The busiest winter weekend at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam starts this Friday, January 18, as the 8th Annual Goodspeed Festival of New Artists helps support one of the theater’s essential missions: the advancement of the American musical.
From Friday through Sunday, January 20, this three-day festival will offer staged readings of three new musicals, as well as several seminars, guest speakers, film screenings and social gatherings for theater professionals and fans of musical theater. The weekend culminates Goodspeed’s New Artists’ Program in which the creators came together to conduct two weeks of intensive work on their scripts and to work with young artists from the Hartt School in Hartford and the Boston Conservatory in Massachusetts to see their musicals come to life.
According to Donna Lynn Cooper Hilton, Line Producer at Goodspeed Musicals, the Festival originated as a natural outgrowth of Goodspeed’s long commitment to the development of new musicals, as exemplified in the presentation of such shows as “Annie” and “Shenandoah.” She explains that the program has been successful on multiple levels. “The Festival gives artists an intensive opportunity to work together in a conducive and supportive setting that lets them put on their work, while giving musical theater students some valuable experience working with theater professionals to get a new work up on its feet.”
Since the readings are open to the public, Hilton explains that the Festival also enables Goodspeed’s community audience to discover three new musicals each year and see some of the rising talent looking to make careers on the musical stage. “Goodspeed has always been at the center of the development process,” Hilton adds, citing the three fully-staged workshops of musicals-in-development that are offered every season at the Norma Terris Theater in Chester. “This Festival is yet another way for Goodspeed to nurture and support this process.
For example, the musical “Band Geeks,” which played at the Chester theater and has now been licensed for performances all over the country, saw its first staged reading at a Festival several years ago. “It’s now being performed in schools and other theaters across the country,” she reports. Similarly, the creators of one of last year’s musicals, “Harmony, Texas,” were able to make changes and enhancements to their script based upon what they learned during their Goodspeed experience for a subsequent production at the Diversionary Theater Company in California.
Another Festival-developed show, “Nobody Loves You,” a musical satirizing the world of reality television, was part of the regular season last Spring at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater. According to Playbill.com, this Itamar Moses-Gaby Alter collaboration will be having a reading in New York next month, before an invited audience of theater professionals and producers. Alter, incidentally, is also one of the composers of “Band Geeks.”
According to “Nobody Loves You” book writer and lyricist Moses, the noted playwright of “Bach at Leipzig” and “The Four of Us,” the experience at the Festival “was great. We were at a point in the development of the show where we had gone as far as we could and needed this amount of time at Goodspeed to fully understand what we had.” Working with a director and a talented cast of actor-singers, he indicated, gave them the opportunity to experience the show in a different way.
“I loved working with the cast,” he recalled. “The students really picked up on and got the show right away. They understood the spirit of the show. Although they aren’t professionals, they were so excited to be involved and so enthusiastic. They weren’t jaded as many long-time theater professionals can be.” Moses reports that he ended up writing two new songs for the show while at Goodspeed, one of which remains in the current incarnation of the show.
This year’s lineup of musical readings kicks off Friday evening, January 18, at the Goodspeed Opera House with “Nine Wives,” by Douglas J. Cohen, composer, and Dan Elish, book and lyrics. Based on Elish’s novel of the same title, this is the story of a bachelor searching frantically for a woman to take as his date to the wedding of his ex-fiancee in order to prove that he has been able to move on.
On Saturday evening, the Opera House stage will offer “Come From Away,” by David Hein and Irene Sankoff, a funny, heart-felt musical inspired by the true story of the small Canadian town impacted by the arrival of 38 passenger planes from around the world that were diverted to its airport following September 11, 2001.
On Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., a staged reading of “Princesses,” will be offered on the East Haddam stage. With music and lyrics by Emma Lively and Tyler Beattie and a book by Lively, Beattie and Janece Shaffer, this musical follows four outrageous princesses who escape from behind their castle walls and shock the fairy tale world with their unconventional ways. It’s based on the Brothers Grimm story, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and features a rock score.
Interspersed between these readings are nightly cabarets at the Gelston House featuring new songs by new artists, a public symposium on the 50-year history of Goodspeed Musicals featuring a number of creative figures responsible for many of the theater’s successes, seminars on Fight Direction and Casting Musicals, a preview of one of this summer’s Norma Terris productions, an interview with noted lighting designer Richard Pilbrow, an opportunity to meet the writers of the musicals featured, as well as special dinner and luncheons.
The Musical Theater Symposium on Goodspeed’s history will be held Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. at the Opera House and is free and open to the public.
For information on the exact schedule and prices for the weekend, visit the Goodspeed Musicals website at www.goodspeed.org.