Where Do Original Musicals "Play" in the Bay Area New Play Landscape?
There’s no question that the Bay Area is a hotbed for presenting new plays. Interestingly, the proportion of new musicals produced in the area, seems (to me) surprisingly low. Aside from ACT's upcoming production of Tales of the City and last year's showing of American Idiot at Berkeley Rep, world premiere musicals are few and far between, particularly when it comes to smaller theatres. Recently I have become aware of two world premiere musicals in the area, which I found to be an interesting convergence in happening (if not in theme): As Always by Peter Tucker and Dogs! It's the Musical! by Rose Tobin O'Connor. After speaking with Tucker and Silver Moon Productions artistic director Nellie Cravens, I was able to learn more about each production and shed light on some of the unique challenges of producing a world premiere musical.
Currently in performances through March 27 at the Eureka Theatre, As Always (asalwaystickets.com) traces a psychological journey through love, loss, and redemption during a single night of dreams, where inner battles come to life within the timely allegory of a foreign war. “Dreams have always fascinated me," Tucker says about his inspiration for the piece. "We create a world every night that is an emotional echo chamber from our waking experiences. As both participant and observer in dreams, every image, experience, interaction and character necessarily is born from our subconscious mind. Without the filter of conscious thought while sleeping, our dreams can go places we can't. This dream world has historically been ripe for theatricality, of course, and As Always found it to be a perfect device to tell a story about these themes. Much like we interpret our dreams upon waking through the lens of our own experiences, I also wanted our symbolic and non-literal world to speak to the audience members through their own lenses. After the applause, I hope they glean from the story and music what is most relevant to them and they find their own emotional ethos."
Tucker responded to the challenges of getting a world premiere musical produced by producing the show himself. Though necessary, doing so presented its own unique challenges. "While networking in preparation for the show," he says, "I noticed that theatre companies and industry groups seem to take self-production less seriously than works produced within the established frameworks of even the smallest theatre companies. This stigma exists even though access to those frameworks is difficult. Many producers and writers have been waiting years for a reading or production of their work.”
Silver Moon Productions presents a contrasting example with the world premiere of Dogs! It’s the Musical! at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center (April 15-May 15; http://silvermoontheatre.org/). The show follows an angel who is sent to earth to learn how to be a dog. Even though the show, which was written in 2004, had an "inside track" to the producers (the author is the sister of the vice president of Silver Moon’s board of directors), the musical was a bit of a tough sell. Nellie Cravens, artistic director of the company, says “We were cautious about producing a new work, especially a musical. Nevertheless, in 2010, we had a read-through/sing-through of Dogs! in Sonoma. We were charmed and excited by its potential. One of our theatre company’s goals is to become a valued part of the Sonoma community. We are always looking for works that will draw a family audience, and at the same time provide an entertaining experience for adults. Dogs! It’s the Musical! moves us toward that goal. We think it has a future, in a variety of possible venues. Audiences of all ages are bound to appreciate songs with titles like “Smell Me and Tell Me” and “Come On and Let Me Lick Your Pants.”
Have you ever been involved in a Bay Area-based original musical?
What Bay Area original musicals have you attended? What are your favorite(s)?