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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 19, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 33
The musicals of the 2011 Festival of New Musicals
Arts & Entertainment
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The musicals of the 2011 Festival of New Musicals

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

If you love musicals and you love the idea of getting sneak peeks at musicals in development, you'd love the Village Theater's Festival of New Musicals. They've been bringing top-notch musical composers to Issaquah every summer for 11 years now. The competition to get a show into the festival is fierce!

The Village Originals program is special, though, and there is a membership fee (this year is $150 for one and $250 for two). Membership allows you unlimited participation in all their year-round activities, as well as tickets to all six of the musicals presented this summer.

The festival can claim some amazing successes coming from the development process. The Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony-awarded musical Next to Normal was not only developed through the festival in 2002 and 2005, but also lauded was erstwhile staffer, Brian Yorkey, for the writing of the music.

Participation in the festival can also mean a possibility of presentation on Village's Main Stage season, with successes like Million Dollar Quartet (Main Stage and then on to Broadway), Anne of Green Gables, Iron Curtain, Chasing Nicolette, The Gypsy King, and Stunt Girl. Two more productions are scheduled for Main Stage in this coming season: Take Me America and It Shoulda Been You.

Five musicals were presented as readings, a concert-style presentation where they were fully sung, but scripts were in hand and costuming and orchestration were at a minimum. Another aspect this year was a developmental production of the new musical Cloaked, following its inclusion in the 2010 festival. This production included all sets, costumes, lighting, and music, and continues through August 21. You can buy tickets to Cloaked without being a VO member (through August 21).

CLOAKED
Music and lyrics by Danny Larsen, book and lyrics by Michelle Elliott


Michelle Elliott recently won the prestigious Kleban Prize (which comes with a $100,000 award) as librettist for Cloaked. Described as a 'psychological thriller,' this dark, moody musical pushes the boundaries of where musicals typically tread. The focus is on lonely people drawn to the internet, a place of avatars and imagining yourself to be whomever you would like to become. They include a young girl who wants to escape her large size and be accepted for who she is inside, a psychologist who counsels police assigned to the sexual-predator internet beat, and a policeman on that beat whose personal life is less than fulfilling.

This internet intersection is not just fun and fantasy, though. There are predators out there, and the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood is an apt reference for little girls wandering into what looks like a safe place, until wolves dressed as familiar grandmas come out to devour them. Haunting melodies embody the emotional craving for connection that the characters feel as they try to find humanity within technology. Powerful lyrics like 'my heart is as wide as a canyon' and 'go on anyway' burrow into your heart.

THE GIVER
Book and lyrics by Nathan Christensen, music by Scott Murphy


Based on the Newberry Award-winning fantasy novel by Lois Lowry, The Giver takes place in a community called Sameness that has been created by people who want to avoid dangerous feelings that lead to dangerous conditions, like war. A boy finds he is able to see actual color in this black-and-white world, and worries about being different in a world where everyone is considered 'the same.' He struggles as he learns why the community was developed in the first place, trying to balance that with the feeling that it's a mistake to cut off emotions like love, even to feel safe and secure.

SUNDAYS AT TIFFANY'S
Book and lyrics by Susan DiLallo, music by Fred Thaler


Susan DiLallo has been regularly included in the FNM! Iron Curtain was a main-stage production last year after being included in both the FNM of 2007 and 2008. Once Upon a Time in New Jersey was also a main-stage production after inclusion in FNM 2004. Sundays at Tiffany's is based on the James Patterson novel.

Nine-year-old Jane has a bossy show-biz mother and a supportive imaginary friend, Michael. Michael's job is to build up Jane's self-esteem, but he is bound by imaginary-friend rules that mean he has to disappear when she's 10. A computer glitch means Michael leaves her a year early, and 20 years later, he bumps into her and finds that she's still under her mother's shadow and making some bad love connections.

Despite the other imaginary friends advising against it, Michael wants to help fix an adult Jane's self-esteem. A comedic score, including a sardonic song by the imaginaries about the ills of being 'human,' reminds us that love has the power to transform, and self-esteem is important for choosing healthy relationships.

TRAILS
Book by Christy Hall, lyrics by Jordan Mann, music by Jeff Thomson


Trails has already received awards in its development process. The main trail referenced in the title is the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail, which leads through the Eastern states. Three young buddies, two boys and a girl, pledge to hike the trail, but years after tragedy strikes the girl, the two remaining friends take a journey that will test their friendship. Currently in a compact six-person configuration, this musical might attract musical theater companies hankering for productions that fit smaller budgets with smaller casts.

LIZZIE BORDEN
By Steven Cheslik-deMeyer, Tim Maner, and Alan Stevens Hewitt


Another compact cast of only four may not fit the 'small budget' description if the writers have their way. Lizzie Borden is written as a rock-musical-album-to-stage model, such as The Who's Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar. This history-based musical has hard-driving melodies with ominous tones, like 'The Fall of the House of Borden,' and 'Somebody Will Do Something.' It's written for four rock-and-roll-loving women singers.

Though the tale of Lizzie Borden and how she was acquitted of murder is over 100 years old, it still intrigues. This musical takes the position that she did commit murders and got away with them, but gives us some good reasons why we should feel empathy with what drove her to the ultimate act.

HELLO! MY BABY
Book and new lyrics by Cheri Steinkellner, new music and arrangements by Georgia Stitt


Hello! My Baby is written by the Emmy Award-winning writer of Cheers and the musical Sister Act, Cheri Steinkellner. The musical is like a revue of classic songs mixed into a story from the turn of the 20th century. Old favorites like 'Hello! My Baby' and 'My Buddy' have some new lyrics and arrangements and are mixed with other familiar tunes to give us a 1900s hit parade treat. It's a story of denizens of tenement-lined streets of the Lower East Side of New York mixing with high society, and two struggling songwriters hoping to hit it big.

The festival is always the second weekend in August. For more information, visit www.villagetheatre.org.

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