Signature in D.C. Receives $1 Million Grant, Creating New Musicals Project

News   Signature in D.C. Receives $1 Million Grant, Creating New Musicals Project
Artistic director Eric Schaeffer announced that Signature Theatre of Arlington, VA, is the recipient of a million dollar grant from The Shen Family Foundation.

The ultimate result from the gift? Three new American musicals to be produced in the coming seasons.

Using the grant, Signature will launch The American Musical Voices Project, an unprecedented two-prong program of the Signature Theatre consisting of Musical Theatre Composer Grants and Musical Theatre Leadership Awards.

The announcement was made April 27.

"In recognition of The Shen Family Foundation's generosity, the Project and its constituent programs will be named for the Foundation," according to Signature.

The Musical Theatre Composer Grants will be awarded to Ricky Ian Gordon, Michael John LaChiusa and Joseph Thalken. Each composer will receive a grant in the amount of $25,000 a year for four years. The program will also underwrite the workshopping and presenting of the composers' new musicals by Signature Theatre over the course of the next four theatre seasons.

Signature will premiere a full production of one of these new musicals in each year beginning with the 2007-08 season. Eric Schaeffer will oversee and direct all three new productions.

The Musical Theatre Leadership Awards portion of the project will recognize four individuals for their extraordinary influence on and contribution to the advancement of new musical theatre. The recipients will be orchestrator Bruce Coughlin, composer Adam Guettel, singer-actress Audra McDonald, and director-musical director-orchestrator Ted Sperling.

Each Leadership Award is presented in conjunction with a one-time grant in the amount of $25,000 to support the artist's continued contributions to musical theatre.

"The Shen Family Foundation, which is committed to supporting and encouraging excellence, originality and high aspiration in musical theatre music-writing, believes Signature Theatre is the ideal home for this unique project," said Theodore P. Shen, chairman of the Foundation. "Only an organization like Signature, which has established itself as a leading force in the country in revitalizing musical theatre through its commitment to and artistic success in reinventing musical classics and developing new works, could undertake such a bold and exemplary initiative to commission and produce three new musicals from scratch. And Signature's new building, with its two flexible black box spaces designed with outstanding acoustics for musical theatre together with its three rehearsal rooms, provides the perfect venue for developing the commissioned works from start to finish."

Included in the million dollar grant is $250,000 designated to Signature Theatre's capital campaign to support the new theatre complex in the Village at Shirlington and to nurture Signature's artistic and organizational expansion. In recognition of this gift, the large rehearsal room in the new building will be named in honor of The Shen Family Foundation.

The presentation of The American Musical Voices Project composer grants and Leadership Awards will take place May 15 at a cocktail reception to be held at New World Stages in New York City. The reception, beginning at 5 PM, will also feature performances of the honored composers' work by some of the musical theatre's biggest names, including Audra McDonald, Tony nominee Kelli O'Hara (The Pajama Game, The Light in the Piazza) and Tony nominee Howard McGillin (The Phantom of the Opera).

Project Timeline

  • 2006-07 season - Signature Theatre will present a workshop of a new Michael John LaChiusa musical and a cabaret featuring the work of the three composers.
  • 2007-08 season - Signature will present a workshop of a new Joseph Thalken musical and the full production of Michael John LaChiusa's new musical.
  • 2008-09 season - Signature will present a workshop of Ricky Ian Gordon's new musical and a full production of Joseph Thalken's new musical.
  • 2009-10 season - Signature will present a full production of Ricky Ian Gordon's new musical. Ricky Ian Gordon's credits include My Life With Albertine (Playwrights Horizons, 2002 AT&T Award), Dream True (The Vineyard Theater, Richard Rodgers Production Award), The Tibetan Book Of The Dead (Houston Grand Opera and The American Music Theater Festival), Only Heaven (Encompass Opera), Stonewall/ Night Variations (En Garde Arts), States Of Independence (The American Music Theater Festival), Autumn Valentine (Opera Omaha’s 1992 Fall Festival), Morning Star (Lyric Opera of Chicago), Art Song Dance (a collaboration with choreographer Sean Curran at The Joyce Theater), Orpheus and Euridice(Lincoln Center’s New Visions Series American Songbook and Great Performers Series). Current projects include an opera of The Grapes of Wrath with Michael Korie for Minnesota and Utah, slated for a February 2007 premiere, and For My Family, for which he is also the book writer and lyricist, which has already had a developmental workshop at The Sundance Theatre Lab.

    His work can be heard on numerous cast recordings as well as Audra McDonald's "Way Back To Paradise" and "Bright Eyed Joy: The Songs Of Ricky Ian Gordon."

    Michael John LaChiusa is a composer, lyricist and writer whose credits include SEND (who are you? I love you), which recently premiered at the Houston Grand Opera as part of An Evening With Audra McDonald; Bernarda Alba (Lincoln Center Theater); See What I Wanna See (The Public Theater); The Highest Yellow (Signature Theatre); Little Fish (Second Stage); The Nutcracker (a new musical version in collaboration with Amon Miyamoto which premiered in 2002 in Tokyo); Lovers and Friends (Lyric Opera of Chicago); The Wild Party (The Public, Tony nominations for Best Musical, Book and Score), Marie Christine (LCT, Tony nominations for Best Score and Best Book of a Musical), Chronicle of a Death Foretold (LCT, Tony nominations for Best Musical and Book), The Petrified Prince (The Public); Hello Again (LCT, Drama Desk nominations for Music, Lyrics and Book) and First Lady Suite, among others.

    Emerging composer Joseph Thalken's recent world premieres were Harold and Maude: The Musical (with book and lyrics by the legendary Tom Jones based on the cult film favorite), and the musical adaptation of Geoff Ryman's celebrated novel Was, originally developed at Lincoln Center Theater. Thalken was one of the many composers who collaborated with lyricist Mark Campbell on the innovative song-cycle Songs from an Unmade Bed.

    Bruce Coughlin has created the orchestrations for many shows, including Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza (with Ted Sperling and Adam Guettel, for which they received Tony and Drama Desk Awards), and Floyd Collins (Obie Award and Drama Desk nomination). He'll orchestrate Ricky Ian Gordon's upcoming Grapes of Wrath.

    Composer Adam Guettel's work includes The Light in the Piazza (Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Music and Orchestrations); Floyd Collins (Playwrights Horizons), Lydie Breeze (New York Theatre Workshop), Love's Fire (collaboration with John Guare for The Acting Company); Saturn Returns (The Public Theater).

    Audra McDonald is a four-time Tony Award winner (for her roles in Carousel, Master Class, Ragtime and A Raisin in the Sun). Her other Broadway appearances include Lincoln Center's acclaimed revival of Henry IV and Marie Christine (Tony nomination).

    Ted Sperling recently directed Michael John LaChiusa's See What I Wanna See at The Public Theater. His work as a music director and orchestrator includes the current Broadway hits The Light in the Piazza (Tony and Drama Desk Awards with co-orchestrators Bruce Coughlin and Adam Guettel) and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as well as A Man of No Importance, A New Brain and My Favorite Year (for LCT); The Full Monty, Kiss of the Spider Woman, How to Succeed . . ., Saturn Returns and Floyd Collins.

    The Shen Family Foundation, within its broader focus on education and the arts, is committed to supporting and encouraging excellence, originality and high aspiration in musical theatre music-writing through its Musical Theatre Composers Project.

    "Inspired by the extraordinary, innovative musical theatre works of Stephen Sondheim, the Foundation has engaged with non-profit theatre organizations to help fund more than 25 projects since 2002 involving the creation, development, production and cast recordings of works by Mr. Sondheim and the next generation of innovative musical theatre composers, including Ricky Ian Gordon, Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa and Joseph Thalken." Productions for which the Foundation has provided or committed major funding include: the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration (2002); Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along Original Cast Reunion Concert (Musical Theatre Works, 2002), Assassins (Roundabout Theatre, 2004), The Frogs (Lincoln Center Theater, 2004) and Pacific Overtures (Roundabout, 2004); Symphony Space's Wall to Wall Sondheim (2005); Ricky Ian Gordon's My Life with Albertine (Playwrights Horizons, 2003), Grapes of Wrath (Minnesota Opera, 2007) and States of Independence (Northwestern University, 2008); Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza (Lincoln Center Theater, 2005); Michael John LaChiusa's R Shomon (Williamstown Theatre Festival, 2004), The Highest Yellow (Signature Theatre, 2004), See What I Wanna See (Public Theater, 2005), Bernarda Alba (Lincoln Center Theater, 2006) and Send (who are you? I love you) (Houston Grand Opera, 2006); and Joseph Thalken's Was (Human Race Theater, 2004, and Northwestern University, 2005) and Harold and Maude (Paper Mill Playhouse, 2005, and TheatreWorks, 2005).

    For more information about Signature Theatre, visit

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