Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Thursday, March 17, 2011

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)?

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27 Comments:

At March 18, 2011 at 10:14 AM , Blogger Mike said...

I'm surprised that TheatreWorks has been left out of this discussion. In addition to their annual New Works Festival (presenting new plays and musicals in workshop or reading format), they've demonstrated a commitment to producing new works as part of their mainstage season as well. World premiere musicals from the past few seasons include A Christmas Memory, Tinyard Hill, Daddy Long Legs, Emma, Vanities, Striking 12, Memphis, Summer of '42, and Everything's Ducky. Not all of these have been wonderful, and not all have gone on to further success (although Memphis won the Best Musical Tony last year), but there's a clear and longstanding commitment to new works that should be applauded.

 
At March 18, 2011 at 10:29 AM , Blogger Elana said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At March 18, 2011 at 10:30 AM , Blogger Elana said...

Mike- Great point! TheatreWorks has definitely taken a leadership role in the production of new musicals in our community (and, indeed, the country).

Perhaps it would be useful to make a distinction between large local theatre companies and smaller ones in this conversation. Because of the logistics of producing a musical (which historically tend to be higher budget and more technically demanding than non-musical productions), options are inherently more limited for world premiere musicals than for non-musicals and very few small theatre companies are willing/able to take the risk on a new musical.

It should, however, be noted that Cinnabar Theater and its resident company Heritage Music Theater have built a reputation on creating new musicals (and producing existing ones) by or about individuals who have shaped the American musical landscape. I expect that their narrow focus allows them to take risks on new musicals while still being true to their audience.

 
At March 18, 2011 at 10:53 AM , Blogger Ross said...

Berkeley Playhouse (at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts on College in Berkeley) will be putting up "Pride," a new musical, next month... it opens April 29 for a two-weekend run: http://www.berkeleyplayhouse.org/box-office/view-current-professional-season/

I'm part of a small group of East Bay musical writers, spun off from Play Cafe, and we'd welcome new members, especially composers seeking writers & lyricists. ross@stapleton-gray.com

 
At March 18, 2011 at 2:16 PM , Blogger jerry said...

As Ross pointed out, Berkeley Playhouse puts up a new work, by Jon Tracy and Scott DeTurk as part of our commitment to new family musicals this spring. The play was originally called "Pride" but may end up, at the end of the process, called "Born and Raised." Please email me if you, readers of the TBA blog, are interested in comp tickets to one of the 11 performances. All performances include a talk-back with a member of the artistic/creative team. The piece is best enjoyed by 11 years old and up. Opens April 29, runs for 2 weekends. jerry@berkeleyplayhouse.org

 
At March 18, 2011 at 6:16 PM , Blogger Dale Albright said...

Just to clarify, when I wrote this I was certainly thinking mostly of small theatre! When you look at the percentage of new works done by small companies that are musicals as opposed to the percentage of new works done by large companies that are musicals, that's a disparity that I think is interesting.

 
At March 19, 2011 at 1:15 AM , OpenID chasbelov said...

In 2006-2007 or perhaps -2008, Jay Kuo self-produced his musical "Insignificant Others" with a workshop at the Jon Sims Center and productions at Zeum and Pier 39.

Please note if you search for it, that the website that was associated with the musical, isomusical.com, has been allowed to lapse and has been taken over by someone else.

 
At March 19, 2011 at 9:57 AM , Blogger Ross said...

You can often use the Internet Archive to dig up old instantiations of sites that have since been turned into link farms: http://replay.waybackmachine.org/20070116014352/http://www.isomusical.com/large-index.htm

 
At March 28, 2011 at 2:00 PM , Blogger Rachel Hammel said...

San Francisco Magazine just published an article reviewing ACT's new production of Tales of the City: http://www.sanfranmag.com/story/star-turnaround

 
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