Something of Glory: Ahrens and Flaherty's Glorious Ones Opens

News   Something of Glory: Ahrens and Flaherty's Glorious Ones Opens
The commedia dell'arte troupe of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's The Glorious Ones takes to the stage of the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater as the new musical officially opens at Lincoln Center Nov. 5.
Marc Kudisch in The Glorious Ones.
Marc Kudisch in The Glorious Ones. Photo by Joan Marcus

Previews began Oct. 11 for the 16th century-set musical starring Tony Award nominee Marc Kudisch, Erin Davie, Natalie Venetia Belcon, John Kassir, David Patrick Kelly, Jeremy Webb and Tony Award nominee Julyana Soelistyo.

According to LCT, The Glorious Ones is the "backstage story about the lives, loves, merriment and manipulations of a troupe of bawdy, witty improvising street performers — the commedia dell'arte actors of 16th-century Italy... It tells how the troupe came to be, in all its ragged, colorful glory, and how it captured the public's adoration for so long before losing the spotlight." The troupe's life and art are — like so many art forms throughout history — "cast aside in the wake of newer artistic fashion and changing morals," according to LCT.

Based on the stock-characters of commedia dell'arte, The Glorious Ones features an ensemble cast of commedia's seven archetypal characters: The charismatic leading man (Marc Kudisch), the sly harlequin (Jeremy Webb), the quack "dottore" (John Kassir), the old miser (David Patrick Kelly), the voluptuous leading lady (Natalie Venetia Belcon), the devoted dwarf (Julyana Soelistyo) and the elegant moon woman (Erin Davie).

Graciela Daniele, who directed and choreographed the world premiere of The Glorious Ones for the Pittsburgh Public Theater, repeats her duties for the Lincoln Center staging.

The Glorious Ones, based on a novel by Francine Prose, has music by Stephen Flaherty and book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Ahrens & Flaherty are the Tony Award-winning songwriters who wrote Ragtime and Seussical. The duo has enjoyed a partnership with Lincoln Center Theater beginning with their musical My Favorite Year and continuing with productions of A Man of No Importance and Dessa Rose. Performances will continue to Jan. 6, 2008.

The creative team includes Daniel S. Ostling (scenic designer), Mara Blumenfeld (costume designer), Stephen Strawbridge (lighting designer) — all continuing their work from Pittsburgh — plus sound designer Scott Stauffer.

Orchestrations are by Michael Starobin and musical direction is by David Holcenberg.

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Tony Award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty were in residence in western Pennsylvania this spring to help shepherd their new work at PPT (it opened April 27 at the O'Reilly Theater).

Producers and other interested theatre folk booked tickets to the world premiere, which began previews at PPT — a theatre committed to new work as well as area premieres and classics — April 19. The run continued to May 20.

Of the Italian-set show, Flaherty previously told, "It is both of a time and timeless in its themes. The struggles the characters go through are the same struggles every actor and writer I know goes through today. That's what attracted me thematically."

Does the time and place prompt Flaherty to flirt with different musical flavors?

Flaherty said, "The score is highly romantic and lyrical, reaching for the stars, and at the same time (since the show is about street theatre) very earthy and bawdy. It has extreme romanticism and extremely rude humor side by side. And it's very Italian. It is probably my most 'European' score and the orchestrations by Michael Starobin are stunning."

Ahrens told, "Stephen has an uncanny knack for taking a particular period or place's 'sound' and making it theatrical and accessible and 'his.' He's done it on all our shows, which are all set in different times and places and very diverse in that regard."

The idea of actors' art being ephemeral is central to the story, reflecting the passing nature of human life. Did that speak to the writers?

"Absolutely," Flaherty said. "As much as I try and hang onto our opening night I know it will be just a memory the next day. And it will really be a special evening since it is the first time I've ever premiered a new work in my hometown of Pittsburgh. The whole neighborhood will be there! So I intend to really try and be in the moment, to savor it."

Ahrens added, "When my father passed away, it fell to me to dispose of a great deal of his work — a lifetime of photographs, some of which were professional masterpieces, but many of which were unsalvageable. It was like getting rid of a part of him that he'd left behind. The themes of this show resonate with anyone who's tried to hold onto the past or who's wanted to leave something of worth behind or who has simply wanted to be remembered when they go. It's not just actors, it's all of us. I'm only just realizing what it means to me — it comes from a very personal place."

How did the writers discover the novel?

"A friend of mine, Margaret Pine — a wonderful composer who's married to the actor Larry Pine — introduced me to the novel," Ahrens said. "It seemed to me, when I read it, that there were unbelievable moments for songs — both offstage and on — to illuminate the lives and hearts of these 'creatures of the stage.'"

What attracted Ahrens to it? "Masks, codpieces, slapsticks, sex, dirty jokes, pure silliness — who wouldn't be attracted to that sort of comic theatrical world?," she said. "And I was really ready to write a comedy again. And although the story is set in the early 1600s [the New York version is now set in the late 1500s and beyond], it spirals forward in a non-linear way to a place that makes it completely contemporary — wait and see."

Is it a "book" musical, or largely sung?

"I would say the music and lyrics drive the show," Flaherty said. "There is almost a constant flow of music."

Ahrens explained, "As Peter Stone used to say, book is structure, so I guess everything is a book musical in that sense. This show does have spoken scenes, but for the most part it's a series of self-contained songs, flowing one after another, leading us through the story and into the hearts, minds and machinations of the characters."


Ahrens and Flaherty's songs have transported audiences to a 1950s TV studio, an island in the Antilles, the Civil War South, ragtime-era Manhattan and the streets of Dublin. With their new show, they take us right to the heart of theatre history. The writers won the Best Score Tony Award for Ragtime and also penned songs for Dessa Rose (set in the Old South), A Man of No Importance (set in Dublin), My Favorite Year (set in the world of TV comedy) and Once on This Island (set on an island billed as "the jewel of the Antilles"), as well as Lucky Stiff (set in England and Monte Carlo).

Tony nominee Daniele staged and choreographed Ahrens and Flaherty's Dessa Rose at the Newhouse, and Once On This Island on Broadway, and choreographed Ragtime. A&F's My Favorite Year and A Man of No Importance were also produced by Lincoln Center Theater, at the Broadway Beaumont and Off-Broadway Newhouse, respectively.

David Patrick Kelly, John Kassir, Julyana Soelistyo, Marc Kudisch, Natalie Venetia Belcon and Erin Davie in the Lincoln Center production of <i>The Glorious Ones</i>.
David Patrick Kelly, John Kassir, Julyana Soelistyo, Marc Kudisch, Natalie Venetia Belcon and Erin Davie in the Lincoln Center production of The Glorious Ones. Photo by Joan Marcus
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