Spotlight on Our Circles Members

Our Circles Members help make The 5th’s new musical productions possible

A BIG thank you to our Circles Member donors, who through their gifts help support all of the artistic work of The 5th: on stage, in new work development and for our education programs—which served nearly 75,000 young people in our community last year.

For our 2016/17 Season, some of our Circles Members helped make the new productions of The Secret Garden and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion come to life. Our “Secret Garden Keepers” and “Romy and Michele Booster Club members” designated their gifts to support the productions.

The Romy and Michele Booster Club with the cast and creatives from the show at the Producer’s Dinner held at the home of Board Member Pat Kennedy and his wife Melissa Ries.

This has been a wonderful and exciting opportunity for Circles Member donors to help The 5th create new productions, while getting in on the ground floor and experiencing the productions as they evolve. The Secret Garden Keepers and the Romy and Michele Booster Club members were invited to attend a kick-off party with the creative team; to attend hosted rehearsals; to meet and spend time with the writers, composers, creatives and actors; to attend the opening night performance and post-show cast party; and were recognized along with their pictures as Executive Producers or Creators in all show publications. It has been rewarding and fun for everyone to have our Circles Members play an important part in this process!

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If you would like to hear more about becoming a Circles Member and/or helping The 5th bring new works to our audiences by designating your support to a production, please call our Development office at 206-625-1418. You can also find more information at our website.

Hairspray The Musical: An International Sensation Born at The 5th

By BRIDGET MORGAN, Senior PR and Communications Manager

There is such joy in the act of creation, particularly when your creation becomes something bigger than its creators and the sum of its parts; something enjoyed and embraced by many; something that impacts the lives of everyone it touches. And that is the nature of The 5th Avenue Theatre and its role in the creation of the musical Hairspray, an international mega-hit performed on Broadway, on the big screen, on TV and on professional and amateur stages around the world.

Any staff member who worked on the original production of Hairspray the Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre will clearly tell you, “We knew from the beginning that that show was special.” Whether they are referring to the caliber of talent (Harvey Fierstein stopped in regularly to chat with the box office staff and even spent time in the company of the costume shop as they built the incredible gowns and ‘60s fashion pieces that would become so iconic), the thrill of doing something new (until that point, The 5th had only produced one other world premiere that had not moved forward to other productions), or the sheer energy buzzing in the rehearsal hall, the sensation that THIS musical would be something extra special, something extraordinary, is unanimously agreed upon.

In 2000, David Armstrong relocated from New York to Seattle to take the artistic reins at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Until that point, The 5th had primarily been a stop for Broadway tours out of New York and for productions out of Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, Texas. It mounted a few productions of classic musicals a season, and that was largely it. But when Armstrong arrived at The 5th, he brought with him a vision of Seattle—and in particular, The 5th—as a testing ground for innovative and cutting edge new musicals.

He also brought with him a wealth of New York connections and friendships with Broadway producers, eager to develop new work without the scrutiny of the New York press. It was through his friendship with producers Richard Frankel and Margo Lion that Hairspray made its way to Seattle. While the show’s ambitions and trajectory was clear, the show needed the opportunity to grow and take shape, to find its legs in front of a smart educated theater-going audience. This, The 5th Avenue could supply in spades.

The 5th Avenue Theatre took an active and collaborative role in the creation of Hairspray. Rather than simply acting as a venue for an out-of-town tryout, The 5th’s artistic team contributed regularly to the show’s development, spending time with the show’s creative team and producers as they worked through the rehearsal process, made their way through tech rehearsals and digested audience feedback. David Armstrong was with them every step of the way.

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Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad. (credit Paul Kolnik)

Hairspray The Musical played at The 5th Avenue Theatre from May 30 to June 23, 2002. Based on the 1988 cult classic John Waters filmHairspray is the story of pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad with big hair and even bigger dance moves who uses newfound celebrity to fight for integration. The musical starred Marissa Jaret Winokur as the vivacious young Tracy Turnblad alongside Broadway mega-star Harvey Fierstein as Edna, soon-to-be GLEE star Matthew Morrison, among many others. The show was a runaway hit with audiences and critics alike, and by the end of the run, the word-of-mouth  was so strong that tickets were selling out. The Seattle Times raved “Hairspray is big, smart fun – splendidly performed with a score that bears repeated listens. Hey, if New York doesn’t twist and shout about it, just bring it on back.” The Seattle P.I. said “Almost everything about it is fun: the acting, the songs, the dancing, the story, the staging, the scenery, the costumes and especially the wigs.” And from Variety:  “… it took only three snappy, candy-colored scenes to demonstrate that writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman have a shiny new hit on their hands.”

The show moved directly to Broadway in the Neil Simon Theatre with its first preview just three and one half weeks after the Seattle production closed: July 18, 2002. The show opened officially on August 15 and was immediately the toast of the Great White Way. The New York Times gave it a loving review, saying “If you’re not at all taken by the fantasy of the Supremes showing up to bestow a little Motown magic on your bedraggled, overworked mother, then you will probably be in the minority of theatergoers who will not find this musical irresistible. Otherwise, you won’t need Ecstasy or any other of those fashionable drugs said to generate warm, fuzzy and benevolent feelings.”

Hairspray received 13 Tony Award nominations, winning eight including Best Musical. It also won 10 Drama Desk Awards and two Theatre World Awards. The show ran on Broadway for an astonishing 2,642 performances and was consistently one of the hardest tickets to come by in New York.

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John Travolta and Queen Latifah in Hairspray, the film.

But its success didn’t end there. Since that fateful 2002 summer in Seattle, Hairspray has gone on to a slew of national and international tours and sit-down productions world-wide in locations ranging from Canada to South Africa to China. In 2007, the musical was adapted as a major motion picture starring John Travolta in the role of Edna Turnblad, Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Tussel  and Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle. In December of last year, NBC produced Hairspray Live! which has just received seven Emmy nominations. Additionally, there is a shortened version of the show called Hairspray, Jr. that  appears on dozens of school musical lineups annually. It would seem to be a story people just can’t get enough of.

On August 16, 2017, a new cast will embark on a new tour of Ireland and the United Kingdom and they carry with them the best wishes of the theater that gave the show first life: The 5th Avenue Theatre. We are sending our love to the cast and crew.

For more information about The 5th Avenue Theatre’s New Works Program, visit our website.

In Development: New Works at The 5th

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.

Behind the Curtain: In Rehearsal with Romy and Michele

We are so excited to be presenting our eighteenth new musical in a couple short weeks! Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion is based on the cult film of the same name, but puts a whole new spin on it: a musical! This show will remind musical theater fans of Legally Blonde with its pop-rock new songs and its important messages of acceptance and friendship.

Scroll through the gallery to see behind-the-scenes photos from a rehearsal of Romy and Michele!

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Don’t miss this world premiere musical, running June 8 to July 2 at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Find out more and purchase tickets here.

Special thanks to Jeff Carpenter Photography for these awesome rehearsal shots.

An Introduction to The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Writers’ Group

By MAKAELA POLLOCK

Often when I mention that I work with the Writers’ Group at The 5th, I get the response, “Cool!—So what do you guys actually DO?” The answer is both simple and huge. On the simple level, we write scenes and songs that add up to a whole musical, we give feedback to each other, we discuss what it means to create musical theater, and most importantly, we commit to being in the room with each other every other week in order to make that happen. Continue reading “An Introduction to The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Writers’ Group”

Spotlight on Beatsville

Beatsville, written by Wendy Wilf and Glenn Slater, appeared in the 2008 NAMT Festival. The show is now preparing for its world premiere in a co-production with NAMT member The 5th Avenue Theatre and Asolo Rep Theatre. This month, we caught up with the writers to hear about the work they’ve done on the piece since the Festival leading up to this premiere.  Originally printed in the NAMT New Works News.

What was the response to Beatsville like after the 2008 Festival?
We had a great Festival—our cast was spectacular, and made the show look fantastic—and we received a hugely gratifying outpouring of interest from various theatres and organizations who wanted to help us take the next step forward. We sort of fumbled the ball a little—we felt that we still had some writing to do, and weren’t sure what that next step should be, and then we got swept up in other projects. Luckily for us, when we were finally ready to move forward, there was still a lot of goodwill in the community from people who remembered it from the Festival, and they proved instrumental in helping us get the show back on track. Continue reading “Spotlight on Beatsville”

Fostering and Supporting New Works with NextFest

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This past October, The 5th presented NextFest, its second annual Festival for New Works. Eleven new projects were introduced during the three week festival, at varying levels of evolution, from cold table reads and writing intensives to week-long workshops complete with writers, actors and creative members working together to revise and improve new musicals. Continue reading “Fostering and Supporting New Works with NextFest”

The 10-Minute Musical Project: THE RECAP!

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Rising Star Project and Internships

This fall marked the premiere of the 10-Minute Musical Project, The 5th’s newest education initiative focused on empowering Washington state students (ages 14-19) and supporting their future achievement by introducing them to the process of writing, workshopping and presenting brand new musicals.

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This year involved 34 students presenting four original 10-minute musicals. Above, students rehearse Meant to Be, a new musical which explored the themes of high school romance and fire-breathing monsters. Continue reading “The 10-Minute Musical Project: THE RECAP!”

NextFest Artist Spotlight – Greg Schaffert, Line Producer

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  1. What is your job in NextFest? Explain for us.

I’m the line producer. Basically, I make sure the writers are happy and that they have what they need to do their work. I also work on dramaturgy and story structure with the writers, directors and 5th Ave team, and basically make sure everything keeps running on track. Continue reading “NextFest Artist Spotlight – Greg Schaffert, Line Producer”

NextFest Artist Spotlight – Christine Sumption, Dramaturg

Christine served as a dramaturg for the writing intensive of Stanford Story (working title) which was workshopped last week.

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  1. What is a dramaturg’s job in the theater – in general?

In the new play process, a dramaturg is like a midwife. I support the playwright through the process, provide historical context, consult on the development of the dramatic action, serve as a sounding board and work to make sure that the writer has the circumstances that he or she needs in order to do their best work. I share ideas, ask questions, listen to the playwright’s intentions and mirror back what I see emerging from the work. While also being very clear that it’s not my play. I’m not the writer (it’s not my baby). Continue reading “NextFest Artist Spotlight – Christine Sumption, Dramaturg”