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World Premiere 'In the Bubble' Fourth New Musical for AMTP

May 22, 2007 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The world premiere of “In the Bubble” (July 27 to Aug. 12) will be the fourth new musical to emerge from the American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) at Northwestern University.

The new stage work is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a nostalgic vision of 1976, when Jimmy Carter was running for the White House, crocheted bikinis were all the rage, and teenagers could “get it on” without the fear of death.

“In the Bubble” features a book by Rinne Groff, music by Michael Friedman and Joe Popp and lyrics by Friedman, Groff and Popp. Direction is by Michael Greif and choreography by Luis Perez. Oskar Eustis serves as dramaturge.

Performances will be held at 8 p.m. July 27 and July 28; 2 p.m. July 29; 8 p.m. Aug. 2, Aug. 3 and Aug. 4; 2 p.m. Aug. 5; 8 p.m. Aug. 9; Aug. 10 and Aug. 11; and 2 p.m. Aug. 12, at the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive, on the University's Evanston campus.

“In the Bubble” tells the tale of Todd Fielding, a fictional character suffering from the real disease of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), which has kept him stuck behind a plastic wall and separated from human touch for the first 17 years of his life. When Todd falls in love with the wealthy and high-spirited Gina Jenner, who lives next door, he is forced to choose between his safe existence in “bubbled” captivity and a risky chance at the life he's always wanted.

AMTP's newest musical was inspired by multiple “bubble boy” sources in pop culture, including the 1976 Emmy-nominated made-for-television movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” starring John Travolta; the 1987 Paul Simon song “The Boy in the Bubble”; a 1992 “Seinfeld” television episode; and Bandeira Entertainment's 2001 screen comedy “Bubble Boy,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, (and more potently, the protests surrounding the Gyllenhaal film).

“In the Bubble” also draws on the medical history of real children who have suffered from SCID. By ruminating on these youngsters, their sickness and the families who took care of them, “In the Bubble” also explores parents who are overcome with fear that their children may be destroyed by the world around them, and children, on the verge of becoming adults, who are scared to grow up.

“Rinne Groff, Michael Friedman and Joe Popp have created a truly contemporary musical that's both highly intelligent and immensely entertaining,” said AMTP Artistic Director Stuart Oken. “And it's a pleasure to welcome back Northwestern alumnus Michael Greif, who continues to be at the hub of new work being developed across the country.”

Playwright Rinne Groff (book and lyrics) is a recipient of an Obie Award grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, Whiting Writers Award and a NYSCA Individual Artist grant.  Her recent play, “Orange Lemon Egg Canary,” is currently receiving its Chicago premiere by Uma Productions at the Chopin Theatre Studio (through May 18). Her new musical, “Saved,“ written with John Dempsey and Michael Friedman, will premiere in 2008 at Playwrights Horizons in New York City under the direction of Gary Griffin.

Composer/lyricist Michael Friedman (music and lyrics) is an artistic associate at New York Theatre Workshop, was a MacDowell fellow and is a founding associate artist of the Obie Award-winning Civilians. He is the composer/lyricist for The Civilians' (“I Am) Nobody's Lunch,” “Gone Missing” and “Canard, Canard Goose?” His music can be heard this summer in Central Park as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of “Romeo and Juliet.” His new musical, “Saved,” written with Rinne Groff and John Dempsey, will premiere in 2008 at New York City's Playwrights Horizons, under the direction of Gary Griffin.

Joe Popp (music/lyrics) is a punk rock guitarist and composer currently performing with his band The Hornrims. He has four nationally released albums, two with his eponymous band Joe Popp (“Complex Machine” and “Bruiser”), and two with dogs on ice (“pushin' rope” and “salt wound”). He has previously composed with Rinne Groff for the Clubbed Thumb production of “What Then?” He has written the book and music for two original rock musicals (“MAXWELL” and “Beelezevision”).

Michael Greif's (director) most recent works include “Grey Gardens” on Broadway and at Playwrights Horizons, Courtney Baron's “A Very Common Procedure” at MCC, and Nilo Cruz's “Beauty of the Father” at Manhattan Theatre Club, among others. His other Broadway credits include Jonathan Larson's “Rent” (Obie Award, Tony nomination) and “Never Gonna Dance.” New York Shakespeare Festival credits include: Jessica Hagedorn's “Dogeaters” (Obie Award); Jose Rivera's “Marisol Pericles,” Connie Congdon's “Casanova,” Tony Kushner's “A Bright Room Called Day”; and Sophie Treadwell's “Machinal” (Obie Award). He is currently directing the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of “Romeo and Juliet” in Central Park.

Luis Perez (choreographer) recently choreographed the Broadway revival of “Man of La Mancha” and Frank Wildhorn's “The Civil War.” He was a principal dancer with The Joffrey Ballet from 1980-1986, where he worked with Agnes DeMille, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and many other renowned choreographers. He has performed in a dozen Broadways shows including “Chicago,” “Jerome Robbins' Broadway” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” Perez is assistant professor of theatre at Roosevelt University's Theatre Conservatory, where he is in charge of musical theatre.

Oskar Eustis (dramaturge) is the artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theatre. He previously served as artistic director at Trinity Repertory Company. Eustis has been dedicated to developing new plays and working with a rich variety of artists. He commissioned Tony Kushner's “Angels in America” at the Eureka Theatre Company in San Francisco and directed its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. He directed the world premieres of Paula Vogel's “The Long Christmas Ride Home” (Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Production) and Rinne Groff's “The Ruby Sunrise.”

The honorary producers of “In the Bubble” are Barbara Whitman and David Carlyon and Mr. and Mrs. John Shields II.

The American Music Theatre Project (AMTP) is a Northwestern University initiative 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. Providing seed funding for this initiative is prominent Northwestern alumnus and respected Hollywood writer, producer and television, film and theatre director Garry K. Marshall and his wife Barbara.

AMTP's production history includes:

• An adaptation of Geoff Ryman's novel “WAS” (fall 2005) with book and lyrics by Barry Kleinbort, music by Joseph Thalken and direction by Tina Landau.

• “The Boys are Coming Home” (summer 2006) with music and lyrics by Leslie Arden, book by Berni Stapleton from an idea by Timothy French and direction by Gary Griffin. (A new production of “Boys” will be presented as part of Chicago's Goodman Theatre 2007-08 season.)

• “Asphalt Beach (fall 2006) with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, book by T.C. Smith and Peter Spears and direction by Amanda Dehnert.

For more information about AMTP and the “Bubble” artists, visit <http://www.amtp.northwestern.edu/bubble/html>.

Single tickets for “In the Bubble” range from $10 to $30. A summer 2007 music theatre festival season subscription also is available. For more information or to order a summer season subscription or single or group tickets by phone, call the Theatre and Interpretation Center Box Office at (847) 491-7282 or visit <http://www.tic.northwestern.edu/tickets.html> and clicking the TicketWeb icon.