexualis and more. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for "Moonstruck."
During a break in rehearsals, Shanley said, " I started as a poet and only went in playwriting after a few years of being a poet. I have many, many wellsprings in that area, from William Butler Yeats to Walt Whitman to Keats to Byron to Shelley to Lorca, some of the playwrights-slash-poets. John Millington Synge, who I would sort of put in that category, with a touch of anthropology as well. It's a valuable part of life. I think one of the reasons I switched from poetry to playwriting was I basically felt that I would be heard if I was writing plays, in the way that I wanted to be heard. As a poet, the best place for poetry was the stage."
The Romantic Poetry creative team includes Laura Bauer (costume design), Donald Holder (lighting design), Brian Ronan (sound design), August Eriksmoen (orchestrations), Howard Joines (music coordinator) and David Caparelliotis (casting).
City Center is located at 131 West 55th Street. For ticket information call (212) 581-1212 or visit www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com.
Visit playbillradio.com to hear interviews with the creators of Romantic Poetry.