Here at The 5th, you may have seen one or two, or even 17 or 18 new musicals explode onto the scene on our 5th Avenue stage – musicals like Hairspray or Memphis (both winners of the Tony Award for Best Musical!) But for every new musical that appears on our stage in a season, I can promise you that we have at least a half dozen more in various stages of development through our New Works Program. Currently we have eight new musicals actively in development.
About the Writers’ Group
For nearly two decades, we have committed to nurturing the artists in our community, which is something you may notice when you see our many local actors starring in our shows. But we also seek to nurture the writers, composers, librettists and lyricists living right here in Puget Sound. Our current Writers Group has met bi-weekly for the past two years. In these meetings, a group of nine writers led by 5th Ave artistic staff members, meet to present new material from their musicals in development, and the work is very promising! These musicals include Anybody Can Do Anything, Industry, The Rumble Within, Prodigal Song and Promised Land. These five musicals, which will be our second cycle of Writers Group presentations, will be presented in 2018 at The 5th Avenue Theatre’s NextFest: A Festival of New Musicals.
Anybody Can Do Anything, with a book by John Longenbaugh and music by Bruce Monroe, is based on Betty MacDonald’s memoir of the same name. Longenbaugh is a novelist and local writer. His publications have been in Seattle Weekly, City Arts and Seattle Magazine. Monroe often works at The 5th Avenue Theatre as an orchestrator and conductor. He attended NYU for composing and has written scores for many musicals.
Industry, with book, music and lyrics by Naomi Morgan, tells the story of sisters Vivian and Lisa, who work at a strip club in Seattle as they each struggle with a demon of their past. A concert version of the musical opened for Warren G in 2016. Morgan has previously been seen on our stage in Oliver! and RENT. She is also a local producer and her productions appear at casinos and senior centers throughout Washington.
The Rumble Within, with book by Andrew Russell and music by Richard Andriessen, follows the true story of Linda Hazzard, a Washington doctor in the early 20th century, who famously helped patients starve themselves (sometimes to death) to cure illnesses. Russell is the Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre. You may have seen his last project The Fourth Estate, which was also the product of our Writers Group, during our 2016 NextFest. Andriessen (also known as Major Scales) is the co-creator and co-star of The Vaudevillians, which he created with Jinkx Monsoon, and has appeared previously at Seattle Rep.
Prodigal Song, with a book by Keri Healey and music by Anne Eisendrath, is an original story about a convicted felon, released from prison, who finds hope through music. Healey has previously won the M. Elizabeth Osborn Best Emerging Playwright award recognizing her play Torso which had its premiere in Seattle in 2012. Eisendrath has appeared on our stage in productions of Pirates of Penzance, Carousel and The Sound of Music.
The Promised Land, with book, music and lyrics by Orlando Morales, tells the story of Joseph, a young Buffalo soldier who is sent to the Philippines in 1898 and the Filipino villagers who rescue and shelter him, unaware that he has been ordered to subdue their fight for independence. The score takes on a Golden Age-style and the script includes three different languages to depict this war story. Morales’ most recent writing endeavor was with the gospel musical Psalm which he continues to develop. He is also the Director of Education and Outreach at The 5th Avenue Theatre and a skilled pianist.
New Works on New Stages
Part of our New Works program is recognizing the importance of development over destination, meaning that we aim to feed and foster the growth of new musicals even if they ultimately premiere at other theaters. In that vein, we are very excited that the musical version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which was written in our first Writers Group, will have its first production at Taproot this summer. Persuasion has a book by Harold Taw and music and lyrics by Chris Jeffries.
Beatsville, a musical by Wendy Wilf and Glenn Slater, has been in development with our program for the last two years. It started in our inaugural NextFest with a 29-hour reading. A 29-hour reading allows the writers to teach the material to a group of actors and have it presented without sets, lights or costumes. In the 29 hours they have allotted, they are able to hear the material read and sung out loud, which allows them to more clearly see necessary edits to their work. Since that initial reading, the team has met many times in Seattle and New York to continue diving into the material. This process resulted in a co-production with Asolo Repertory Theatre where a full production was mounted with our very own Bill Berry at the helm as the director. The production was received very well and work continues to be done on the show before it is mounted again.
And of course, we are very proud that a project that made a development stop at The 5th Avenue Theatre in 2014, Come From Away, is appearing on Broadway this season. Come From Away received 7 Tony Award nominations and won the award for Best Direction of a Musical for Chris Ashley, who you may remember from his work on Memphis here at The 5th. During Come From Away’s time here, Chris Ashley, Kelly Devine and Ian Eisendrath put the show on its feet in our rehearsal room during a 3-week developmental production. It then went on to be seen at Seattle Rep, La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. and the Mirvish Theatre in Toronto before making its Broadway debut.
New Things Still to Come
INTERMISSION! is the exciting new work from the brilliant mind of Jerry Zucker with music and lyrics by Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary, who we were fortunate enough to work with on First Date and Second Hand Lions. The musical will be directed by Zucker and Broadway sensation Chris Gattelli, who will also choreograph. Gattelli is a two-time Tony Award-winning choreographer and is in high demand in New York. Gattelli is committed to a number of new projects, one of which very unexpectedly received the opportunity to open on Broadway during the time when INTERMISSION! was scheduled to be in rehearsals, and in the interest of having the best creative team possible for this exciting new musical, we made the difficult choice to delay the show until our 2018/19 season. However, the team is currently hard at work with a developmental production in New York City at this very minute. This step allows the team to put the musical on its feet in a rehearsal studio to explore staging and choreography for the production. INTERMISSION! has had two 29-hour readings in the last year and we look forward to seeing it on stage!
We also have a very exciting new commission called ’64, which is in collaboration with book writer Cheryl West and composers Douglas Lyons and Ethan Pakchar. Based on a true story of racial discrimination in the fraternity community at Stanford in the ’60’s, this new musical focuses on a battle for integration. The first draft is currently being written with a goal of a 29-hour reading in the next year.
And That’s Just in Active Development…
Over the years, our New Works Program has touched dozens of new musicals, shepherding them from the kernel of an idea to fully-produced productions. While we have many shows in active development, we have even more that we have simmering on the back burner. Maybe we are seeking the right creative partners to help the show along. Maybe we are following writers as they develop concepts into songs, scenes and more.
We continue to be hard at work in our New Works department and hope to continue to bring new musicals to Seattle and beyond. The development of these new pieces is central to our mission here at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Over the past 17 years we have produced 18 new musicals and will continue on with this tradition to bring new musicals into the theater canon.