Panic, a new musical by Stephen Dolginoff about Orson Welles' infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, will have an industry-only invited reading April 3 in Manhattan.
The composer-lyricist-librettist has fashioned a backstage story about the 1938 Mercury Theatre radio broadcast that convinced thousands of Americans that Mars was attacking Earth. The same subject has been fodder for a TV movie and two stage projects by Anne Bogart, but this is the first time the characters in the radio studio are known to sing about the fear that was stirred in the first major case of mass-media panic.
Dolginoff, 31, is a current Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) Award nominee for his CD, "Journey to the Center of the Earth," based on the Jules Verne classic. He was commissioned to write and compose a musical Journey for Theatre For Young America. It premiered in Dolginoff's home town, Kansas City, KS, in 1996. In 1999, a new version was produced in St. Louis and a six-month Midwestern tour followed. A New York studio cast CD of Journey was nominated for this year's MAC Award for Recording of the Year.
Panic takes place in a radio studio and follows Welles' creation of the broadcast and the aftermath. Mixing a fictional romantic subplot into the book musical, Dolginoff also has real-life characters writer Howard Koch, Welles, actor manager John Houseman and others singing. The H.G. Welles sci-fi radio play within the musical will also be sung, but it's a version of the H.G. Welles source, not the copyrighted Koch radio play, Dolginoff said.
"We live in a society where we have CNN, the internet and all kinds of news, and this is about a time when there was one [free] mass outlet for news -- the radio," Dolginoff told Playbill On-Line. The project is a musical comedy about Orson Welles' quest for fame, according to the author. "The way he gets his contract for 'Citizen Kane' is through his notoriety because of this broadcast," said Dolginoff, who researched the events surrounding and the process leading to the famed broadcast.
"Welles wanted to create a really gripping hour of radio," he said. "Not understanding the impact that radio would have, he thought people would be really scared. He had no idea people would run from the radio."
The musical, in development for over a year, will be directed by Mark Harborth, with musical direction by Daniel Harris. Casting for the reading is still under way.
Director-theatremaker Anne Bogart has also developed two projects based on the famous radio show: Bogart and Darron L. West's theatricalization of the famous Orson Welles show was seen in New York City in fall 1999 and in Washington DC Feb. 8, and a separate collaboration by Bogart and playwright Naomi Iizuka, also called War of the Worlds, is being staged in the 2000 Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, KY.
Dolginoff won the Back Stage Bistro Award for Outstanding Book, Music and Lyrics for his musical. One Foot Out the Door, which played the Don't Tell Mama cabaret, followed by an engagement in Boston. Dolginoff's Most Men Are, about a family dealing with a loss, will have a staging by Capricorn 9 Productions at the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto summer 2000. It was previously produced Off-Broadway at Theatre Off Park.
A musical revue of his work, Something Bound to Begin, was produced at the American Heartland Theatre and in NYC at Don't Tell Mama. Dolginoff developed his musical, Thrill Me, in workshop with director Martin Charnin.
Dolginoff is a graduate of the NYU Dramatic Writing Program. He is repped by Ronald Gwiazda of the Rosenstone/Wender agency.
In record stores, his music is represented on CD by the cast recordings of One Foot Out the Door, Most Men Are, Thrill Me (concept album), Journey to the Center of the Earth and Something Bound to Begin, all released by Original Cast Records.
For information about the Panic reading, for industry people only, call (212) 489-7807.
-- By Kenneth Jones