With a show-must-go-on spirit, The National Alliance for Musical Theatre is moving forward with its annual conference in New York City Sept. 21-24, offering glimpses of new musicals that may echo on in the years following the Sept. 11 tragedy at the World Trade Center.
The Festival of New Musicals is a performance showcase and a highlight of the NAMT conference every year. This weekend, it will take place at Off-Broadway's Douglas Fairbanks Theater and the John Houseman on West 42nd Street 6:30 PM to 9:45 PM Sept. 23 and 10:30 AM to 7:15 PM Sept. 24.
In a letter to Alliance members, made up of artistic directors, bookers, presenters and others in theatres around the world, NAMT executive director Trudi Biggs informed her colleagues that in the wake of Sept. 11, after a meeting of the NAMT executive committee and staffers, "we unanimously renewed our commitment to move forward and conduct Prelude, the Fall Conference, Festival of New Musicals and all other activities as scheduled."
About 100 NAMT members will attend the conference this weekend and Biggs told Playbill On-Line "less than a dozen" canceled. "Overwhelmingly, people have responded that they want to be in New York," Biggs told Playbill On-Line.
In her letter, she continued, "In this challenging time, we feel strongly, that by exercising our collective strength as organizations, and individuals, we certainly will feel a renewed sense of pride in our ability to continue with our way of life and support those things that we find important and meaningful." Biggs told the membership coming in from out of town: "We want to assure you that the Midtown area of Manhattan is functioning normally. A number of our members in other states have expressed concern regarding the smoke and dust here. We can assure you that — while it may look otherwise on television — the theatre district has not been affected and has not experienced problems in this regard and certainly by [Sept. 21] those concerns should be abated. We have made some changes to the scheduling of meetings that were to take place below 14th Street and would suggest that you avoid traveling in the lower parts of the city for obvious reasons."
In addition to meetings and gatherings both social and professional, the NAMT conference offers excerpts from new musicals. Presentations are not open to the general public. The showcase usually results in shows being picked up and licensed and presented in regional theatres throughout the world. The 2001 slate includes peeks at 10 musicals, sponsored by the works' lead producers who are NAMT members. The shows this year include:
• Actor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, book by David Bell, music and lyrics by Craig Carnelia: "A heartfelt story of an aged television cowboy, a popular movie star and a lawyer who gets caught in the middle."
• Great Expectations, book and lyrics by John Jakes, music by Mel Marvin: "A faithful adaptation of the powerful Dickens novel," following an August production by Goodspeed Musicals.
• I Sent a Letter to My Love, book and lyrics by Jeffrey Sweet, music by Melissa Manchester, based on the novel by Bernice Rubens: "A romantic chamber musical about a middle-aged woman who places a want to correspond" ad in the local newspaper, that her own brother answers."
• Letters From 'Nam, by Paris Barclay, based on "Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam" edited by Bernard Edelman: "Adapted from actual letters of soldiers during the war, this rock musical carries an undeniable ring of emotional truth."
• Making Tracks, concept and book by Welly Yang, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, music by Woody Pak: "The lives of six Asian American generations unfold to a contemporary rock score as dynamic as the subject matter."
• The Mystery of the Dancing Princesses, book, music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner: A family show "about a young prince who solves a mystery and wins the hand of a princess."
• Palm Beach, book by Robert Cary and Benjamin Feldman, music by David Gursky, lyrics by Robert Cary: "A musical comedy inspired by classic 1930s screwball films with a humor that is as fresh and surprising as the plot twists."
• The Screams of Kitty Genovese, libretto and story by David Simpatico, music by Will Todd: "A sung through contemporary look into the true story of the stabbing of a woman in a parking lot and the 38 neighbors who watched form their windows."
• UG, book by Jim Geoghan, music by Rick Rhodes, lyrics by Vivian Rhodes: A "theatrical spoof of cave dwellers who decided to put on a play for a rival tribe."
• When the Rains Come, book by Ann Mortifee and David Feinstein, music by Ann Mortifee and Edward Henderson, lyrics by Ann Mortifee: "Family dynamics of prejudice and forbidden love are brought to life through the stunning voices of South Africa's diverse peoples."
Biggs also expressed to NAMT members a wish to support the city where American musical theatre was fostered: "We know that everyone's heart has been touched by this tragedy. Now, more than ever, it is important that we join together as a National Alliance, in an expression of unity and resilience of the human spirit, in the City that we are all connected to and love. We have faith that you all will be with us in person or in spirit as NAMT contributes in our own way to our City's and Nation's efforts to move forward with hope, spirit and pride."
NAMT's mission "is to advance musical theatre by providing leadership and promoting artistic excellence, communication, advocacy, collaboration, financial stability, education, audience development and relevance."
The Festival of New Musicals was created in 1989 to provide members "with a forum to celebrate the new musicals that were being produced and presented around the country." In its time, the fest has introduced musical theatre producers to 115 musicals and 230 writers from around the world. More than two-thirds of the shows have gone on to subsequent productions and tours, been printed in publishers' catalogues, and recorded on cast albums. Past festival shows include Stephen Schwartz's Children of Eden, Kirsten Childs' The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, and George Stiles and Anthony Drewe's Honk!
Presentations, which are performed twice over the course of the festival, are 30 or 60 minutes in length and are conducted in accordance with Actors' Equity Staged Reading guidelines. Member theatres and industry people on the mailing list and special guests make up the audience.
Sponsors and lead producers in 2001 are American Musical Theatre of San Jose, Apt. 4A Productions, Fifth Avenue Musical Theatre Co., Goodspeed Musicals, Mill Mountain Theatre, North Shore Music Theatre, Pittsburgh CLO, Radio City Entertainment, Stage One, TheatreWorks and Village Theatre. For information about NAMT and its festival, call (212) 265-5376 or visit www.namt.net.
The National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT), founded in 1985, is the only national service organization for musical theatre. Its membership includes theatres, booking and presenting organizations, universities and independent producers. Located throughout 32 states, Canada, Finland, Spain and the United Kingdom, member companies vary substantially in size, structure, and purpose, reflecting the increasing diversity of the field, according to NAMT. "Their common bond is a shared commitment to preserve and enhance musical theatre as the art form that is America's contribution to world theatre."
— By Kenneth Jones