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Cast, Creative Team Selected for 'Boys' Premiere

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June 2, 2006 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University has announced the final casting and creative team for the world premiere of its second production, “The Boys Are Coming Home” (July 28-Aug. 13), at the Ethel M. Barber Theatre, 30 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston campus. The show's official opening date is Aug. 4.

Inspired by Shakespeare's comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Boys Are Coming Home” is set in an American factory town at the end of World War II and follows four young women on the home front as they adjust to the joys and challenges of postwar life.

The music and lyrics for “Boys” are by Leslie Arden, one of Canada's most prominent composer-lyricists. Arden scored a major success with her “House of Martin Guerre” produced at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The book is by Canadian playwright Berni Stapleton from an idea by Timothy French, who will be the show's choreographer. Gary Griffin, whose Broadway production of “The Color Purple” was recently nominated for 11 Tony Awards, will direct.

The “Boys” cast will feature a mix of student performers and several of Chicago's most prominent professional music theatre artists.

Recent Northwestern graduate Jarrod Zimmerman and Northwestern senior Emily Thompson will play the principal pair of lovers. Since graduating in June 2005, Zimmerman has been a regular at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire and recently appeared in “The Spitfire Grill” at Theatre Building Chicago. Thompson, who has been featured in several of Northwestern's recent productions including the Waa-Mu Show and “The Last Five Years,” appeared in AMTP's premiere production of “WAS” last fall.

Playing the willful and sparring lovebirds Ben and Bea are Northwestern sophomore Catherine Brookman and Equity guest artist James Rank. Rank, a well-known figure in Chicago music theatre and opera circles, is a Northwestern alumnus and recently starred in the critically acclaimed Drury Lane Water Tower theatre production of “Grand Hotel.” Brookman was recently seen in a benefit concert production of Andrew Lippa's “The Wild Party.” He also was featured in AMTP's sold-out concert staging of composer Eric Whitacre's opera electronica, “Paradise Lost,” that was performed last February at Northwestern's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall.

Harriet Nzinga Plumpp will play the pivotal role of Maggie. Plumpp appeared at the Goodman Theatre in Stephen Sondheim's “Bounce” and recently appeared in Frank Galati's “Loving Repeating: A Musical of Gertrude Stein,” an Absolute Theatre production presented at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. She also starred in Apple Tree Theatre's “Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin.”

Chicago theatre veteran Jonathan Weir will appear as Leo, the father, and Larry Adams has been cast as General Peters. Audiences nationwide have seen Weir as the villainous character Scar in the national touring company of Disney's “The Lion King.” Local audiences have seen him in productions at the Goodman and the Marriott Lincolnshire theatres. Adams recently appeared on Broadway in “Phantom Of The Opera” and has played a number of leading roles at the Drury Lane Oakbrook.

Book writer Berni Stapleton is regarded as one of Canada's best writers and performing artists. She is an award-winning author, an internationally produced playwright and a radio/television commentator.

Choreographer Timothy French has received Calgary's Betty Mitchell Award for outstanding choreography of “A Chorus Line” and Edmonton's Sterling Haynes Award for outstanding choreography for “The Music Man.” His production of “A Little Night Music” received Toronto's Dora Award for Best Production.

In addition to his recent Broadway production of “The Color Purple,” director Gary Griffin has received eight Joseph Jefferson Awards for directing. He is the associate artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater where he recently staged “A Flea In Her Ear.” His Chicago musical productions have been critically acclaimed. His Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of Stephen Sondheim's “Pacific Overtures” won the coveted Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical in London.

“I have been a huge Leslie Arden fan since attending an early workshop for “Martin Guerre” in the mid-1990s,” said AMTP Artistic Director Stuart Oken. “It is a thrill to premiere her newest work in collaboration with Gary Griffin and this extraordinary creative team.”

The American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) is a new initiative at Northwestern University dedicated to nourishing the vitality of American music theatre through the development and production of new musicals by music theatre's leading artists; increasing opportunities for education and training with Northwestern's theatre, dance and opera programs; and initiating a broad range of interdisciplinary research projects.

AMTP's first production was an adaptation of Geoff Ryman's novel “WAS” with book and lyrics by Barry Kleinbort, music by Joseph Thalken and direction by Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Tina Landau.

AMTP was introduced in May 2005 by Northwestern University's School of Communication, in collaboration with the School of Music, Kellogg School of Management, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School.

AMTP's ultimate goal is the establishment of a permanent Center for the American Music Theatre on Northwestern's Evanston campus. The center would expand upon the work of AMTP, as well as introduce new programs, including an annual summer festival of new musicals.

“The Boys Are Coming Home” will be performed at the Barber Theatre from July 28 through Aug. 13.

For tickets or more information call the Theatre and Interpretation Center Box Office at (847) 491-7282 or visit <www.tic.northwestern.edu>.