Novelist Henry James Sings in New Polly Pen Musical, Embarrassments, Launching Nov. 26

News   Novelist Henry James Sings in New Polly Pen Musical, Embarrassments, Launching Nov. 26
Polly Pen and Laurence Klavan's new musical, Embarrassments, about a pivotal moment in the life of novelist Henry James, begins its world premiere run Nov. 26 at Philadelphia's Wilma Theater.

Henry Stram, a veteran of Broadway's Titanic and the 2002 revival of The Crucible, plays James and is joined by Jennie Eisenhower (Baby Case at Arden Theatre Company), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (On the Town on Broadway), Jennifer Lyon, Mary Martello (Café Puttanesca at the Arden), Ann Leslie Morrison (the original Mary from Merrily We Roll Along on Broadway, and a Drama Desk nominee for Goblin Market), James Sugg and Michael X. Martin (Les Misérables and Man of La Mancha on Broadway).

Henry Stram previously starred in the premiere of another Pen musical, Christina Alberta's Father.


Billed as "spirited" and "inventive," the show looks "at a pivotal moment in the career of legendary expatriate novelist Henry James." This is the Wilma's first commissioned play to be produced. Opening is Dec. 3, for a run through Jan. 4, 2004.

Wilma co-artistic director Blanka Zizka directs. Book is by Klavan, music is by Pen and the writers share lyric credit. "Additional text" is by Pen. Here's how the musical is described: "Audiences meet an anxious James on Opening Night of a make-or-break attempt at writing for the stage. As the novelist journeys through London's West End in 1895, he struggles with what to say at his curtain call. While James speculates what theatregoers will make of this life-altering venture, a parallel story unfolds deep in his imagination, one about a New York playwright who struggles with the sacrifices he has to make to see his vision fully realized on the stage. With many comic turns, the musical pays homage to James' brilliance as a novelist by illuminating his ability to show the powerful interior emotions hidden beneath the subtlest gestures of his fictional characters."

James' fiction includes "The Ambassadors," "The Golden Bowl," "The Turn of the Screw," "The Bostonians" and "The Wings of the Dove." The American born James (1843-1916) became a British citizen in 1915.

Embarrassments tickets range $9-$50 and are available by calling The Wilma Theater box-office at (215) 546-7824 or visiting


The musical Bed and Sofa earned two 1996 Obie Awards and seven Drama Desk nominations for Klavan and Pen. Klavan's plays have been produced by many theatres including Actors Theatre of Louisville, People's Light and Theatre Company, and Philadelphia Festival Theatre for New Plays. He was written for the USA Networks children's show, "Corduroy," and the syndicated "Adventures of Superboy." He recently wrote "Me and Jezebel" for American Movie Classics, and his novel, "The Cutting Room," will be released in February 2004.

Goblin Market, Pen's first Off-Broadway production as both composer and co-author, won her the "Best Plays" Special Citation for Musical Composition and Adaptation as well as five Drama Desk nominations. Her other works include The Night Governess, Christina Alberta's Father, Her Lightness and The Dumb Cake.

Christina Alberta's Father received a Richard Rodgers Award, an Obie, and a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Music.

Blanka Zizka's 1999 production of Bed and Sofa won two Barrymore Awards. Zizka has also directed the East Coast Premiere of Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love (five Barrymore Awards), and the Philadelphia premieres of Lillian Groag's The Magic Fire, and Chay Yew's Red. Zizka also directed the world premiere of Yellowman at the Wilma, McCarter Theatre Center, Long Wharf Theatre, ACT in Seattle, and Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club.

Designers are Christine Jones (set), Janus Stefanowicz (costumes), Russell H. Champa (lighting) and Bill Moriarty (sound). Musical director is Mary Mitchell Campbell, the respected New York musical director. Orchestrations are by Bruce Coughlin.

Andrew Simonet, the co-director of Headlong Dance Theater, choreographs.

Embarrassments was workshopped during the summer of 2002 at the Eugene O'Neill Music Theater Conference and in New York last spring. It is supported by the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative, a program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and administered by Drexel University.

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