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American Music Theatre Project Premiers Hilarious Rock Musical

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October 16, 2006 | by Judy Moore

The world premiere of “Asphalt Beach” (Oct. 27-Nov. 12) will be the third new musical to emerge from the recently launched American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University.

The hilarious new “rock” musical is set in Asphalt Beach, N. J., home of “Our Lady of Suppressed Desire Academy for Rambunctious Young Girls,” where a rag-tag band of misfit girls struggle daily to break free from the dominating head-mistress, Sister Severia. The adversity leads them to discover that family isn't just something you inherit; it also is something you create.

“Asphalt Beach” features music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, book by T. C. Smith and Peter Spears and direction by Amanda Dehnert. The Gilman & Gonzales-Falla Theater Foundation and Louise and Thomas Middleton are the honorary producers.

Performances will be held from Oct. 27 through Nov. 12 at the Josephine Louis Theatre. The official press opening will be Nov. 3. The show will launch Northwestern's 2006-07 Mainstage theatre season this fall.

Andrew Lippa wrote the book, music and lyrics for “The Wild Party,” which won the 2000 Outer Critics Circle Award for best Off-Broadway musical and for which Lippa won the 2000 Drama Desk Award for best music. Lippa also has written “A Little Princess” (book and lyrics by Brian Crawley,” “john & jen” (book co-written by Tom Greenwald) and contributed three new songs to the 1999 Broadway revival of “You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown” (including “My New Philosophy” for Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth).

Peter Spears is a successful Los Angeles actor, writer and director who co-wrote (with T. C. Smith) and directed the Sundance Film Festival hit, “Ernest and Bertram” and has just completed his next film, “Careless,” starring Tony Shalhoub and Colin Hanks. Currently, he is in production on a new “surf noir” series for HBO he developed with David Milch (“Deadwood” and “NYPD Blue”). Spears is a 1988 graduate of Northwestern University.

T. C. Smith has written for the big screen, the small screen and most recently, the stage. His screenplay, “Slings and Arrows,” beat out more than 3,000 other screenplays to win a $25,000 Fellowship in Screenwriting from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Director Amanda Dehnert most recently spent six years as associate artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I., where she also served on the faculty of the Brown/Trinity Rep Consortium. She is the recipient of a Gielgud Fellowship and the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Director for her productions of “My Fair Lady” and “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” She joined the faculty of the Music Theatre Program this fall.

“From the moment I read the laugh-out-loud outline for 'Asphalt Beach,' I knew it would make a hilarious stage musical,” said composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa. “What I found out, however, was it was very funny AND terrifically moving. I never went to an all-girl Catholic high school (me: Jewish boy). But if I had gone to one I would have laughed and cried all the time. Hey, I do that now.”

“Andrew Lippa is one of the most exciting theatrical composer/lyricists in America,” said AMTP Artistic Director Stuart Oken. “There may not be another theatrical score as fully realized as Andrew's “The Wild Party” in the past 10 years. Having him in residence, along with Peter Spears, T. C. Smith and Amanda Dehnert, couldn't say more about the vitality of our initiative.”

“Asphalt Beach” received its first reading in April 2006 as part of TheatreWorks' new works festival.

The American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) is a new initiative at Northwestern University, under the leadership of Artistic Director Stuart Oken and Executive Director Dominic Missimi. AMTP is 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 in spring 2006 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's second production, “The Boys Are Coming Home,” features music and lyrics by Leslie Arden and a book by Berni Stapleton from an idea by Timothy French, who also is the show's choreographer. Performances were held this summer under the direction of Gary Griffin, the award-winning director of the Broadway musical “The Color Purple.”

AMTP was introduced in May 2005 by the School of Communication, in collaboration with the School of Music, Kellogg School of Management, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School. Seed funding for this initiative was provided by prominent Northwestern alumnus and respected Hollywood writer, producer and television, film and theatre director Garry K. Marshall and his wife Barbara.

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.

Season subscriptions for Northwestern's 2006-07 Mainstage theatre season as well as single or group ticket sales for “Asphalt Beach” are on sale.

Prices for a Series A or B season subscription to eight shows is $145 for the general public; $130 for seniors 65 and older and Northwestern faculty and staff; and $70 for full-time students and children. A Series C subscription to nine shows is $155 for the general public; $140 for seniors 65 and older and Northwestern faculty and staff; and $80 for full-time students and children.

Single ticket prices for “Asphalt Beach” are $25 for the general public; $22 for seniors aged 65 and older and Northwestern faculty and staff; and $10 for students and children.

For more information or to order single or group tickets by phone, call the Theatre and Interpretation Center Box Office at (847) 491-7282.

Online ticket sales for Mainstage productions also are available through TicketWeb.com by going to Northwestern's Theatre and Interpretation Center Web site at http://www.tic.northwestern.edu/tickets.html and clicking the TicketWeb icon.

Topics: Campus Life