By Jill Big Eagle, Individual Giving Officer
At the end of October, some of our donors joined leaders of The 5th Avenue Theatre on a Director’s Trip to New York for the National Alliance of Musical Theatre (NAMT)’s New Works Festival.
This annual festival is one of the most anticipated events of the year in musical theater development, and offers eight writing teams of never-before-seen musicals the thrilling chance to showcase 45 minutes of their work for audiences, directors, and producers from around the country. After a very brief introduction from the writers, an incredible team of professional actors, musicians, and directors do their utmost to bring each musical to life.
After each presentation, audience members have the opportunity to meet the writers outside of the theater. This is always an exciting moment because often, new musicals are united with their most avid supporters at NAMT. For instance, when Kenny and Marleen Alhadeff—5th Avenue Theatre family members and producers of Come From Away—saw an early version of the show at NAMT in 2014, it was love at first sight! Marleen and Kenny, with their fellow producers of Junk Yard Dog Productions Randy Adams and Sue Frost, then shepherded that show from its developmental phases at The 5th through regional tryouts, a Broadway debut, and now several international touring casts.
Our guests on this trip had a thrilling time digging into the world of new musical development. A few familiar faces appeared, both on-stage and off! Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary, the composer/lyricists behind both First Date and Second Hand Lions presented their new musical, 17 Again. And Diana Huey, who starred as Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Josh Castille, who starred as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, appeared in a workshop of a new musical called Row. (See more about the festival here.)
In conjunction with two intensive days of inspiring NAMT presentations, Director’s Trip attendees joined special guests of The 5th for lunches and dinners (and of course full evenings of Broadway shows!)
Two of our special guests this year were Lynn Ahrens and Steve Flaherty—co-writers and composers who are no strangers to the development of bold new musicals. You can catch their latest co-creation, Marie: A New Musical, this spring at The 5th. Ahrens and Flaherty, who met at a writers workshop in the early ’80s, have collaborated on dozens of musicals, including Anastasia, Seussical, Once on This Island, and Ragtime,
They regaled this thrilled group of dinner attendees with the inside story of their rich and varied creative partnership. Our guests were particularly eager to hear about the genesis of Marie, as we gear up for its West Coast premiere at The 5th. It was easy, they learned, for Ahrens and Flaherty to invite Susan Stroman on board as director and choreographer of Marie. The five-time Tony Award® winner (four for Best Choreographer and one for Best Director) is their neighbor—so they literally knocked on her front door!
Ahrens also shared how the seed of her idea for Marie was first planted. When she saw Edgar Degas’ statue “Little Dancer” on display, something about the famous statue teased her curiosity. Who was this young woman who posed for Degas? What was her story? Ahrens researched the young model—about whom very little is known—and her imagination began to dance on history’s stage. When she brought the idea to Flaherty, they were off!
We have been home for nearly a month now, and our guests are still commenting to us about how both this dinner and this trip fed their passion for musical theater and enriched the way they view every show on our stage now—especially the newest ones!
Invitations to Director’s Trips such as this one are among the many benefits of joining our Director’s Circle. For more information, please contact Jill Big Eagle at 206.971.7937.