Saturday, June 28, 2014

Successful debut for Seattle Mainstreet Festival of New Musicals

Some of the cast of Pride and Prejudice in performance (courtesy Seattle/Mainstreet Musicals)

The week of June 18-23, a very new event pushed its new green shoots from the fertile ground of Seattle’s musical theater community and with the indomitable Billie Wildrick at the helm, Seattle’s “chapter” of the Mainstreet Festival of New Musicals became a reality.  

The idea of Mainstreet Musicals, as stated on their reflections page, is to allow draft musicals to be performed in readings all over the country to get exposure and get a chance to move forward to becoming fully produced. Launched in 2010, they evaluate musicals as submitted to them for eventual inclusion in these nationwide festivals. They choose three musicals to be produced as concert readings (the performers use scripts and music stands with a pianist and your imagination).

Thirteen localities chose to produce this year’s festival, one being Seattle. Seattle chose to do the three musicals provided, Under Fire, Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and Merton of the Movies. In addition, they spiced up the events by adding a late nite cabaret and another local draft musical focused event, Pitch Sessions.

The pitch sessions were an opportunity for three more local musical drafts to be presented to an eager audience in 20 minute segments. Three musicals from local writers were described, sung from, and given their best foot forward to win a kind of “best pitch” award. Hopefully, all three of those nascent musicals felt support from the crowds, since all of them have great bones and unlimited possibilities.

Seattle / Mainstreet Festival of New Musicals was staged at Fremont's West of Lenin Theatre and finished off the journey with a final concert featuring all-Seattle talent performing pieces written by all-Seattle composers. While they and West of Lenin suffered an ignoble robbery from what was supposed to be a secure deck, landing their meager finances in even more disarray, the events themselves went swimmingly.

The three musicals presented this year were: Under Fire, written by Barry Harman & Grant Sturiale. In the late 1970's in Central America, journalists Russell (Jeff Orton), Claire (Naomi Morgan), and Alex (Terry Edward Moore) face difficulties covering wartime. Other performers were Casey Raiha, Nick DeSantis, Morgan Pate, Michael Cimino, Danny Kam, Brian Lange, Jessica Low. Ensemble support: Cherisse Martinelli, Melissa Fleming, Dustyn Moir, Riley Neldam, David Lewis, and Justin Carrell Wright. Stage and music direction were by Mat Wright, with Brandon Peck. In addition to pianist Orlando Morales, instruments were guitar (Josh Carter), and drums (Chris Monroe).

Jane Austin's Pride & Prejudice, written by Lindsay Warren Baker & Amanda Jacobs. Jane Austin (Michele Ankrim) has succeeded in publishing Sense and Sensibility and wonders what she should try to publish next. Her sister Cassandra (Cayman Illika) convinces her to revisit an older draft that Jane isn’t sure will work. But as she revisits the characters, they help her develop the story to a deeper and more interesting work.  With John Patrick Lowrie and Ellen McClain as Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth (Olivia Hartshorn), Mary (Julia Beers), Kitty (Cherisse Martinelli), Lydia (Rachel DeShon), and Jane (Chelsea LeValley). Also, Caroline (Jenny Shotwell) and Charles Bingley (Mike Spee). Darcy (Jared Michael Brown) and Georgina Darcy (Laura Medford), with Mr. Collins (Andrew Eric Davison), George Wickham (Matt Giles), The Gardiners (Terry Edward Moore and Karen Skrinde), and David Caldwell, Justin Carrell Wright, and Dustyn Moir completing the ensemble. Directed by Billie Wildrick and music directed by Linda Dowdell.

Merton of the Movies, written by Doug Katsaros & Donald Brenner. Merton Gill (Josh Carter) arrives from hick town USA to Hollywood during the rollicking era of silent movies, determined to be a serious dramatic actor. But an ambitious starlet, Flips (Taryn Darr) and a conniving director (Allen Fitzpatrick), hoodwink Merton into unwittingly becoming the newest Comedy Box Office Sensation! Ensemble: David Caldwell, Jared Michael Brown, Nick DeSantis, Andrew Eric Davison, Vickielee Wohlbach, Kirsten Helland and Christine Riippi. Directed by Kate Jaeger with music direction by Faith Seetoo, Brandon Peck assisting.

There were a variety of tickets that could be purchased. Single tickets were available to each show, and there were also a couple of levels of subscriber tickets that allowed attendance at each full musical, and also a ticket to a Pitch Session and a late night cabaret.

There isn’t yet a guarantee that they will produce this event next year, but after they get a bit of a rest and remember how much fun it was, I am certainly hoping they will get back up and pull off an even more successful second year. The casts were full of local fantastic talent, the atmosphere was jubilant, and their model is more inclusive and audience friendly (allowing individual ticket purchase) than the wonderful Festival of New Musicals at Village Theatre, which requires attendees to buy a Village Original “membership” to attend.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as too much musical theater development in Seattle. I applaud this effort, especially the inclusion of and encouragement of local musical writers to also present their work. Let Billie and her team know that you’d like to support her in doing this again!

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