Lovers of the American musical theater are again in for a gala treat with the 10th annual Festival of New Musicals. It’s a tuneful three days of staged readings of original works, professional cabaret and mixing and mingling with the talent, at Goodspeed Opera House, Home of the American Musical in East Haddam, CT, Friday January 16th through Sunday January 18th. (The musical mega-hits Annie and Man of La Mancha were first produced at Goodspeed Opera House.)
The opening event will be a Jesse James-inspired musical – Outlaws. Then, on Saturday, January 17, a musical comedy The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes has its debut, followed by For Tonight – which Goodspeed describes as ‘riveting’ – on the final day of the festival, January 18.
As in past years, intimate events will fill out this sparkling weekend of immersion in the latest musical offerings and cabaret performances. Special package prices will include not only admission to all three staged readings, but a plethora of participatory programs, seminars and symposiums all outlined below. The festival is a fun and exhilarating way to warm up during the January doldrums.
Goodspeed Line Producer Donna Lynn Hilton told the press that “This winter we are thrilled to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of our Festival of New Musicals – one of the cornerstones of Goodspeed’s new works development program and the source of countless hours of fun and entertainment for our new works audience. <The shows are> brimming with energy and excitement on a cold winter night as hundreds of musical theater fans from across the country converge to celebrate Goodspeed and the best and brightest young writers and performers.”
The intense weekend lineup begins with Outlaws performed on Friday, Jan. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Opera House, with music and lyrics by Alexander Sage Oyen and a book by James Presson. In this show Jesse James and his brother Frank rob banks, court the press and murder whoever gets in their way. The legendary outlaws are considered by some to be folk heroes; others see them as dastardly villains. Which camp are you in? Following Outlaws there will be a 10 p.m. cabaret at the Gelston House showcasing new songs by the festival writers.
A full day of events will fill Saturday, January 17. From 10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. a series of seminars will take place at the Gelston House, including Jennifer Ashley Tepper’s Untold Stories of Broadway; Set Designer Paul Tate dePoo presenting How Do They Do That? -with designs for Goodspeed’s upcoming production of Guys and Dolls and secrets for how he’ll make a night club, a mission, steamy Havana, and Times Square fit into the tiny jewel-box stage; and Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director Michael O’Flaherty’s Vocal Arranging 101 with demonstrations performed by festival participants from The Hartt School of Music.
Also on Saturday from 2:30 to 3:30 in the Goodspeed Opera House will be a sneak preview of a new musical set for Goodspeed in 2015, followed by a 4 p.m. symposium – The New Musical Challenge – with WNPR’s Colin McEnroe hosting a conversation with the writing teams represented in this year’s Festival, along with a team currently writing-in-residence at Goodspeed : Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich (who have an upcoming production of Ever After at the Papermill Playhouse and were cheered by us a few years ago for Goodspeed’s The Great American Mousical). The symposium is free and open to the public.
Next is the Festival Dinner at 5:30 p.m. at either the Gelston House next door to the Opera House or at the fine Italian ristorante La Vita across the road, followed by The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes back in the Goodspeed Opera House at 7:30 p.m. With book and lyrics by Christopher Dimond and music by Michael Kooman, Howard Barnes, an average guy, discovers that his life has become a musical. This is a musical for people who love musical theater, satire and romantic comedy. Another Cabaret follows at 10 p.m. in the Gelston House, rounding out the Saturday festivities.
Get some sleep and get ready for Sunday! That’s right….there’s even more. On Sunday, January 18 there is a tour of Goodspeed’s Costume Collection at 11 a.m. at the Cynthia Kellogg Barrington Costume Center.
Have lunch on your own and get back to the Goodspeed Opera House for a 1 p.m. performance of the third and final new work, For Tonight – with music and lyrics by Shenelle Williams and Spencer Williams, and a book by Whitney Rhodes, Spencer Williams, and Shenelle Williams. Described as an indie-rock/folk musical, there is sure to be a ubiquitous guitar, gypsies, orphans, a poor Welsh village and a trip to find musical success or failure in Liverpool. Need we say more?
If you’re still standing, there is a finale event at a Meet the Writers Reception
3:30 p.m., at the neighboring handsome and historic Gelston House – with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar.
Pricing for individual shows and Festival Packages plus lodging and dining information for Festival attendees as well as up-to-date information on the weekend’s events and reservations are at www.goodspeed.org. Tickets are available at the Goodspeed Box Office or by calling 860.873.8668.
You can also follow Goodspeed Musicals on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.
By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle