Where are the next new American musicals coming from? From National Music Theater Network, it seems.
NMTN just kicked off its 1997 Winter/Spring series of staged readings of six new musicals on Mondays at the Theatre at Saint Peter's Church in the Citicorp Building (619 Lexington at 54th Street) in New York.
* The company put its best foot forward with About Face, a musical rendering of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing from David Arthur (book and lyrics) and Jeffrey Lodin (music). Set on a New England college campus of the 1950s, the show presented Benedick as a football coach and Beatrice as an English Lit prof. It will be repeated March 3.
* Russ Thacker did the book and lyrics, and Bert Draesel the music, for Bouncing Back, basing it on an idea by John Margulis about a contemporary market-place casualty. The second in the series will be done April 7 and 24.
* The Sweet Revenge of Louisa May, up next on April 28 and May 5, musicalizes some of the lesser-known, more sensationally inclined thrillers of Louisa May Alcott, the authoress of Little Women. Burton Cohen did the book, Stephen Hoffman did the music and Mark Campbell did the lyrics--well enough, it would appear, to receive the most recent Richard Rodgers Development Award. On May 12 and 13, the offering will be a factual saga, with music and lyrics by John Wolfson and music by Ralph Affoumado: The Pants That Won the West, subtitled The Story of Levi Strauss. Strauss started out a California Gold Rusher from Germany in 1854 and wound up heading a worldwide clothing concern.
* Another fact-based musical saga set in the previous century will be offered by Christopher McGovern on June 2 and 9: Lizzie Borden. Amy Powers assisted him on the book and lyrics.
* The final show, on June 16 and 23, is Guys, as viewed by Evan Richardson.
The single ticket price can be purchased for $15, or $90 for all six shows. John Margulis and Gideon Y. Schein are co-artistic directors of the National Music Theater Network. Its president and founding director is Timothy Jerome, a Tony-nominated performer (in Me and My Girl).
-- By Harry Haun