SEATTLE -- It's not quite a workshop production, as it's fully staged, and produced, by American Musical Theatre Ensemble, but The January Book, a tale of 100 years worth of visitors who have passed through a quaint Maine inn, is not a huge risk or gamble either, and that's fine by its author, composer and lyricist Scott Warrender. Warrender is best known for his musical The Texas Chainsaw Manicurist and the Ring Cycle spoof Das Barbecu with composer Jim Luigs.
"The last workshop of this show (at the Village Theatre in 1996) was a little public television for my taste," he says." People know my work as kind of wild and zany, and with all the hands involved in that workshop...well, it wasn't the show I imagined it could be. A week or so before opening I saw that something wasn't right, and I wanted to make changes, but the theatre wouldn't allow it; the show was frozen on opening night, and they even invited critics to review it, which floored me. Critics at a workshop? I had to endure the misery of playing it every night, for three weeks knowing it just wasn't the show it could be."
With that debacle following on the aborted Off-Broadway run of Warrender and Jim Luigs' Das Barbecu Off-Broadway one year earlier, Warrender more or less quit show-business and took a day job. He did take an active involvement with Das Barbecu's hit mounting at A Contemporary Theatre, as well as directing his comic choir The Washingtonians through seasonal appearances (including those this coming Sunday and Monday night at 7:30 PM at Unity Church).
It was AMTE's Maureen Mershon whose zeal for The January Book, finally lured Warrender out of his semi-exile. He chortles, "Maureen kept saying, oh how does that song go? Or, I can see this or that happening while the song is being sung, and gradually, she hooked me!" Though none of the mixed cast of students and professional actors, including Mary Jo DuGaw, Jonathan Frank and Karen Skrindy, have been paid for their efforts, it has been a labor of love, as Warrender sees it. "It was a two month rehearsal process, and it gave me a lot of opportunity to lock in writing, and change things. The cast was great about wonderful about accepting changes. About half the score is new, half the book is new, the orchestrations are done. It's exciting!" He adds "I haven't seen a lot of the rehearsals, but I trust Maureen's instincts. She's wonderful."
The January Book, directed by Maureen Mershon, with musical direction by Susan Bardsley opens Mar. 5 and runs Thurs.-Sun evenings at 8 PM through Mar. 14. at North Seattle Community College, 9600 College Way N. Tickets are pay what you can. For further information call (206) 527-3661.-- By David-Edward Hughes