Dubbed "a religious retreat for musical theatre lovers," New Tuners' Stages `98 Festival of New Musicals in Progress happens Aug. 1-2 at the Theatre Building in Chicago. This year, composer Stephen Schwartz (The Baker's Wife, Children of Eden) will be a special invited guest of the festivities. Not only will he attend the two-day showcase, he'll take part in a July 31 "Kick-off Benefit" for the festival.
New musicals are developed at the Fest in four ways: Pitches, Sit-Down Readings, Staged Readings and Skeletal Productions. With Pitches, musicals that have already been produced somewhere are boiled down to 12-minute excerpts, specifically geared towards interesting producers and regional theatres in the property. Sit-Down Readings provide "a preliminary assessment of a musical's structure. Staged Readings already start putting the piece up on its feet. Skeletal Productions, like those at CT's Eugene O'Neill Center, actually do the piece, albeit without sets, special lighting or costumes.
Among the musicals being pitched this year are Train Is Comin' by McKinley Johnson; Fat Tuesday by Elizabeth Doyle and Tim Pelton; and Hans Brinker, by Jane Boyd, Philip Seward and John Sparks.
Receiving a sit-down reading will be Cashel Byron's Profession by John Sparks, Jan Powell and Ken Stone; Love & Order by Adrian Russ and Doug Haverty; Jane's Jungle Love, or, A Little Ape Music, by Berton Averre and Rob Meurer; A Little Princess by William J. Brooke, Margaret Rose & Eric Rockwell; and Pablo by Charles Bloom.
Ducks & Lovers, by Peter Gootkind & Marni Goltsman, will get a staged reading, while skeletal productions will be received by Emma & Company by Jon Steinhagen and Judy Freed; and Camila by Lori McKelvey. Playbill On-Line spoke with one hopeful, Charles Bloom, about his musical, Pablo. "It's about the young life of Picasso, 1899-1906. Some dramatic licenses were taken, but also real events and non-fictional characters are blended in. Based on a story I helped develop with Joseph Morhaim, Pablo is about a man whose ideas were not in sync with his century, becoming a blessing and a burden for him. Also the show is about the inevitability of genius, on a philosophical level. The mental evolution of an idea that simply must happen."
Continued Bloom, "Putting together a show like this is not for the squeamish. As we speak I'm finishing the rewrite -- we were running a little long after a reading last week. But I think It does have a chance." According to Bloom's agent Bonnie Hallcom, the path of Pablo from readings to workshop to eventual production is being filmed as a documentary by Eric Norberg of Real Planet Entertainment.
Songs in the show include "Everything Is Possible in Paris," a big production number; "I Prefer to Dream," a ballad for the character Fernand Olivier; and "There're So Many Ways To Love," a duet for Max, the comic lead, and Fernand.
Over the past ten years or so, Bloom has penned more than 350 songs, many of them for cabaret performer Rohn Seykell, as well as The Tonics, and Michael Feinstein. He studied music Theory & Composition at New York University (in fact, it must be admitted, Bloom and this writer were in the same acting and directing classes) and went on to write the scores for Insomnia and Heaven Knows.
Warner Crocker serves as artistic director of New Tuners, which "fosters the ongoing development of new musicals" through workshops, small-scale productions and full-mounted premieres. For tickets ($8-$10; 2-day passes $50) and information on the fifth annual Stages `98 Festival, call (773) 327-5252.
-- By David Lefkowitz