The York Theatre Company's staging of the American premiere of the Australian musical Prodigal, a contemporary musical inspired by "The Prodigal Son" Bible story, opens March 12 following a preview period of revisions.
During the Off-Broadway previews Feb. 26-March 10, York artistic director James Morgan took over the direction of the five actor show from Victoria Pero. The intermissionless show is said to be refined and trimmed since its first preview. Performances of the pop-friendly musical — with the composer accompanying on piano — continue to March 31 at Theatre at St. Peter's in Manhattan.
Penned by Aussie partners Dean Bryant (book and lyrics) and Mathew Frank (music), the show is set in Australia and focuses on gay, 18-year-old Luke (Joshua Park) and his journey of self discovery. He flees his small hometown of Eden for the thrilling unknowns of Sydney, where he meets a yearning actress (Kerry Butler) and a charming hedonist (Christian Borle) who lures him to a life of clubs, parties, sex and drugs. At home, where Luke was to join the family fishing business, the parents (Alison Fraser and David Hess) worry and then struggle to deal with a returning son who is so different.
Borle (double cast as lover and brother) appeared in Broadway's recent Jesus Christ Superstar, Butler is a veteran of Bat Boy, Alison Fraser is beloved for Romance/Romance and The Secret Garden, Hess appeared in the Annie Get Your Gun revival and Joshua Park was the title character in Broadway's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
"I'm enjoying the show tremendously," Fraser told Playbill On-Line during rehearsals. "I think it's a very special little piece. I've been immersing myself in the Australian experience — name an Aussie movie and I've probably seen it in the last three weeks. I'm kind of sick of Russell Crowe right about now and I didn't think that was possible. Prodigal's a very simple, personal story about an 18-year-old finding himself. I call it a 'coming out of age' musical. I'm the mom, and my children are these gorgeous boys named Josh Park and Christian Borle. The unbelievably sweet Kerry Butler is Maddie, a performance artist, and my husband is David Hess, and we do look a pair. The family dynamic is very warm, and I am loving the music." York artistic director James Morgan, who designed the set, assisted Victoria Pero with direction of the show late in the rehearsal process. Pero later left the project. Costumes are by Dan Lawson, lighting by Edward Pierce and musical direction by the composer.
Songs include "Picture Postcard Place," "Happy Families," "Run With the Tide," "Brand New Eyes," "When I Was a Kid," "My Boy," "Out of Myself," "Set Me Free," "Epiphany" and more.
The musical, under the title Prodigal Son, premiered to critical acclaim at Chapel Off Chapel as part of the Midsumma Festival in January 2000 in Australia, with Bryant as Luke. In March 2001 Prodigal Son was nominated for three Victorian Green Room Awards and won Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actor for its Melbourne production. The twentysomething authors, creative and life partners who attended the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, have been in residence at the York during rehearsals.
"Prodigal features a rich score that ranges from lyrical ballads to contemporary pop," Morgan said in a statement. "With two sold-out engagements, the show was a huge success in Australia and we're excited to bring it to New York audiences."
Tickets are $45. Performances are 8 PM Tuesday-Saturday, with matinees 2:30 PM Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The York Theatre at St. Peter's in the Citigroup Center is at 619 Lexington Ave. at 54th Street. For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200.
Off-Broadway's York is known for presenting new musicals, revived musicals and concert readings of musicals in an intimate setting.
— By Kenneth Jones