Ruth Bauer on Bringing New Musical The War Dept. to the O'Neill

By Ademola Bello
01 Jul 2014

Ruth Bauer
Ruth Bauer

Playbill.com's embedded reporter Ademola Bello reports from the National Music Theater Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. 

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The War Dept., a new musical about rebuilding America after the Civil War, began workshop readings at the O’Neill National Music Theater Conference June 28.

The War Dept. features libretto, music and lyrics written by Jim Bauer, winner of the 2014 O’Neill Music Theater Conference Georgia Bogardus Holof Award. The libretto, art and video direction of The War Dept. were written by Ruth Bauer, who also collaborated with her husband Jim on the book of another musical called The Blue Flower. Melia Bensussen a recipient of an Obie award for outstanding direction, directs the workshop. 



"The American Civil War has ended, but the task of cleaning up the mess – and trying to make sense of it all – has only just begun," press notes state. "That work falls in large part to the eccentric savant Private William T. Clarke working in an obscure and mysterious division of The War Department, sorting through mountains of records housed now in Ford’s Theater, dark since Lincoln’s assassination there three years before. Clarke, fighting demons of his own, finds his strange and insular domain invaded by three visitors in the same day, each looking desperately for something precious lost in the war. Unfortunately, Clarke may be the only person who can help them, and the war may not be over yet."

The music director of The War Dept. readings is Dominick Ammendum, who has for the past seven years served as associate music supervisor for the long-running Broadway musical Wicked.

Bauer spoke with Playbill.com to share her insights on musical theatre, The War Dept. and her collaboration with her husband Jim.

What drew you to musical theatre? 
Ruth Bauer: I love the way music can provide an inviting entry into a story for an audience and can open up storytelling possibilities.

Can you mention your musical theatre influences?
RB: Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris made a big impression on me when I was a teenager. I was also fascinated with the musical film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," which is completely strange and surreal.

Can you discuss the process of musicalizing either a play, short story, novel or non-fiction book? 
RB
: The process of writing The War Dept. is very organic and moves between the music and lyrics (Jim’s responsibility), story, and visuals; and we are always considering how to use the best medium for each part of the narrative. 

Is it difficult to write the opening lines of music lyrics in musical theatre?
RB: Jim is the lyricist so I can’t answer that specific question, but figuring out the beginning of a theatrical show is very challenging.

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