The board of directors of MTW voted to suspend the company’s operations after 21 years. The board hopes to restart the company at a later date, but the staff — including artistic director Thomas Cott and executive director Randy Ellen Lutterman — is being laid off, and MTW will vacate its home on Lafayette Street, which includes offices, rehearsal studios and a 65-seat theatre, by July 1.
"We are deeply saddened to make this decision," said MTW's artistic director Thomas Cott, in a statement, "but the current adverse funding climate has made it impossible for us to sustain our artistic and educational programming. We take pleasure in knowing that MTW has helped a lot of musical theatre artists, and we thank everyone who played a role in making that possible."
Of a dozen recent works developed at MTW, seven will see stages in the coming year, Cott said. Included on that list are R Shomon by Michael John LaChiusa (opening July 2004 at Williamstown Theatre Festival); It's Only Life: The Songs of John Bucchino (to be presented by Arielle Tepper at her 2004 Summer Performance Festival on New York's Theatre Row); Harold and Maude: The Musical by Tom Jones and Joseph Thalken (premiering in January 2005 at Paper Mill Playhouse).
"The hope is to regroup," Cott told Playbill On-Line. "I certainly hope there's a future. There's a real need for it. There aren't a lot of places that have the resources devoted to creating smaller or midsize musicals, as we have been doing for so long. All these new Off-Broadway theatres are opening in New York, and regional theatres with second stages would love to do new musicals, but no one is developing musicals for those places."
"New York needs a company like Musical Theatre Works," executive director Lutterman said in a statement. "Audiences are hungry for new musicals, but where will they come from? There aren’t many producers who have devoted the money, staff and time to develop new writers and new projects the way MTW has." In its time, Musical Theatre Works "has nurtured over 200 new musicals with commissions, readings and workshops," according to the suspension announcement. "Many of these shows have been produced on and off Broadway, and at theatres across America, receiving numerous honors and awards."
A recent example is the musical A Class Act, which MTW developed through its early stages and then co-produced at Manhattan Theatre Club, followed by a commercial transfer to Broadway, where it was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical. The show was subsequently produced in Japan and is appearing in regional theatres.
Musical Theatre Works also presented a variety of educational programs, including Springboard NYC (a college-to-career "boot camp" for aspiring artists), Songwriting Workshops with award-winning composers such as Adam Guettel and Andrew Lippa, and a Meet-The -Artist Series which featured over 70 distinguished guests including Joel Grey, Nicholas Hytner, Patti LuPone, Bebe Neuwirth, Donna Murphy, Audra McDonald, Terrence McNally, Mandy Patinkin, Hal Prince and Susan Stroman.
MTW's recent acclaimed special events included Bravo Bernstein!, a star-studded tribute to composer Leonard Bernstein held in November 2003, and a 20th anniversary concert presentation of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, which reunited the original Broadway cast for one night only in September 2002.
Established in 1983, MTW has been working in recent years with some of the theatre's most acclaimed younger writers and composers, including Jason Robert Brown, John Bucchino, Kirsten Childs, Zina Goldrich, Ricky Ian Gordon, Adam Guettel, Marcy Heisler, Michael John LaChiusa, Andrew Lippa and Jeanine Tesori. In addition to these writers, whose work has been heard in Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional houses, unknown composers, lyricists and librettists were part of the MTW process.
With the December 2002 arrival of new artistic director Thomas Cott, MTW had "expanded its core activities to include more emerging writers, more people of color and artists making a career transition."
"This was really a dream job for me," Cott said. "I take great pride in what was accomplished."
Musical Theatre Works' website is www.mtwnyc.org.
Famed producer-director Harold Prince said in a previous statement about the company, "Musical Theatre Works fills a void in the musical theatre world. Commercial theatre used to take care of itself, but everything costs so much, everything is so prohibitive, that new ways, new means of finding people and then encouraging them and then ultimately getting their work seen and heard had to be invented. This is one of the better inventions."
Said composer Charles Strouse, in a previous statement about MTW, "If we are going to have a vital musical theatre, writers must have a place to make their mistakes, for ours is a trial-and-error business. The only real way to know whether a musical will work is to put it up on its feet. Musical Theatre Works provides just that kind of place for many writers. I am frankly staggered by the volume of work the organization supports. It makes me very optimistic about the future of our craft."