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Music Theatre Plans Four New Musicals

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May 19, 2005 | by Judy Moore

Initial projects have been announced for the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) -- a new initiative of Northwestern University dedicated to developing and producing new musicals in cooperation with some of music theatre’s top writers, composers and directors.

The first two musicals -- “Was” and “The Boys are Coming Home” -- are scheduled for production in fall 2005 and summer 2006, respectively. Each will have a run of 10 to 14 performances on the University’s Evanston campus.

AMTP’s first production, beginning performances Oct. 28, in the Ethel M. Barber Theatre, is an adaptation of Geoff Ryman’s novel, “Was.” With book and lyrics by Barry Kleinbort and music by Joseph Thalken, “Was” interweaves the story of the real Dorothy Gael, an orphan living a difficult life with abusive relatives on a Kansas frontier settlement, and of the kindly substitute teacher who writes the story of the life she ought to have had. It so happens that the teacher is L. Frank Baum and the book he writes is “The Wizard of Oz.” Tina Landau will direct. ”Was” has been the beneficiary of a developmental workshop at Lincoln Center Theatre in New York and an earlier version at the Human Race Theatre in Dayton, Ohio. The Shen Family Foundation, and Barbara Whitman and David Carlyon are the honorary producers of this production.

Barry Kleinbort has received the Edward Kleban and two Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla commendations for his lyrics. Composer Joseph Thalken recently premiered his new musical “Harold and Maude” (book and lyrics by Tom Jones) at the Papermill Playhouse. Tina Landau is a Steppenwolf ensemble member and most recently directed “The Cherry Orchard” and the acclaimed revival of “The Time of Your Life.”

Beginning performances July 21, 2006, at Cahn Auditorium, will be “The Boys Are Coming Home,” a new musical loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” The book is by Berni Stapleton, inspired by an idea from Timothy French, and features music and lyrics by Leslie Arden. “The Boys are Coming Home” explores the new order of male-female relationships that came into being when our soldiers returned from World War II. “Boys” was initially commissioned by the National Arts Center of Canada and had its first reading there. A director will soon be named. The honorary producers for the “Boys” are the Chicago law firm of Gardner, Carton and Douglas, and William Donnell.

Leslie Arden is a multi-award winning book writer and lyricist whose work “House of Martin Guerre” had an acclaimed run at the Goodman Theatre in the late 1990s. Berni Stapleton is one of Canada’s leading writers and performance artists.

The performance dates for two additional stage projects in development -- “The Pearl” and “States of Independence” -- will be announced within the next six months.

“The Pearl,” with book and lyrics by Arthur Perlman and music by Louis Rosen, is an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. It tells the tale of Kino, a Mexican pearl diver, and his wife, Juana. When their young son is stung by a scorpion, Kino sets out in search of a pearl to pay the town doctor, who has turned them away because they have no money. He finds a pearl of such size and luster that it becomes the envy of all who see it. The pearl, which seems to hold such promise to improve their lives, instead brings evil and tragedy. Doug Hughes will direct the “Pearl.” The Gilman & Gonzales-Falla Foundation is honorary producer of “The Pearl.”

Arthur Perlman is the book writer and lyricist of the award winning “Wings” and “Another Midsummer Night,” both produced at the Goodman Theatre under the direction of Michael Maggio. Louis Rosen is a 2005 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship recipient. His musical “Book of the Night” was produced at the Goodman under the direction of Robert Falls. Doug Hughes received a 2004 Tony nomination for his direction of Byrony Lavery’s “Frozen” and is a 2005 Tony nominee for his direction of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “Doubt.”

“States of Independence” is an original musical with book, lyrics and direction by Tina Landau and music by Ricky Ian Gordon. History and fantasy collide in this story of a contemporary college student who travels from her 21st century world of political detachment into the heat of the American Revolution. Meeting an array of vibrant, and mostly forgotten heroes, the student discovers what it means to live in the world with personal conviction and political passion.

“States” has had previous development at The Prince Music Theatre, the Sundance Institute and Wright State University. Honorary producer for “States” is The Shen Family Foundation.

Ricky Ian Gordon’s most recent work for the theatre includes “My Life with Albertine,” written and directed by Richard Nelson, and “Dream True,” written and directed by Tina Landau.

In addition to developing and producing new musicals with the field’s leading artists, AMTP will also increase opportunities for education and training within Northwestern’s theatre, dance and opera programs, and initiate a series of interdisciplinary research projects. AMTP’s ultimate goal is the establishment of a permanent center for the American Music Theatre on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

For more information, visit the AMTP Web site at www.amtp.northwestern.edu.

Topics: University