Broadway's Brian Sutherland (1776, Victor/Victoria) and Diane Sutherland (She Loves Me in 1993) star in the world premiere at the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre, which has been the beneficiary of Shen's commitment to new musicals.
Opening night is Nov. 29. Performances of the two-character piece, with music, lyrics and book by Shen, play to Dec. 11 at Signature's intimate ARK Theatre.
The married Sutherlands (the 50th anniversary national tour of Guys and Dolls, the national tour of The Light in the Piazza) have been part of the work's development in recent years. Jonathan Butterell (Signature's Giant, musical staging for Broadway's Assassins, The Light in the Piazza, Nine) directs the autobiographical A Second Chance, which "fuses jazz and musical theatre stylings," according to Signature. Musical direction is by Zak Sandler.
The piece is billed this way: "A man still mourning the loss of his wife. A woman, newly divorced. Both are seated next to one another at a New York dinner party — and rediscover love when they least expect it."
The "one-act lyrical duet explores the first year's emotional journey between Dan and Jenna, who meet in mid-life, still trying to come to terms with their emotional pasts, while irresistibly drawn to finding a second chance at love and happiness. Between rehearsals, Brian Sutherland told Playbill.com, "The challenge of acting is always achieving the illusion of a first time, and it's especially true in this piece — for us as a married couple offstage to play the first meeting, attraction and courtship of two complete strangers is surprisingly tricky — but Ted's finely crafted score gives us a lovely and detailed way in. It turns out it's fun to discover it all over again."
The creative team includes Robert Brill (scenic design), Susan Hilferty (costume design), Jennifer Schriever (lighting design) and Bruce Coughlin (orchestrations).
Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, has been the recipient of major funding from The Shen Family Foundation, devoted to promoting ambitious musical theatre.
Shen said in a statement, "I am very honored to have my first show produced by Signature Theatre. I deeply admire the singular commitment by Eric Schaeffer and his colleagues to supporting the development of new musical theatre works. Through such programs as its American Musical Voices Project, Signature is providing national leadership in ensuring a vital future for American musical theatre as an enduring art form."
"Ted Shen’s first passion has always been music and that much is made very clear in this beautifully woven and intimate love story," Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer said in a statement. "In this day and age when so many people are seeking a second chance in their own lives, I think this musical will speak volumes to those who are searching for a new beginning. I could not be more pleased to have its world premiere right here at Signature."
A Second Chance was presented in concert by The Public Theater at Joe's Pub in New York in September 2010.
After a 30-year career at the investment bank, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, where he had served as Chairman of the DLJ Capital Markets Group since 1984, Ted Shen retired in 1999 to refocus his attention on his non-profit board work in education and the arts, The Shen Family Foundation, and his own composing.
The Shen Family Foundation, of which Shen and his wife, Mary Jo Shen, are co-executive directors, provides funding support for the commissioning programs at Signature Theatre and the Public Theater for new musical theater works by composers who write with exceptional originality; major productions of works by Stephen Sondheim; and the Shen Musical Theater Curriculum at Yale University.
This marks Shen's debut as a musical theatre writer. During his college years at Yale, he studied music theory and played in a jazz band, and from 2001 to 2003 he studied songwriting with Ricky Ian Gordon.
Brian Sutherland appeared in Signature's And the Curtain Rises and recent Broadway productions of The Sound of Music, 1776, Victor/Victoria, Steel Pier, Cats, Dance a Little Closer, A Change in the Heir, 110 in the Shade (NYC Opera).
Diane Sutherland was in Signature's Helen Hayes Award-winning ensemble of Sycamore Trees, plus Broadway's The Light in the Piazza, She Loves Me (Amalia-1994 revival and cast album), 1776, Three Sisters, Song and Dance, Cats (original company) and A Chorus Line.
For tickets and information, visit www.signature-theatre.org.