"Oz"-Flavored Musical, Was, Gets World Premiere by Ohio's Human Race Theatre Oct. 14-31

News   "Oz"-Flavored Musical, Was, Gets World Premiere by Ohio's Human Race Theatre Oct. 14-31
Was, the dark "Wizard of Oz"-themed musical that interweaves two tales — one about the inspiration for the character of Dorothy, the other about an "Oz"-obsessed actor — gets its world premiere in Ohio Oct. 14-31.
Jessica Grov
Jessica Grov Photo by Scott J. Kimmins

Human Race Theatre Company of Dayton produces the show by lyricist-librettist Barry Kleinbort and composer Joseph Thalken, who drew from the novel, "Was," by Geoff Ryman.

According to the ambitious Human Race, which is committed to contemporary plays and world premiere works, "Was interweaves two stories told a century apart — the first, in the 1870s, involving a young orphan named Dorothy Gael; the second, in the 1980s, regarding Jonathan Wood, a successful but dying actor, whose obsession with 'The Wizard of Oz' leads him to Kansas searching for proof of Dorothy's existence."

Winner of the Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Commendation Award and first developed at Lincoln Center Theater, Was "is filled with compelling characters whose interconnected journeys create a poignant and unforgettable experience."

As previously reported, the cast of Was includes James Darrah (L. Frank Baum), Jeffrey Doornbos (Jonathan Wood), Reneé Franck-Reed (Dotty), Jessica Grové (Dorothy), Scott Hunt (Wilbur Jewell), Peak Kwinarian (Henry Gulch), Katie Pees (Ensemble), Alan Souza (Ira Bernstein), Marya Spring (Ensemble), Moira Stone (Angel), Scott Stoney (Ensemble), Erin Elizabeth Ulman (Young Dorothy), Melanie Vaughan (Emma Gulch), Aaron Vega (Ensemble) and Nick Verina (Ensemble).

David Pittu directs. The musical director is Joseph Bates. Choreography is by Janet Watson, scenic design by Mark Halpin, lighting design by John Rensel, costume design by Mary Beth McLaughlin, sound design by Lindsay Jones, orchestrations by Joseph Thalken. Was, as you might imagine, is not recommended for children under the age of 13.

Peformances play The Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main Street in Dayton, OH. For tickets, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630.


Thalken's new musical Harold and Maude, with book and lyrics by Tom Jones (The Fantasticks), will have its world premiere in January 2005 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey.

According to Human Race production notes, a mutual friend introduced Barry Kleinbort and Joseph Thalken. "We found that we shared similar theatrical sensibilities," Kleinbort said. "We started looking for a project. After attending a wedding in Boston, I bought the book 'Was' for the five-hour train ride back to New York. I read it and immediately knew that Joe would want to do it, because it seemed impossible."

"I took the book to read on my plane ride to New Mexico to work on some orchestrations," said Thalken. "When I landed I was one-third of the way through the book. I got off the plane, called Barry and said, 'Let's do it!'"

In 1998, Barry Kleinbort and Joseph Thalken traveled to London to present a few songs and scenes to the book's author, Geoff Ryman. They rented a church basement and hired a few actors from the West End production of Show Boat to perform 20 minutes of material.

Impressed, Ryman gave his approval for them to proceed. Lincoln Center Theater sponsored a reading of the first act under the direction of Graciela Daniele in June 2000. A two-week workshop of the entire musical was also sponsored by Lincoln Center under the direction of Tina Landau, with musical direction by David Loud, in December 2001. Was received a 2001 Second Stage Constance Klinsky Award for excellence in the musical theatre, and its writers received a 2002 and 2003 Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation Commendation Award. In September 2003, Was was selected for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre's 15th annual Festival of New Musicals in New York, where a 45-minute cutting was presented to the musical theatre industry members from the U.S. and around the world.

Human Race executive director Kevin Moore first came across Was at NAMT. "I served on the Festival Committee that year, and had the job of reading 75 of the 190 musicals submitted for consideration. When I reached Was, I couldn't put it down. I knew that this was a show that our audiences would embrace. As soon as the Festival was over, I began to work on securing the world premiere for Dayton."

Another new musical, Green Gables, which was showcased in New York City and East Hampton, NY, will receive its professional regional theatre production this spring by The Human Race at the Victoria Theatre.

For more information about The Human Race Theatre Company visit www.humanracetheatre.org.

Jeffrey Doornbos and Moira Stone in <i>Was.</i>
Jeffrey Doornbos and Moira Stone in Was. Photo by Scott J. Kimmins
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