Chicago's About Face Theatre and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) are co-producing and co-presenting the new work, billed as a "chamber-scale musical," which was previously developed at Northwestern University where Galati is a theatre professor. He is credited as the project's director and adapter.
About Face and the MCA have collaborated on projects for four years, and presented a developmental pre-New York run of the Pulitzer Prize-winner I Am My Own Wife in 2003. In its earlier development, Loving Repeating was called A Long Gay Book.
Performances play the Museum of Contemporary Art, a rare American visual arts organization that has a performance arm.
What does Loving Repeating focus on? "It follows the life, the loves and creative spirit of Gertrude Stein as seen through her relationship with Alice B. Toklas," Flaherty told Playbill.com. "Every word in the piece is [by] Stein. It's taken from a variety of texts…poems, speeches, letters, journal entries. All of the words are by Stein, except the very, very end of the piece where the final monologue is Alice B. Toklas' words — about the end of Gertrude Stein's life."
What does the 80-minute intermissionless show sound like, musically?
"Even though it's set in a very particular time in American history, I didn't want to tackle it like I did Ragtime where I was dealing with period sounds — because [this is] very modern in terms of the language and the construction of the piece," Flaherty explained. "Frank wanted to tap into the playfulness of the text. We've cast it quite young. I thought it would be more interesting to combine really unexpected kinds of music, so part of it is jazz, part of it is pop, there's a sequence that is a mini-opera that Gertude Stein has written to describe her early years with Alice traveling through Europe, and it's told as an opera. The title is A Lyrical Opera Made by Two, To Be Sung. There's a later section that's a Gertrude Stein vaudeville. There's a later section that really illuminates quite a long poem of Stein's about two women who are basically adventuresses, it deals with sexual experimentation. That has this sort of very European flavor of its own."
The show's orchestrations are by Flaherty.
Does the show have a commercial future? Flaherty noted that About Face and MCA's earlier collaboration was I Am My Own Wife, prior to its New York bow — and not many would have said that solo show was a sure thing for a commercial run (it won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize in 2004).
The Loving Repeating creative team also includes choreographer Liza Gennaro and music director Thomas Murray. The cast is led by Chicago veteran Cindy Gold as Gertrude Stein, Jenny Powers as Alice B. Toklas, and Christine Mild as the young Gertrude Stein, with ensemble members Zach Ford, Cristen Paige, Harriet Nzinga Plumpp, Travis Turner and Bernie Yvon.
The design team includes set designer Jack Magaw, lighting designer Chris Binder, costume designer Michelle Tesdall, sound designers Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen, and prop designer Nate Doud.
According to the producers, Loving Repeating is "an inspired new musical about the brilliant American expatriate writer Gertrude Stein and her passion for life, language, and the thrill of romantic love. …A lush, lyrical new musical [that] explores the romantic world of Gertrude Stein: her capricious love affair with language, with self-expression, and with her lifelong companion Alice B. Toklas. The musical follows Stein from her student days in the late 19th century to the height of her artistic era in Paris as one of the 'lost generation,' a term she coined referring to those who came of age between the two world wars."
Stein (1874-1946), who wrote "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose," was known for using "repetition, extreme fragmentation, and abstraction in her writings." He circle included Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, and her beloved "wife" Alice B. Toklas.
Galati's love of Stein's writing spans four decades. His work with her texts began in the 1970s, and includes such projects as Four Saints in Three Acts for Chicago Opera Theater, She Always Said, Pablo for the Goodman Theatre, and one of his first Stein projects, Stein Pieces, which was performed at the MCA in April 1975.
Galati has described Loving Repeating as "a play within a lecture," stemming from an actual lecture Stein delivered in 1934 at age 60 at the University of Chicago, "which he uses as a springboard to give the audience glimpses into her life."
"It is the perfect partnership — bringing the great Gertrude Stein's work to the MCA, where I first presented her writing 30 years ago, and creating this production with the wonderful artists of About Face," Galati said in production notes.
Opening night is Feb. 18. Tickets range $20-$40. Performances run Wednesday to Sunday through March 12, at the MCA (220 East Chicago Avenue). Performance times are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30 PM, and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 PM. Post-show discussions take place Feb. 14-17.
Tickets can be purchased at the MCA box office, at (312) 397-4010, or online at www.mcachicago.org.
Frank Galati has received nine Joseph Jefferson Awards for his work in Chicago theatre: one for acting, five for directing, and three for writing. He won two Tony Awards in 1990 for his adaptation and direction of Steppenwolf Theatre's production of The Grapes of Wrath on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1998 for directing the musical Ragtime.
Stephen Flaherty has written music for theatre, film, and the concert hall. He won the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for his music for the Broadway production of Ragtime. Flaherty was also nominated for a Grammy Award for the recordings "Songs From Ragtime" and "Ragtime: Original Broadway Cast Recording." Other Broadway composing credits include Seussical, Once On This Island (Tony nominations for Best Score and Best Musical; Olivier Award for London's Best Musical), My Favorite Year (Lincoln Center Theater) and Neil Simon's Proposals (incidental music). He is also the composer of A Man of No Importance and Dessa Rose (Lincoln Center Theater) and the musical farce Lucky Stiff. Film work includes "Anastasia" (Academy Award nominations for Best Score and Best Song; two Golden Globe nominations). "The Ahrens and Flaherty Songbook," a collection of his theatre and film songs written with lyricist Lynn Ahrens, has been published by Warner Bros. Publications.
About Face Theatre's mission is to create "exceptional, innovative, and adventurous plays to advance the national dialogue on gender and sexual identity, and to challenge and entertain audiences in Chicago, across the country, and around the world." Visit www.aboutface.org.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) "boldly interweaves exhibitions, performances, collections, and educational programs to excite, challenge, and illuminate our visitors, and to provide insight into the creative process." It is one of only a few museums in the United States to actively incorporate the performing arts into its programming.
What does the title Loving Repeating mean?
"It's the idea of theme and variation — repeating words and music in different variation," Flaherty said. "The title really reflects the show."