After premiereing their first collaborative piece together, Ten Yearts Apart, in the spring, Matthew Bennett and Sean McCourt are reading their second play with music, Badger Country Nov. 29 at Manhattan Theatre Club.
The title refers to the rabidity of Jordan, Wisconsin's townpeople for their beloved University of Wisconsin football team, the Badgers. As Amanda Gremyl, a rising alternative rock singer, looks back on her life, she remembers the 10-year-old child she was and how confusion about her own worth has brought her back home to "Badger Country."
Bennett says the Badgers are more than just football to the people of Jordan. "It is an active pastime to watch them on Saturdays and [the Badgers] serve as a metaphor for what is happening in their lives."
Bennett and McCourt have fashioned six songs for the show, mostly penned by McCourt. These songs are set around the story, in a conceit that places Amanda in an alternative rock concert. As she sings songs from her oevure, the audience is told the stories from her past that created them.
Bennett described his songwriting process with McCourt thusly: "The only thing mine about those are the titles. I would call him up and say, 'I need a song called 'She's Just a Girl' to open the show.' He complied."
Two songs are not solely McCourt's, "Fighting For The Cream," which was written in total by Bennett and "I Have Seen Roses" with music by McCourt and lyrics by Bennett.
As the grown-up Amanda, Lori Fischer will sing most of the music. Fischer is best known in New York for her work in Cowgirls, a show she has played elsewhere, as well as several regional productions of the Tesori-Crawley musical Violet. Also in the cast are newcomer Ariel Johnson as Young Amanda, Susannah Berryman as Aunt Jayne, Scott Sowers (A Few Good Men) as Uncle Dan, Jay Douglas (Glimmerglass) as Cousin Bert Roth, Cynthia Vance ("One Life To Live") as Cousin Nance Roth, George Riddle (The Corn Is Green) as the ancient neighbor, Bud, and real-life voice over actor Jack Naughton as the radio/TV announcer.
The reading of Badger Country is by invitation. Manhattan Theatre Club's Studio space is located 311 West 43rd Street.
According to Bennett, Ten Years Apart has been optioned by Kevin McCollum (Rent, Damn Yankees) who will produce it first at the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a commercial run in New York City during the fall of 2000. The play with music made its world premiere April 6-May 2, 1999 at Cinncinati's Playhouse in the Park.
In Ten Years Apart, two musician brothers, Orville (Bennett) and Parker (McCourt) Anderson, are brought back together by the death of their father. Although they have been separated most of their lives, they discover their adult lives have run strangely parallel to one another with one uniting feature: music.
Bennett recently won raves as Friar Laurence in Terrence Mann Romeo and Juliet at MN's Ordway. His New York credits include Thomas Andrews in Titanic, Floyd Collins, Honky Tonk Highway, and the 1991 cabaret piece Crooners Anonymous which he co-wrote and directed. McCourt, who made his Broadway debut as Joseph Boxhall/Jay Yates in Titanic, is currently performing in It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues at the Ambassador Theatre. He has performed Off-Broadway in Woody Guthrie's American Song, Honky Tonk Highway and Last Romeo, his own solo musical piece.
-- By Christine Ehren