Singing a "Joisey" Song, Marriott Theatre Launches Premiere of Musical, Once Upon a Time

News   Singing a "Joisey" Song, Marriott Theatre Launches Premiere of Musical, Once Upon a Time
Switched identities, wise guys, romance and deli sandwiches are ingredients in the Marriott Theatre's world premiere production of the new musical, Once Upon a Time in New Jersey, beginning previews in suburban Chicago July 5.

The award-winning original musical by composer Stephen Weiner and Chicago-area-based librettist-lyricist Susan DiLallo is being directed by Jeff Award winner Marc Robin. Richard Carsey is music director.

In Once Upon a Time in New Jersey, set in and around a deli in 1956 New Jersey, "Sweet deli-man Vinnie loves Angie. Adorable deli-gal Angie loves Rocco. Womanizing Rocco loves Celeste. And sexy Celeste's thug of a husband loves to break legs."

Rocco makes Vinnie an offer he can't refuse — to be Rocco for a week — and Vinnie leaps at the chance to get the girl of his dreams.

Kathy Voytko, who was Eva in Hal Prince's recent Evita tour, plays Angie. Voytko also appeared in Broadway's Oklahoma! and The Frogs and was the title character in Goodspeed Musicals' recent workshop of Caraboo, Princess of Javasu. Joining her are Will Swenson as Rocco, Jim Weitzer (Broadway's Little Women) as Vinnie, Christine Sherrill as Celeste, Matt Orlando as Billy, Chicago favorite Paula Scrofano as Millie, Scott Aiello as Buddy, Norm Boucher as Tony, Michael Accardo as Ed, Cheryl Avery as Loretta, Lara Filip as Conchetta, Liz Baltes as Etta, with Cory Goodrich, Abby Mueller and Stephen Schellhardt.

Opening night is July 12. Performances continue to Sept. 10. The new American musical comedy about mixed-up identities was one of the winners of The Global Search for New Musicals in Cardiff, Wales, and went on to a presentation at the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland.

Once Upon a Time in New Jersey won the 2003 Richard Rodgers Award and the 2003 Kleban Award for DiLallo's book. The musical has been showcased at staged readings and workshops around the country.

"This is a traditional book musical, inspired by Susan's and my desire to write a story about mistaken identities — something we have always been fascinated with," composer Stephen Weiner told "We started kicking around ideas for an original show involving mistaken identities nearly 10 years ago! I guess you could say it was a mutual idea that Susan then developed and fleshed out. We were both fascinated by the iconic era of the 1950s, which has always seemed like fertile ground for a musical and the richness of musical styles and sounds of that era led us to settle on blending the romanticism of Italian music with the sounds of the great '50s crooners — many of whom were Italian and created the great pop standards of the day — Connie Francis, Dean Martin, Jerry Vale, etc. I also grew up in Central New Jersey in a largely Italian neighborhood which most certainly influenced me and made the writing of this show come pretty easy to me."

DiLallo and Weiner met years ago in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. Since New Jersey the collaborators went on to team up with lyricist Pete Mills to create the musical comedy Iron Curtain, which opened Off-Off-Broadway to solid reviews (including a nod from the New York Times). A wider future is expected for the show.

The resident Marriott Theatre has been a hit with audiences in Lincolnshire, IL, for years. It's one of the nation's most popular theatres, with 30,000 subscribers flocking to the in-the-round venue.

The Marriott is devoted to revivals and the development of new works. Rick Boynton (the previous artistic director at Marriott, now at Chicago Shakespeare Theater) first read the script for New Jersey when it was submitted to the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) Festival of New Musicals. Marriott has been involved with the project for the past two years, following readings and workshops around the nation, as well as presentations in the U.K.

"The Marriott Theatre became involved and really took the show to the next level with a progressive series of readings that really began to put the show into focus," Weiner said. "The entire creative team of Terry James, Rick Boynton, Andy Hite, and Aaron Thielen gave us invaluable guidance and constructive feedback based on these readings. They understood the heart and soul of this show and what it was about. Susan and I are ecstatic about the show's development and what we have learned through our partnership with this marvelous creative team at the Marriott. They have helped us clarify tone, character and story line relentlessly — which is exactly what you have to do in a musical."


The creative team for Once Upon a Time in New Jersey includes set designer Thomas M. Ryan, costume designer Nancy Missimi, lighting designer Diane Ferry Williams, sound designer Cecil Averett, and properties designer Gregory Isaac. Dramaturge is Rick Boynton. David Siegel is the orchestrator. Patti Garwood will conduct the Marriott Theatre orchestra.

Weiner's Off-Broadway credits include the Manhattan Theatre Club's Obie-Award winning newyorkers (lyrics by Glenn Slater), which received Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle nominations for Best Off Broadway Musical, and Hamlet Sings (lyrics by Peter Mills), produced at the Prospect Theater Company. Regional credits include the musical Spittin' Image, which premiered at the Forum Theater in New Jersey (book by Karin Kasdin, lyrics by Laura Szabo-Cohen).

Weiner's awards include the 2000 ASCAP Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award, and the ASCAP Bernice Cohen Award for his unproduced score to Lost in America. Weiner is currently working with lyricist Glenn Slater on The Hudsucker Proxy, which was recently workshopped at the New Voices Festival in Steamboat Springs, CO, as well as a new musical comedy, Iron Curtain, with Peter Mills (book & lyrics).

Susan DiLallo wrote the book and lyrics for the musical adaptation of Pinocchio. Her Off-Broadway credits include That's Life (Outer Critics Circle nominee) and This Week in the Suburbs. Her regional work includes lyrics to A Christmas Valentine and a series of musical fairy tales — The Girl in the 'Hood, If the Shoe Fits and The Luck of the Irish Frog Prince. In addition she wrote the lyrics for the theme song of Barbara Bush's radio show and for the song "If You Still Believe in Me, Save Me," for the Statue of Liberty renovation. She was recently honored with the 2003 Kleban Award for "the most promising librettist in American Musical Theatre," and the Richard Rodgers Award, for Once Upon a Time in New Jersey.

For more information, call (847) 634-0200 or visit


The Marriott Theatre leadership includes Terry James, executive producer, Andy Hite, lead associate artistic director, and Aaron Thielen, associate artistic director.

In 2007, the Village Theatre in Issaqua, WA, will present the Once Upon a Time in New Jersey.

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