Eight New Musicals — $85
One Opening Night Gala — $75
Meeting Charles Strouse — Priceless
This past Friday I braved the airports to fly to Theatre Building Chicago’s Stages Festival of New Musicals. As it turned out both ways the airports were quite empty and I ended up just hangin’ around airports a good deal of the day Friday and Sunday evening!
Thanks to Chiccago traffic, I made it to the hotel with barely enough time to change for the opening night gala. Thanks to the incompetence at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, I was forced to shower and change in the hotel’s workout club! Well I made it to the gala in time. It was a great party, with lots of shmoozing and lots of industry people.
After wine and nibbles we saw HALF THE SKY (conceived by Donna Trinkoff, book by Marsha Lee Sheiness, Lyrics by Luis Santeiro, June Siegel, Greer Woodward, and Music by Rick Cummins). This was a musical revue of vignettes detailing the various kinds of horrific abuses against women going on around the globe.
Saturday started at 9am for STUDIO with Book, Lyrics and Music by Charles Strouse. Wow, what a huge thrill to meet and chat with this musical theatre legend. I was able to tell him how much my daughter Myrna enjoyed playing Annie Warbucks. Too cool. And he and his wife Barbara are such nice, friendly and warm people. I loved this show. It was about a young man trying to decide whether to become a musician like his famous musician grandfather, or to become a lawyer, aquiescing to his father’s wishes. He arranges a reading of his late grandfather’s unfinished musical and through this show within a show, discovers who he is. Check out his cool website at charlesstrouse.com
Next was a 12:30pm showing of MAIN-TRAVELLED ROADS (Book and Lyrics by Dave Hudson, Music by Paul Libman). This show is based on the seminal collection of short-stories by Wisconsin writer Hamlin Galrand. First published in 1891, Main-Travelled Roads was groundbreaking in its naturalistic depiction of life and love in the (then) rugged Wisconsin Coulee Country. This piece is by the same writers who wrote DUST AND DREAMS: CELEBRATING SANDBURG (see my original post).
Next up at 3:30pm (after a quick lunch of cherry coke and fries — yikes!) was THE NERVOUS SET (Book by Jay Landesman with resisions by Tim Treanor and Lorraine Treanor, Music by Tommy Wolf with additional music by Simon Wallace, Lyrics by Fran Landesman). This is an interesting musical because it was orgiinally done in 1959! Two “beatniks”, book writer Jay Landesman and his wife, lyricist Fran Landesman, along with Jazz pianist Tommy Wolf — wrote a musical about the beat experience. Backed by a four-piece jazz combo, it became the world’ first Miles Davis-inspired jazz musical. It had characters modeled on Beat writers Kerouac and Ginsberg. It celebrated pot smoking. It had an openly gay character. It’s second act ended with an overdose. It played to sell-out houses in St. Louis and lasted 23 performances on Broadway. The book of the show has now been reworked by Tim and Lorraine Treanor, and includes the original score with four new songs written by Fran Landesman and her current writing partner, Simon Wallace. My favorite song in the show is the classic “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”.
My final show of the day was BEACH WARS (Book and Lyrics by Nan Hoffman and Laurel Haines, Music by Howard Pfeifer). Described in their flyer as a screwball musical comedy — “come spend two hours on the shores of Lake Michigan with two of the wackiest families this side of Kalamazoo…only at the beach will you meet singing chickens, an inept hit man and a famous French designer, to name a few. By the way, what do chickens have to do with panties, valuable beachfront property and murder-for-hire? Spread your towel and find out”. This one starred the wonderful Bill Zorn with whom Greg Silva and I wrote our mini-musical last year. Bill was great, and also appeared in THE NERVOUS SET!
By 9:30am, I headed home with my backside completely numb, my toes frozen like popsicles (wearing sandals in an over-air conditioned theatre all day) and a song in my heart! Day One was a blast!