Liz Callaway (Cats), Judith Blazer (Hurrah at Last, Titanic) and Emily Skinner (The Dead, Side Show) were among the stars singing the new works of Douglas Cohen and Polly Pen, recipients of the 1999 Gilman Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theatre Awards. The $25,000 cash award recognizes promising composers and lyricists creating American musical theatre.
Robert Lindsay Nassif, 1998's winner and the author of Honky Tonk Highway, Elliot Ness in Cleveland, presented the Awards to Cohen and Pen.
In his acceptance speech, Cohen compared what he does to an IMAX film he saw last year about climbing Mount Everest. "It was a good film about essentially insane people. Here were people who put their families and friends on hold, their jobs in jeopardy and their lives at risk all on the odd chance that they could scale the greatest heights known to mankind. Then I realized much to my horror that this would be the daily life of a musical theatre writer."
Pen especially thanked her mother "whose ambition that I become a classical ballet dancer naturally resulted in my writing musical comedies."
In the song presentations, Pen introduced two songs from her Night Governess, which receives its premiere spring 2000 at New Jersey's McCarter Theatre. Night Governess, based on the Louisa May Alcott thriller "Behind the Mask," follows what appears to be a pretty young governess into a wealthy, staid household, where she proceeds to turn everything and everyone to her own personal designs. The first number, "Time," is sung by the family awaiting the governess. Blazer, Skinner and Jonathan Hammond reprised their roles as governess and nearly engaged cousins from the 1998 McCarter workshop along with Mary Testa (Tartuffe, On the Town) as the household maid, Martin Moran (Titanic, Floyd Collins) as the younger brother, Theresa McCarthy (Titanic, Floyd Collins) as the teenaged daughter and Mary Stout (Jane Eyre) as the matron of the house. The second number was "The Seams," a fever dream sung between Blazer and Hammond as the latter recovers from a wound under the care of the former.
Cohen gave snippets from various upcoming musical comedy projects and one song from Glimmerglass, the James Fenimore Cooper-based musical about to have its world premiere at Connecticut's Goodspeed-on the-Chester. That number was the title song, sung by Leatherstocking's older and younger selves, Casper Roos and Jay Douglas, respectively. Both will be playing those roles in the Goodspeed production.
From the like-titled 1985 Frank Gilroy film, The Gig is the story of a group of men who live ordinary lives as dentists and car salesman until the nighttime when they are reborn as jazz musicians. Singing "Farewell Mere Existence, Hello Jazz" were P.J. Benjamin (Chicago), David Brummel, James Judy (The Scarlet Pimpernel), Michael McCormick (1776), Charles Pistone and Steve Routman.
The Big Time, with a book by Douglas Carter Beane (The Country Club, As Bees in Honey Drown), sets four eastern terrorists against a ship full of American tourists. McCormick, Adam Heller (Titanic, Merrily We Roll Along), Peter Jacobsen and Routman lamented the wickedness of "Western Ways," a catalogue of debauchery that moved from Laurel and Hardy to Glen Miller.
The final number, "I Know," from Children's Letters To God, for which Cohen is providing the lyrics, is meant to be sung by six children at the finale. Callaway sang for them instead with the song's composer, David Evans at the piano.
Cohen wrote the book, music and lyrics to No Way To Treat a Lady, based on the William Goldman novel, and The Gig, based on Frank D. Gilroy's screenplay. Lady has been produced twice Off-Broadway at the Hudson Guild and the York Theatre Company, for which it was nominated for two Outer Critics Circle Awards. Cohen's upcoming projects include the James Fenimore Cooper-based Glimmerglass set to premiere Nov. 11-Dec. 5 1999 at Goodspeed-at-Chester, and writing the music and lyrics to The Drama Dept.'s The Big Time and the lyrics for Children's Letters to God with David Evans (music) and Stuart Hample (book).
Pen is best known for the Obie-winning musical Bed and Sofa, first produced at the Vineyard Theatre. The piece garnered seven Drama Desk nominations and was recorded on the Varese Sarabande label. Her first musical, Goblin Market, was nominated for five Drama Desk Awards and received a Best Plays Special Citation for Musical Compositions and Adaptations. Other works include Songs on a Shipwrecked Sofa, A Lovely Light, Christina Alberta's Father (also an Obie winner) and The Gilded Cage. Her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's "Behind the Mask," The Night Governess, will have its debut in 2000 at New Jersey's McCarter Theatre. Pen, currently an artist-in-residence at the McCarter, is on the nominating committee for the Tony Awards.
Past recipients of Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Awards include Craig Carnelia (Is There Life After High School?), Louis Rosen, Jeffrey Lunden and Arthur Pearlman (Wings), Michael John LaChiusa (Hello Again, Marie Christine), Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori (Violet), Jason Robert Brown (Songs for a New World, Parade) and Ray Leslee (Avenue X).
-- By Christine Ehren