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Village Theatre premieres Chasing Nicolette
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Village Theatre premieres Chasing Nicolette

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Chasing Nicolette
September 16-October 25
Village Theatre, Issaquah
October 30-november 22
Everett Civic Auditorium


This is the story of a Christian count and a Muslim princess who fall in love. That's pretty bad news even today, but the story of Chasing Nicolette is actually set in 1224. This new musical, having its worldwide debut at the Village Theatre in Issaquah, is based on a French medieval romance called Aucassin and Nicolette.

Did you know that before the Middle Ages, there was really no such thing as romance? Marriage was functionally only to secure property and inheritances. Women had no say about whom they married and grew up knowing that their futures were completely out of their own hands. When Hamlet tells Ophelia to "get thee to a nunnery," he's giving Ophelia the only other choice she has: to be married or a nun. So, the Middle Ages brought in a new concept of falling in love.

Chasing Nicolette is written by composer David Friedman and book/lyric writer Peter Kellogg. They have the amazing good fortune of having two mainstage productions at Issaquah's Village Theatre in the same six months. Last March, their musical, Stunt Girl, about the intrepid Nellie Bly, made its world premiere. That historical musical focused on Bly's accomplishments, like circling the globe in 72 days and becoming CEO of a major U.S. corporation, among other "stunts" (things women weren't supposed to do back then). Stunt Girl garnered good reviews and included smart, funny songs.

Friedman and Kellogg had such a good time with their Village co-workers that they are working with many of the same people this go-round. Music director RJ Tancioco, in particular, is a favorite of the duo. RJ says of the musical development process at the Village, "What's fantastic is that there are resources spent on the actual development process of writing a musical. You get into the nitty-gritty of moving scenes, writing new songs, editing lines, changing characters. Some of the shows I've seen on Broadway seem like they jumped [past] that process. They seem to skip the workshop process and jump right to production."

Tancioco also notes that, "Everything is built from the ground up: sets, costumes, brand-new orchestrations never [before] heard. & David [Friedman] writes a song I'll play at rehearsal, and [orchestrator] Bruce [Monroe] takes the song from rehearsal and writes the parts for the orchestra. He gets to choose what the flute plays, clarinet plays, French horn & a seven-piece orchestra sounds like so much more because of how innovative the orchestrations are."

Asked how Chasing Nicolette started, Kellogg explains. "Someone said it would make a good musical, and I read [the story] and loved it. I think he was horrified when he saw [that I had written] it in verse and lost interest, but I loved it and brought it to David and we've been working on it for the last eight years. It's fun once you start working with verse and the constraint of the form and trying to confound the expectations of the audience. If it's a rhyming couplet, they get an expectation, and if you don't get there fast enough they'll get there for you. They fill in the blank, but sometimes it's a rhyme they didn't think of." That's part of the fun, Kellogg says. He says that a whole musical in rhyming couplets has never been seen before. "What's interesting in a musical is [that] it's less bizarre to go into a song from verse."

Chasing Nicolette upends who is civilized and who is not. Kellogg explains: "The ironic thing is that, back then, the French were the barbarians and the Moors had a very sophisticated civilization. A lot of the things we attribute to Romans, like troubadours and romantic ballads, I believe, were actually developed by the Moors."

Kellogg and Friedman are both excited about the set. Kellogg says, "The concept is that it's a revolving set - castle, dungeon, and outside. They're using it quite ingeniously. This is definitely the most imaginative set we've had." Friedman enthuses, "This takes place in France and Carthage. In that time, France was backward, and Carthage was the high literate society. You have to make a huge distinction in color and dress between the two of them." Friedman believes this set does all of that very well.

Kellogg details the plot of the musical: "Nicolette and Aucassin love each other and they're surrounded by a bunch of crazy people. Nicolette is captured in the war against the French and is a serving girl, and Aucassin falls in love with her. She's black and Muslim, and Aucassin wants to marry her. Nicolette is actually the daughter of a king, so she's above him [by royal birth] because she's a princess and he's a count."

Friedman then gave the explanation of how the musical relates to today. "The issues are love versus money, and prejudice for one race over another, or one religion against another; all things that are very prevalent today. We think it will touch people's hearts and be relevant. It's literate in an accessible way. It's verse, but it's modern verse that's not difficult to understand. It takes very serious issues that are happening today and views them in a lighter way."

Kellogg talks about the recent Tony Award win by Village associate Brian Yorkey for Next to Normal: "I was thrilled when Brian Yorkey won for Best Score and thanked the Village. These guys deserve national attention." For more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org or call 425-392-2202.

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