Theater for the New City Presents LIVING IN A MUSICAL
Living In A Musical Plays March 4 to 21 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (at E. 10th Street). The show is presented by Theater for the New City and runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 3:00 pm $10.
For info contact the box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Living in a Musical," with book and lyrics by Tom Attea, music by Arthur Abrams, direction by Mark Marcante and choreography by Angela Harriell ("Nutcracker Rated R"), is a contemporary story of a young man who is a song-and-dance talent in the tradition of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. Not surprisingly, he finds that today's rock- and rap-dominated world has no place for him. To console himself, he has created an imaginative world in which he lives: the world of the classic American musical.
His comforting but fragile illusion is most clearly represented by his apartment, where photos and mementos from the musical world of the 1930's and 1940's abound. The musical explodes dramatically when the world of heavy-metal rock unexpectedly intrudes on his otherwise rather placid life. One night, outside his doorstep, he rescues a young woman who is being verbally and physically mistreated by her lover, a heavy-metal bandleader. She moves in with her new hero, setting the stage for a conflict not only in terms of love interest but also between styles of singing and dancing, between the elegant life as portrayed in the musicals of the 1930's and 1940's and the earthier life of today's rock-and-rap world. The musical merrily dramatizes the joys and sacrifices of going your own way and believing in your dreams.
"Living in a Musical" is the sixth collaboration of Tom Attea (book and lyrics), Arthur Abrams (score) and Mark Marcante (director). Their works have been called "Delightfully funny!" (Robert Hicks, The Villager) and "Witty! In the tradition of the Fantastiks" (The Greenwich Village Press). Tom Attea had collaborated with Arthur Abrams in the early 1980's in the playwrights' unit of the Actors' Studio, where both were under the tutelage of Charles Friedman. Friedman had been a show doctor in the '30s and a great friend of George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart. Attea first came to TNC at Abrams' urging to contribute skits for a revue named "It's an Emergency, Don't Hurry," which dealt with the world's lethargy in responding to urgent issues. Mark Marcante was director. Attea, having been trained by a gifted theatrical mentor, was eager for a theatrical outlet as a relief from his TV writing. TNC provided talented collaborators. Stimulated by the experience of that first revue, Attea went on to write a musical a year with Abrams, all of which were directed by Marcante.
Then Arthur Abrams was hit by a car and wound up in critical condition in the hospital. To give him a new reason to live, Attea went to Abrams' bedside and proposed a musical based on "La Traviata" about a young hooker who worked on Central Park South who wanders up to Lincoln Center and falls in love with a tenor from the Met. The encouragement worked; Abrams recovered enough to write the score to Attea's libretto and book. It turned into "Lincoln Plaza, a large and electric production with a cast of 27 which was short-circuited when its leading lady, for whom there was no understudy, had to leave the show early. It was just before critics were to come. Saddened by this and by Abrams' lengthy need for additional recovery (he's fine now, thanks), Attea became sad and reflective. He laid out from theater writing for five years, thinking deeply about life. Now he's back to writing about it.
It was five years until Attea's next project dawned. He relates, "I began to think about a new musical. I considered how people who have affection for the traditional theater and in particular the traditional musical must feel alienated from mainstream rock and rap. I wondered if there was a way to provide them with a beautiful and satisfying metaphor to which they would be attracted. Yet I wanted it to be fair to people who do like mainstream contemporary music, whether or not they also like the theater. That's when I got the idea for "Living in a Musical.'"
Attea adds, "Crystal Field deserves credit for being a steady champion of us and of all people who write for the theater and hope to make a distinguished contribution. She has been kind enough to be a steady champion of mine. In fact, I don't know another person in the Off-Broadway venue who is as supportive of emerging talent, and I don't know, in this competitive and political world, if I could have found another artistic director or theater as inviting and supportive as the one she administers. She is to creators of theater every bit as great a mentor as Lee Strasberg used to be for actors at the Studio."
Tom Attea (book and lyrics), when a member of the Playwrights Unit of the Actors Studio, had a ten-year apprenticeship in musical theater with Charles Friedman, the original director of the stage classics "Pins and Needles," "Sing out the News," the musical version of "Street Scene," "Carmen Jones" and other shows. At that time, Friedman had been collaborating with Oscar Hammerstein (who had died). Charles also found a young composer to work with named Arthur Abrams, who would become Attea's long-time musical collaborator. The trio collaborated on the revue,"Brief Chronicles of the Time," which premiered at the Actors Studio in 1982. This is Attea's fifth musical with Arthur Abrams to be presented by TNC, which has also produced one of Attea's plays, "Life Knocks" ("Great humor and ebullience ... good, genuine laughs ... Attea's talent as a playwright is evident." --Kessa De Santis, PunchIn International, now with electroniclink.com). Attea has received a TNC/Jerome Foundation emerging playwright grant and is an active member of The Dramatists Guild. He wrote a feature film that was produced by Showtime and created a sit-com that was optioned by CBS, but he has opted to devote himself primarily to the theater. He holds a doctorate in the healthcare field but has always made his living writing copy for pharmaceutical and consumer advertising and now writes websites, too. He lives in New York and Connecticut.
Arthur Abrams (composer) is a veteran Lower East Side composer, music director, arranger and pianist. His recent theatrical scores include "The Iron Heel" based on a novel by Jack London, with book and lyrics by Elizbeth Ruf-Maldonado; "Ludlow and Broome," with book and lyrics by Ruthy Rosen; and "The Further Adventures of Uncle Wiggily: the Windblown visitors," with book and Lyrics by Laurel Hessing, all presented by TNC. His other scores for TNC shows include"Abstinence" and "Lincoln Plaza" with book and lyrics by Tom Attea; "The Golden Bear" and "Sketching Utopia," both with book and lyrics by Laurel Hessing, directed by Crystal Field; "Master and Margarita" from a novel written by Bulgakov, adapted by Jean Claude van Itallie and directed by David Willinger; "The Open Gate," based on the novel, "The Manor" by Isaac Bashevis Singer, adapted and directed by David Willinger; and "The Glory that Was" and "Library Love" with book and lyrics by Walter Corwin.
Mr. Abrams has also composed scores for several musical revues, among them "Dropping In On The Earth," "A Little Old, A Little New," "It's An Emergency, Don't Hurry"and "Axis of Evil Vaudeville Revue." Abrams was composer, pianist,and music director for "The Golden Age of Second Avenue," a documentary film about the golden age of the Yiddish Theater produced by Arthur Cantor. The piece is often shown on PBS. (In the film, he accompanied Molly Picon.) He was music director and pianist for the recent Lambs Club presentation of "Yankel in America," starring Theo Bikel. His awards include a DAAD music fellowship to Mannheim, Germany, a scholarship to the Orff Institute at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria and a "Meet the Composer" grant for the score of"The Golden Bear."
Mark Marcate (director) is Executive Production Director of TNC and a prolific designer, actor and director there. This is his fifth production with Tom Attea and Arthur Abrams. His other TNC directing credits include "Okechobee Split," "British Music Hall," "Ruzzante Returns from the War," "Betty's Barbershop" and "Strangely Wonderful." He also co-directed "One Director Against His Cast" with author Crystal Field. Mr. Marcante hails from Pennsylvania and worked as technical supervisor and workshop instructor at the Allentown Arts Center. As an actor, he has led TNC's award-winning Annual Summer Street Theater ensemble since 1986 and played lead roles in several critically acclaimed productions at TNC.
Angela Harriell (choreographer) is director and choreographer of TNC's popular annual "Nutcracker: Rated R" and founder and choreographer of the cabaret dance troupe, The Love Show. Her choreography has been called witty, moving, unique and theatrical with narratives that are simultaneously autobiographical and universal. Richmond Shepard (Seven Lively Arts) wrote, "the brilliant Angela Harriell... could be the next Susan Stroman." A graduate of Fredonia University, where she received The Graduate Scholarship for Ballet, she has worked with Elisa Monte and David Brown dance, Randy James Danceworks and taught ballet at Binghamton University. Her work has been seen at The Flea Theater, HERE, The New York Burlesque Festival, White Wave Dance Festival, The Philly Fringe Festival's Late Night Cabaret, and different nightclubs throughout New York. She has also set original works for Jerboa Dance of Seattle and Key West Contemporary Dance. Cointreau and Vogue magazine have commissioned pieces from her. Her work has twice been selected to be presented at special galas at the National Arts Club, where she has performed alongside Elaine Stritch, Tammy Grimes, Charles Busch and Julie Halston. Harriell was a Hammerstein Beauty at Simon Hammerstein's notorious downtown supper club, The Box, and also performs with Brooklyn Ballet, Brooklyn Repertory Opera and Opéra Français de New York. She has been spotted amongst the glitterati in the pages of Patrick McMullan's website and has appeared in several television and music video spots, including an ABC Primetime documentary on connections in the dance world and an STD awareness video with Alan Cumming.
The actors are Kyle Fowler, Alexandra Grossi, Sal Mannino, Robb Gibbs, Clare Tobin, Bob Homeyer, Andrea Andert, Rachael Ma and Julie Megan Smith.
Set design is by Mark Marcante. Costume design is by Pauline Colon. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Sound design is by Richard Retta.
Photo: Kyle Fowler, R: Alexandra Grossi. Behind: other cast members of "Living in a Musical." Photo by Zita Bradley.