By Bridget Morgan, Associate Director of Branding and Communications
Sheryl Kaller is a fascinating woman with a unique and varied career. The director of Bliss (the 23rd new musical produced by The 5th Avenue Theatre), is one of a small number of women to have ever received a Tony Award® nomination for Best Direction of a Play for her work on Next Fall in 2010. Her next Broadway show, Terrance McNally’s Mothers and Sons starred Tyne Daly in a universally acclaimed performance in 2014. She’s also the director of Disney Cruise Lines’ Frozen and Deaf West’s acclaimed production of Our Town, and has worked at many major regional theaters in the country.
We’re thrilled to have this incredible and inspiring woman directing at The 5th. Although the show is fun, funny, light-hearted, and bursting with electrifying music, she believes deeply in its subject matter. “This musical is coming along at a time when we not only really want it, but when we really need it,” she says. “We do. We really need it. What Bliss teaches us is that we need to be open to do better, to learn, and to live up to this wonderful, magnificent new standard that’s been set for us by the next generation.
“I think that young children are indoctrinated in this princess fairytale culture that has a lot of positives and also a lot of shackles. What Bliss does, from the inside out, is take the shackles off.” You can hear the passion in her voice as she talks. “So that if you are a princess that wants to wear a beautiful skirt and stay home and have babies, that’s fabulous as far as the writers of this musical, Emma Lively and Tyler Beattie, are concerned. If you are a princess who wants to wear pants and combat boots and love another princess, that’s great too. If you are a prince who wants to wear a dress, that’s great too. None of what is valuable in this world is the external. It’s all the internal. The external will always morph and change.”
The external, however, is something that was given great amounts of thought by the creative team when it came to casting the show. “We’ve been really thoughtful about how we tell each of these girl’s stories, and who those people are who are telling them with a particular eye toward inclusion.” The royal family of Minisculia is played by a brilliantly talented group of actors who represent a diverse spectrum of experiences and communities. To Kaller, this kind of representation forms the crux of why the musical is named Bliss. “This musical illuminates inclusion. It illuminates diversity. It illuminates the deconstruction of gender norms. It illuminates freedom. And it illuminates that bliss is unique to every individual, not an absolute. And the music is amazing, the story smart, timely, and fun,” she adds with a laugh.
It is this eye toward diversity and inclusion that has also makes it so accessible for multiple generations. “It’s not a kid’s musical, although kids will go nuts for it,” Kaller says firmly. “It’s a musical for anybody who ever felt like they didn’t fit in, or felt lost, or ‘other than,’ you know? That’s universal. I think that like in fairytales, there is a lesson to be learned. And the very very cool thing about Bliss is that everybody’s lesson will be personal to them and their own experiences.”
It’s a musical for anybody who ever felt like they didn’t fit in, or felt lost, or ‘other than,’ you know? That’s universal.
When asked about her own connection to the project and what drew her to the show, her answer is simple. “I have a very easy litmus – will my children be proud of me? Done. That’s what leads me to a project,” she says with a laugh. “It helped that Emma Lively and Tyler Beattie [the writers/composers] and I hit it off like crazy, and Josh Prince [choreographer] and I are long-time happy collaborators. But I only choose to do productions that I think my daughters would be proud of. So when I read Bliss and heard the music, I went ‘My girls would go nuts over this.’ And that was my first intro into it.” •