Friday, August 01, 2014

Next Week: 2014 Village Originals’ Festival of New Musicals

The 2013 developmental production of Watt?!? (starring Hugh Hastings - front) during Festival of New Musicals (photo by Sam Freeman)
The annual musical development party is almost here. Village Theatre’s robust Festival of New Musicals is a well-established, nationally and internationally known, incubator of musicals, many of which move on to more development. Often, one of the festival’s musicals makes it to Village’s next Main Stage season. Once in a while, excitingly, one makes it to Broadway! Two were next to normal and Million Dollar Quartet. That hope fuels everyone’s ambitions.

The format, now, is five draft musical “readings” (unmemorized, but rehearsed, with music stands and zero to rudimentary costuming) and one musical that gets a “developmental” production, with full staging and memorization, though only a two weekend run.

The developmental production this year had its debut last summer as a reading: The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes is created by book and lyrics writer Christopher Dimond and composer Michael Kooman. This is a delightful story that will tickle the funnybone of musical theater lovers, with some inside jokes. Why? Well, the press release says, “Howard Barnes is a perfectly average American guy; he likes baseball and grilling things. That is, until he wakes up to discover that his life has become a musical.” It’s actually not so fun to have your life be a musical and Howard has to go on a quest to find the person who knows how to escape from Musical Land.

Those who attended the reading last year may feel excited to see what kinds of refinements have taken place over the last year the writers have worked to fix issues they were concerned about. A talented list of theater professionals is on hand to work on it. The director is Brandon Ivie and cast includes Erik Gratton (Howard Barnes), Michele Ankrim (Maggie), Jeff Steitzer (Von Schwartzenheim), Billie Wildrick (Grace) and ensemble members Danny Kam, Brian Lange, Matt Wolfe, Nick Desantis, Bhama Roget, Heather McQuarrie, Krista Curry and Morgan Pate.

Brandon Ivie reports to me, “Since the reading at Village it has been compressed into one act and a character has been eliminated.” Well, that’s a pretty big change!

Brandon says, “We'll be discovering a lot about the staging as we get into rehearsals, but it will definitely be fun because the whole cast plays a ton of different characters so finding creative and theatrical ways to play with that aspect will be a blast. There're also a lot of homages to classic musicals, so finding fun ways to incorporate little nods to those will be fun.

“A reading (the other five musicals) gets 29 hours of rehearsal which goes by in anywhere between 4-7 days. We (the developmental production) get about 2.5 weeks to stage it and 3 or 4 days of tech to put it up. It’s developmental, so its fully produced but very bare bones.

“Kooman and Dimond will be around from first rehearsal until the closing of the show. We get a day or two in between the first and second weekend to make adjustments so they'll definitely be around a lot. I know they're really excited to do work on the show.

“The show has a really broad appeal, I think. Musical theater lovers will love it because it’s really a big love letter to musicals. But besides that, it’s a comedy and has the context of a fish out of water that everyone understands and can connect with. And it’s family friendly. There's a little bit of adult language and some playful violence, but it’s not Sweeney Todd or anything.”

There are five other musical readings shown once each from Friday, August 8 through Sunday, August 10. They are:

Kingdom, Book & Lyrics by Aaron Jafferis, Music by Ian Williams
Two young friends find meaning and purpose in their local Hispanic street gang. A sudden attack ignites a bitter internal battle between ideals and survival. Poetic hip hop/rock/Latin score.

My Heart Is the Drum, Book by Jennie Redling, Music & Concept by Phillip Palmer, Lyrics by Stacey Luftig
A passionate storyteller runs away from her small village in Ghana to pursue a college education and to escape an arranged marriage. She and her tribe must confront an intimidating and often dangerous outside world full of spirits, protesters, and the shady merchants of “pretty things.”

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, based on a short story by Oscar Wilde, Book by Kirby Ward and Beverly Ward, Music & Lyrics by Beverly Ward
According to a mysterious palm reader’s predictions, love will prevail for a young couple under one condition: the groom must become a murderer. Full of colorful characters and toe-tapping numbers, this will have you guessing what could possibly be “waiting ‘round the bend.”

The Single Girls Guide, Book by Gordon Greenberg, Music & Lyrics by Tommy Newman
In the swinging ‘60s, a spirited secretary-turned-advice-columnist sets out to prove that women can be so much more than perfect little housewives. A driving, pop-rock-fueled musical based on Jane Austin’s Emma, a bit of “advice” goes terribly awry.

A Proper Place, based on the J.M. Barrie play “The Admirable Crichton,” Book by Leslie Becker & Curtis Rhodes, Lyrics by Leslie Becker, Music by Curtis Rhodes, Additional Lyrics by Curtis Rhodes
A proper British family is stranded on a desert island, but they are woefully unprepared. Their butler is the only one with any sort of survival skills and the family must learn to overcome prejudices in order to stay alive.

The readings require a membership in Village Originals (go to and click on the VO or Village Originals link) which gives you year-round access to other developmental efforts. Howard Barnes tickets can be purchased individually for the two weekends. See you there!

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