A revamped version of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s musical about the Roman Emperor Nero, which has been in development for several years, will be directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, the founding artistic director of the New York collective Exit, Pursued By a Bear.
Sater and Sheik have written three new songs for the Carnegie Mellon workshop that begins March 14 and will culminate in a March 19 public presentation. The Spring Awakening writers will be in Pittsburgh, PA for the workshops.
The musical has received several high profile developmental presentations in the past, including a 2008 workshop at New York Stage and Film with Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Michael Arden and Jeffrey Carsen.
“Nero was 16 when he became emperor of Rome, so there is something remarkable about doing this with young actors,” Sater told Playbill.com.
The musical and its themes, according to Sater, explore “the birth of politics as theatre. Nero was an actor. He was a singer. The scandal of Nero’s reign was that he was more interested in Greek aesthetics than he was Roman politics. All he wanted to win singing contests in Greece. Nero becomes kind of emperor of Rome as an actor and he becomes caught in the role. It’s a story about identity. How we find agency for our own identities, or do we have agency in the creation of ourselves?”
Several of Sater and Sheik’s projects, most notably Spring Awakening, have been propelled by the stories and issues that young people face, including their latest musical Alice By Heart. “Young people are the future,” Sater said. “You sit in auditions, and young actors come in and they bring the future in with them. They bring the rest of their lives and their promise.
“Those are the stories that really touch me. I was an actor in high school and college and I’m aware of what it was to not have age specific roles and material that addressed that time, which is such a formative time of life.”
Some Lovers, Sater’s musical with Burt Bacharach, was presented in concert at Lincoln Center earlier this winter; while Sheik’s latest Broadway venture, American Psycho, is set to open April 21.