Every year, for the past 30 years, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre hosts a festival to showcase eight exciting new musicals and additional promising writing teams to expose these works and creators to theatres and commercial producers across the country.
“The goal is to enrich the field and enrich our members’ opportunity for new work,” says executive director Betsy Militello. Industry leaders gather at New World Stages to watch 45-minute cuts of eight musicals, chosen by a committee of approximately 15, over a two-day watchfest event. This year’s festival (October 25–26), culled from 226 submissions, includes: Marco Pennette, Michael Weiner, and Alan Zachary’s 17 Again; Bekah Brunstetter’s A.D. 16; Ross Baum and Angelica Chéri’s Gun & Powder; Rob Rokicki’s Monstersongs; Troy Anthony and Sukari Jones’ The River Is Me; Daniel Goldstein and Dawn Landes’ Row; Darren Clark and Rhys Jennings’ The Wicker Husband; and Oliver Houser’s XY.
“We want [the festival] to have a diversity of themes. We want it to have a diversity of types of voices, types of music, types of stories, stages of development,” Militello explains. The mix includes shows in their rawest stages, as well as polished shows. Because NAMT answers to its 111 member theatres and their “different audiences, different missions, different tastes,” Militello and her staff “pick the people on the committee specifically so they will disagree” and choose a final lineup to appeal to a range of tastes.
Shows are chosen through a blind process and the only requirement is that the musical has “not had a first class production or been licensed,” according to Militello.
Over the past 29 years (this year marking the milestone 30th anniversary), NAMT’s Festival has given 252 musicals their start. In fact, 85 percent of the shows featured at the Festival have gone on to further life as a direct result of appearing in the two-day marathon program.
NAMT includes 160 organizational members—such as regional and non-profit theatres—and 40 individual members—such as commercial producers who will latch onto a work they see at the Festival and foster its development. And NAMT does its part to feed and extend that pipeline with initiatives outside the Festival. The National Fund for New Musicals provide grants for writers residencies, project development, and productions at member theatres. What’s more, NAMT is launching a Director Observership, where early career directors shadow a director during the run up to a Festival show. This year’s inaugural program was open to directors of color, directors with disabilities, women directors and LGBTQ directors to encourage representation.
At the end of the day, NAMT aims to “launch writers onto successful careers and shows onto being part of the musical theatre canon,” says Militello. Based on the list below, it’s been a productive 30 years.
Did you know that these shows got their start at NAMT?
(The following is a selection of the 15 shows that have appeared at past NAMT Festivals.)
The Ballad of Klook and Vinette has enjoyed a rolling U.S. premiere and will see a full production at the ZACH Theatre in Austin, Texas, next spring.
Lempicka with music by Matt Gould made a splash in its world premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival this past summer.
The Mad Ones from Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk was a hit at Off-Broadway’s 59E59 in the fall of 2017.
Othello: The Remix by The Q Brothers was named a New York Times Critics’ Pick for its Off-Broadway run at the West Side Theatre.
The Boy Who Danced on Air was produced Off-Broadway at the Abingdon Theatre Company in May 2017 and released a cast recording September 21.
Come From Away by David Hein and Irene Sankoff went on a whirlwind path of development, pre-Broadway U.S. mini-tour, and earned seven 2017 Tony nominations.
Funked Up Fairy Tales from Kirsten Childs was presented at 54 Below as a concert musical in 2016.
Nobody Loves You went on to an Off-Broadway run at Second Stage.
Southern Comfort continued on to a run at the Public Theater.
It Shoulda Been You by Barbara Anselmi and Brian Hargrove opened on Broadway in 2015 with all-star cast that included Tyne Daly, Lisa Howard, and Montego Glover, and earned three Drama Desk nominations.
Ordinary Days is about to begin a run Off-Broadway at Theatre Row beginning October 2.
The Drowsy Chaperone opened on Broadway in 2006 and earned 13 Tony nominations and five wins, including Best Book and Best Score.
Songs for a New World launched Jason Robert Brown onto the scene and was recently revived at Encores! Off-Center. The cast of that production is working on an album.
Children of Eden from Stephen Schwartz and John Caird opened in the West End in 1991 and went on to productions at Paper Mill Playhouse, one-night-only concerts, a London revival in 2016, and is one of the most frequently licensed titles from Music Theater International
Ruthless! by Melvin Laird and Joel Paley opened Off-Broadway at the Players Theatre in 1992 and won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical. It premiered in the U.K. in 2002 and came back to Off-Broadway in 2015.