Leah Maddrie, who authored Chasing Heaven, presents the story of a female African-American playwright commissioned by the estate of fictional Tin Pan Alley composer/lyricist Joshua Gerwitz to update his American folk opera, originally billed Chasin' Hebbin.
Maddrie and her collaborators Peter Dizozza (composer), along with dramaturg Trevor Weston, have also found themselves in the midst of a perfect press storm.
On Aug. 10, Tony Award-winning composer Stephen Sondheim authored a letter to the New York Times addressing his concerns about the attitude of the creative team working on a revised production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, which will debut Aug. 17 at the American Repertory Theater prior to a Broadway bow in December.
That production, with the blessing of the George/Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward estates, has brought on Tony-nominated director Diane Paulus (Hair), Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog, Book of Grace) and Pulitzer Prize nominee Diedre Murray (Running Man) to sculpt the opera into a musical for contemporary Broadway audiences.
Here's how Maddrie and her team bill Chasing Heaven: "Middle-aged African American playwright Kinshasa 'Tree' Morton, in a career and personal slump, is commissioned by the family foundation of Tin Pan Alley composer/lyricist/bookwriter Joshua Gerwitz to update his epic Negro folk opera, originally titled Chasin' Hebbin. Kinshasa has made a career of calling Gerwitz' work into question, but when the ghost of Gerwitz arrives to challenge Kinshasa's notions of authenticity, political correctness and showbiz, questions are raised that have life--and afterlife--changing results." The cast includes Christine Campbell as Kinshasa Morton, Greg Horton as cantankerous composer Joshua Gerwitz as well as Daniel Carlton and Linda Kuriloff in multiple roles.
Chasing Heaven also includes the original songs "Fascination with Dancing" and "Chasing Heaven," authored by Maddrie and Dizozza.
The work was seen in developmental stagings at LaMaMa in 2010, as well as the 2011 Harlem Renaissance Living Literature Festival.
Chasing Heaven will run Aug. 13, 14, 20, 24 and 26 at the CSV Cultural Center, located at 107 Suffolk Street between Rivington and Delancey. For tickets, visit FringeNYC.