Curt Hansen, Pierce Cravens, Matt McGrath Test Warren Leight-Todd Almond Musical, A Separate Peace

By Kenneth Jones
July 29, 2012

A Separate Peace, the new musical by Warren Leight and Todd Almond, tracing the coming-of-age story of prep-school buddies, gets its first public presentation July 29 as part of the Vassar & New York Stage and Film Powerhouse Theater season in Poughkeepsie, NY. Stafford Arima (Carrie, Altar Boyz) directs.



The 5 PM reading marks the first time the creative team will hear the material in front of a crowd. Leight (Side Man, Leap of Faith) is the librettist; Almond (Girlfriend, On the Levee) penned music and lyrics. They draw on the 1959 novel by John Knowles. The story is set in the early 1940s at an East Coast American prep school called Devon, where introverted, bookish student Gene bonds with outgoing, athletic Finny, leading to a tragic end. The book has been adapted for films twice (a 1972 feature and a 2004 TV movie).

The novel, told in flashback from an older Gene's perspective, is concerned with darker aspects of the human experience: envy, violence, competition.

The NYSF reading has musical direction by J. Oconer Navarro. The cast includes Jessica Barr, Richard Cerato, Pierce Cravens (Broadway's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Ragtime, Beauty and the Beast) as Gene, Curt Hansen (Broadway's Next to Normal, Hairspray) as Finney, Brian Charles Johnson, (American Idiot, Spring Awakening), Julia Mattison, Matt McGrath (Cabaret), Gabrielle Stravelli and Christopher Wood.

Almond's work includes the musicals We Have Always Lived in the Castle, On the Levee and the adaptation of Girlfriend, based on the songs of Matthew Sweet. Leight won the Tony Award for Best Play (and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist) for his drama Side Man. He recently worked on the libretto to the musical Leap of Faith.

Arima is an Olivier Award nominee for his direction of London's first production of Ragtime and directed MCC Theater's revised revival of the rock musical Carrie. He also directed Off-Broadway's Altar Boyz.

As previously reported, Leight and Arima acquired the rights to the novel, which appears on the literature reading lists in many American high schools.

Leight and Almond first worked together in 2003 when Almond acted in a production of Leight's post-World War II play, James and Annie. Berkeley Rep premiered Almond's Girlfriend in spring 2010. Leight's credits also include being writer-producer of HBO's award-winning series "In Treatment."

Novelist Knowles, born in 1926, attended high school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, a school not unlike Devon.

As previously reported in summer 2009, Canadian-born director Arima, now a busy New York City-based director, came across the novel in 2007. He'd never read it before, but he saw the possibility of a musical. He made a phone call to his agent to discuss the possibility of getting the rights and snagging Leight as librettist. Arima said he was an admirer of Leight's Side Man, a memory play about a broken family. Private developmental presentations of the show, for the authors, preceded the Vassar reading process.

Of "A Separate Peace," Arima previously told Playbill.com, "I was drawn into the psychology and complexity of friendships — admiration and love that can turn into competitiveness, jealousy and rage. And how does forgiveness play a part in that relationship? In true friendships, all can be forgiven — this is what inspired me about 'A Separate Peace.'"

For information about the Vassar & New York Stage and Film program, call (845) 437-5599 or visit Powerhouse.Vassar.edu.