Kleban Prize

So, I won the Kleban.

About a month ago, I was picking up stuff for salad  at the co-op for our family Chanukah party when I got a call from Elliot Brown, the legendary lawyer.  Naturally I was nervous.  I went to the front of the store where there's reception - he had Richard Maltby, Jr. on the phone - and Richard told me that I had won the Kleban Prize for Most Promising Librettist for 2016.  To say that I was gobsmacked is an understatement.  I had to lean against the microbrews to stay standing.  The Kleban has the best application of all awards - you send them your work and that's it - no essays, no interviews, no multiple rounds - you either get it or you don't.  So I had mostly put it out of my mind, thinking that there was no way it was going to me.  

But this year, it did.  So I bought my lettuce, went home and made latkes.

I was already so proud of what UNKNOWN SOLDIER has become - but this is icing on an already tasty cake and pushes me to continue doing what I've already been loving doing - writing musicals, currently with Dawn Landes on ROW, a NY Voices commission from Joe's Pub and The Public Theater (and one more very exciting project to be announced soon.)

Bookwriting is the most collaborative of theatrical sports - and I have so many people to thank.

Obviously, my wife, Melissa Lee and my daughter Gracie for supporting me, while I did all the workshops and readings and the production this summer.  Every bit of all of it is for you two.

Nicholas Martin, may he (eat potato chips) in peace - who asked Michael and me to write something, while he was at the Huntington Theater Company - and gave some money to do it - a Calderwood Commission -  and more importantly, a deadline - simply because he believed in us as young artists.  

Every actor who ever did a reading of the show - and there have been a LOT of readings.  (I was never sad for a reading - every time we work on the show it gets better - always seems like there's more to work on  - more to explore and change and mess with).  So many questions or thoughts that actors have had have led to big and small changes in the show and really amazing revelations.  So I thank you - especially my pal (and housemate and badminton partner this summer) Erik Lochtefeld.  

Laura Eason and Allison Horsley - who served as Director and Dramaturg when we worked on the show under Paulette Haupt at The National Musical Theater Conference at The O'Neill, and whose insights shaped the show immensely.

Mandy Greenfield and Annie MacRae - who found the show, fell in love with it, and championed it first at MTC and then Mandy who did the incredible thing of saying she was going to program it her first year at Williamstown and then actually did.  And Elliott Masie and Hunter Arnold for supporting that production.

Trip Cullman - who has been our not so secret weapon for the past few years - and has brought is razor sharp eye to the play, and taught me things about writing (and directing) that I'm forever grateful for.

Most of all, Michael Friedman, who is my partner in all ways on this play, and without whom, there simply wouldn't be a musical.  His incredible intelligence, sense of humor, style and wit, mixed with a passion for the material and a loathing of the inauthentic has shaped every word of UNKNOWN SOLDIER, and I am so truly grateful to him for everything.  

Check out the photos from Trip's stunning production on the main page of the website.  
 

Unknown Soldier - Williamstown Theater Festival 2015

It is with enormous pride and a little bit of genuine terror that I announce that my musical, UNKNOWN SOLDIER will be produced at The Williamstown Theater Festival during the summer of 2015.

I wrote this musical with the remarkable Michael Friedman and it will be directed by Trip Cullman.  Given that we all met at Williamstown during the magical summers of 1998, 1999 & 2000, there is no better place for the World Premiere.  

This musical was commissioned by the late Nicholas Martin during his tenure as Artistic Director of The Huntington Theater.  Michael and I were in the middle of our IRNE Award winning production of Falsettos when Nicky decided that it would be a good idea if we wrote a musical together.  No constraints, no specifics, just the inaugural Norma Jean Calderwood Commission and his trust.  What more could to young(ish) artists ask for.  

Many years later and after development at The HuntingtonThe National Musical Theater Conference at The O'Neill Theater Center, The McCarter Theater's Sallie B. Goodman Artists Retreat, Manhattan Theater Club, with the support of more actors, directors, dramaturgs than I can list here, there will be an actual production with actual people saying the things that we wrote WITHOUT SCRIPTS IN FRONT OF THEM.  They're going to MEMORIZE THEIR LINES!!!  And they might even dance.  

There will be more news here as we announce the actors and creative team.  So keep checking in.  And come visit us up in Williamstown.  I think you will really like the show.  We can have a drink afterwards at the Purple Pub or Mezze or whatever place hasn't burned down yet.  

 

RENT at Trumbull High School

I had the privilege of seeing RENT at Trumbull High School last night.  

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As you may know, the production was cancelled when school administrators and the Board of Education decided that the subject matter of the show was too "sensitive" and "controversial."

Well, we all know how well that sat with the theater community.  With 7,600 likes on their Facebook page and under the pressure of the national attention, administrators decided to reverse their decision and let the students present the show as planned.

I joined the Goodspeed Musicals folks last night to lend my support to the gang, figuring they'd be facing a somewhat apprehensive audience.  BOY was I wrong.  There was a crowd of over 1,000 people ready on a Thursday night to stand and cheer the show.

It was a little bit surreal watching the show and realizing that when I saw RENT for the first time - with Randy Meyer after waiting on the rush line and seeing Gwen Stewart's first show as Joanne (and thinking HOW COOL we were) - THESE KIDS WEREN'T BORN.

But more than that, I was struck by the fact that on the stage of a high school in suburban Connecticut there was a kid in Santa drag singing "with a thousand sweet kisses...i'll cover you..." to another boy and no one seemed to think it was odd.  Two girls belted their faces off (all the kids did, really) singing "Take Me or Leave Me" with more real vigor than I've seen many pros give it in auditions.  These kids were not singing about finding a mansion in New Rochelle or if they were stranded at the drive in, these kids were singing about times that formed a generation, and they were braver than we ever were at their age.  And I fell in love with RENT all over again - because, through their eyes, it felt all new again.  

Of course, the parts of RENT that make me go ugh are still there.  The "poo poo it" rhyme, the singing junkies (got any x any boogie woogie blah blah blah), and (kind of) the whole second act, especially when Mimi wakes up.  I mean, I love that she sees Angel and she looks good, but really?  And within this production it did strike me that a) there were almost no students of color and b) that Mimi and Roger actually kissed at the end of Act 1 right before Viva La Vie Boheme! but that Collins (white) and Angel (white) just hugged, as did Maureen and Joanne.  But when that kid sang the I'll Cover You reprise so beautifully (besides thinking of Michael Kayne and Truman late at night attempting to sleep) it was not only for his love he was singing for - it was for a whole new generation of kids who might find themselves in a world where bigotry and hatred have lost their footing.  And, fool that I am, it gave me hope.

Mayor De Blasio - Inner Circle

I didn't recognize the number when the call came in.  I didn't answer the phone because I was with Gracie - and there was no message left.  I called the number back and it said it was the Mayor's office.  I was intrigued and a little scared.  But then I got a text from my friend Rob Bennett - "Got a second to talk?  Got a project to discuss."  It all made sense.  He had just started a great new gig as the head of photography for Mayor De Blasio.

It turned out that Mayor De Blasio and his team were busy at work on their rebuttal show for the Inner Circle, the annual roast that the NYC Press does (and has for 92 years) skewering the Mayor.  Remember Giuliani in a dress?  For years Mayor Bloomberg hired Broadway shows and their teams with his own money.  Well, this amazing mayor (for whom I voted in the primaries and for whom Melissa worked as an intern in the Public Advocate's office) needed some help putting it all together.

So with 2 1/2 weeks I teamed up with writers Jon Macks and Dave Boone in LA and Rebecca Katz, my new pal in the Mayor's office and got down to work making a cohesive show that introduced the Inner Circle to the new sheriff in town.  It was fast, it was furious, and it was top secret.  We already had Steve Buscemi and Cynthia Nixon on board to perform with the Mayor.  Rev. Al Sharpton came along for the ride to play Jeopardy with the Mayor (that was an incredibly fun rehearsal).   I recruited Adam Wachter and Parker Esse to help make an opening number.  The First Lady of NYC (or #flonyc - pronounced Flow-nice) joined in for a great bit.  Chris Rock, Rosie Perez & Al Roker joined us for some video footage.   And of course, no event is complete without Julie Halston as a rich Upper East Side doyenne.  

But the star of the show was Mayor De Blasio.  He's just incredible.  He has such a natural grace and ease and sense of humor.  He's self effacing and goofy in the best way, able to take what is naturally funny about himself and exaggerate it.  His timing is amazing and he's collaborative in the writing.  He knows what he likes and what he doesn't - and knows why he feels that way.  Watching him and Rev. Al bat around ideas for their sketch was one of the greatest things I've ever seen.  I was so honored to have his ear and his trust.

For the last week before the event I drove back and forth from City Hall to Goodspeed about 4 times, doing double duty with Damn Yankees.  MANY thanks to the team at Goodspeed for lending us some props and costumes and for working with my crazy schedule to make it work.

This past Saturday, after a way too quick dress rehearsal during the day, Melissa and I put on our formal best (tux from my brother's wedding) and made our way to The Hilton for the big night.  The room was full of Senators and former Mayors and fancy people (Jenny Gersten) and all the newspeople in New York.  It was so fancy, and such a thrill.  And we got to sit with Julie Reiber (wife of Rob Bennett, and the whole reason that I was there in the first place! Thanks Julie!) which was nice for Melissa when I had to run backstage for last minute prep.  I was more nervous for this one than I was for most things I've ever done.  But once the laughs started, they didn't stop.  Couldn't have gone much better.  Getting to make theater and serve my liberal agenda - dream come true.  

Here are some pics of the event.  All photos by Rob Bennett, of course.  (Nod to the 52nd St. Project with the props).  I'll post the fancy pics of Melissa and me with the first couple when they come in.  

Damn Yankees

I'm back at my Connecticut home away from home for the 3rd time in a calendar year.  (Thanks Goodspeed!)  First Hello, Dolly! (an experience not soon to be replicated), then Snapshots with my new friend David Stern and my old friend Stephen Schwartz.

This time, it's DAMN YANKEES.  

 Two Lost Souls rehearsal.

Two Lost Souls rehearsal.

Joe DiPietro has taken the show and brilliantly revised it, changing the Washington Senators to the Boston Red Sox.  His revisions are brilliant, and it's been so much fun working with him in the very room where I first met him, as the Associate Director on All Shook Up!

The cast is incredible.  Stephen Mark Lukas is a perfect Joe, Angel Reda is as Lola as Lola can get and David Beach is the funniest Applegate I have ever seen.  And the boys on the team are a thoroughly motley crew - in the absolute best way.  They look and act like real life 1952 ball players.

This show is also reuniting me with some incredible pals from Dolly.  Kelli Barclay, who has graduated from moving 6 waiters around the mini Goodspeed stage to a full baseball team of 9 guys, the tallest of whom is a whopping 6' 6".   Also joining me on this are Adrian Jones who designed Dolly, and my dear old friend (and dining partner) David Woolard, who is outdoing himself here, and is a now officially an expert on period baseball uniforms.

Goodspeed is directly between Yanks and Sox territory.  Check out the graphic below.

 East Haddam is right in the middle where it turns purple.

You can see where my allegiance lies below.

We start previews on April 11th and open on April 30th.

CLICK HERE for more information.  See you at the Goodspeed!  (I'll be eating HERE or HERE before the show.  You should too.)

New Website

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have finally joined the modern age and created a website (with some incredible and serious assistance from Jaki Bradley).  I admit that I did it kicking and screaming.  After all, I thought, how can you see what a director does through a website?  But as I've assembled these photos and looked back at the kind of work I've done, I've been surprised to see how much these photos actually do show what I made.  And they are exactly the kind of shows that I want to see.  

More than anything, it has been a real joy to look through all the photographs and remember my collaborators, the incredible actors, designers and craftspeople who made these dreams come to life.  They are the reason that this website exists and it is to them that I dedicate it.  

I'll be posting each new show as they open, and will use this space to update you on new projects, thoughts about current work and musings about creating art while raising a family.

I thank you for visiting and hope that you'll come back soon.