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CNU/Ferguson Center For The Arts Announces Inaugural Recipients Of 2021 New Musicals Lab Writing Residency


This summer, the New Musicals Lab will bring together emerging musical theatre artists, directors, composers, writers, designers and actors.

CNU/Ferguson Center For The Arts Announces Inaugural Recipients Of 2021 New Musicals Lab Writing Residency

The New Musicals Lab (NML) at the Ferguson Center for the Performing Arts at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, is making space for new musical works by providing Artist Residencies with access to world-class facilities, funding, and student and Broadway talent. This summer, the New Musicals Lab will bring together emerging musical theatre artists, directors, composers, writers, designers and actors to develop their musicals in a safe haven outside of the "Tri-State Bubble."

The Ferguson Center started to turn heads when Broadway producer Diana DiMenna brought her workshop of Stu for Silverton (book by Peter Duchan, music by Breedlove and Will Reynolds, directed by Andrew Russell) for a developmental lab in 2018. In 2019, Ryan Speedo Green and Daniel Bergner workshopped the musical adaptation of their book Sing for Your Life, which was followed by the premiere of "We Aren't Kids Anymore," a song cycle by Drew Gasparini (It's Kind of a Funny Story, Night Shift, and the upcoming Karate Kid) produced by Erica Rotstein, music supervision by Justin Goldner, with Ilana Ransom Toeplitz directing and choreographing.

The first five weeks of the lab were spent successfully incubating "????? the Improvised Musical" (co-created by Ali Reed, Adrien Pellerin & Ilana Ransom Toeplitz), "True North: A Magical New Holiday Musical" (by Holly & Kelvin Reed), and "Madam President: an Optimistic New Musical" (by Jessie Field, Lucy O'Brien & Gabrielle Mirabella), all under the direction of Director-in-Residence Ilana Ransom Toeplitz.

After these successful workshops, the New Musical Lab is transitioning into the support of five incoming writers and writing teams to help develop their new musicals in development.

"Every writer dreams of having this level of support, enthusiasm, and resources." said Artist-in-Residence, Kara Cutruzzulla, "Walking around campus, working with the gifted company of actors, and stepping onstage at the Diamonstein Concert Hall is nothing short of inspiring"

Additionally, the New Musicals Lab has partnered with Maestra, an organization dedicated to the women and non-binary artists who make the music in the musical theatre industry, to offer two Residency spots to members of the Maestra community. This years recipients are:

"Like the Wind" by Samantha Rosenblatt & Elspeth Collard

"Destination Wonderful" by Kate Douglas

"We are thrilled beyond belief to be at the New Musicals Lab, developing our musical, Like the Wind: An Electronica-Pop Musical alongside such talented artists! Like the Wind, loosely inspired by the story of Bonnie and Clyde, explores the lives of Bennie and Cai, two teenagers on the run from a conversion therapy facility in 2018. During our first few days, we finished a draft of the full-length show and cannot wait to continue to develop this story." said Rosenblatt.

Kate Douglas, the writer of "Destination Wonderful", added, "I'm thrilled to continue developing my pop-verbatim musical Destination Wonderful this summer at The Ferguson Center. Destination Wonderful follows a group of people at a mandatory conference hosted by a multi-level marketing organization (snacks are provided). It's an honor to work with the talented team here to record some new songs for this fledgling piece."

Sam Rosenblatt, Elspeth Collard and Kate Douglas joined the following selected participants and their new musicals in development:

"The Untitled Clara Schumann Project" by Shoshana Shattenkirk and Ilana Ransom Toeplitz

"The Untitled Alexis Myles Project" by Alexis Myles

"The Carlisle Project" and "#Resist: the Musical" by Ronee Penoi and Annalisa Dias

"Fever Dreams" by Kara Cutruzzula, Shoshana Shattenkirk and Justin Schwartz

"The Violet Hour" (concept album recording) by Will Reynolds and Eric Price

Honoring the Ferguson Center's commitment to supporting emerging artists and new works, all participating artists are paid, receive a travel stipend and housing and are provided with a five-day work schedule with access to use of the venue.

"The Ferguson Center is uniquely positioned to provide space, time, support, talent and resources from its state-of-the-art facilities," said Executive Director Bruce Bronstein. "The Lab will be the most welcoming, supportive and collaborative space for new musical theatre in America. Here, they have a homemade ready with all the fittings and functions of a live show and dedicated crew. New musicals need a place to develop before the regionals, and we're thrilled to be able to provide the resources to make that happen."

The twelve-day residency started with a reading of "Madam President: an Optimistic New Musical" by Gabrielle Mirabella, Jessie Field and Lucy O'Brien, directed by Ilana Ransom Toeplitz. The all-female and non-binary company for "Madam President" was rounded out with visiting Broadway guest artists, Gabriella Campo, Megan Masako-Haley, Ines Nassara and Rachel Fobbs.

The next three days were dedicated to connecting, writing, and rewriting within the incredible facilities of the Ferguson Center. After this window of rewrites, the NML Company auditioned for the visiting writing teams. Each writing team then cast the actors they utilized in the development of their new musicals for the next few days, culminating in a twenty-minute presentation and the recording of demos.

Casting for the Lab is composed of students and alums from the Musical Theater program at Christopher Newport under the leadership of Colin Ruffer. Additionally, Broadway talent will join the Lab as Artists-in-Residence to collaborate on the development of these new musicals. The 2021 New Musicals Lab company included Adam LeKang, Alexandra Lagos, Alexis Holland, Amara Breisch, Autumn Laverne, Bryson Olivo, Charlie Grass, Diego Bly, John Byrd, Katie Murphy, Madeleine Witmer, Madison Raef, Remy Thompson, Renee Kauffmann, Sarah Allbrandt, Tanner Payne and Ty Norris.

"The NML is committed to supporting marginalized artists of all color and gender by ensuring there is representation on all sides of the proscenium - onstage, backstage, and on the creative teams" said Ransom Toeplitz. "As the New Musicals Lab continues to grow, so does our commitment to diversity and parity."

The workshop could not have been possible without the work of Bruce Bronstein (Executive Director of the Ferguson Center of the Arts) and Colin Ruffer (Artistic Producer and Music Supervisor). Other members of the production team include Kyle Ronyecs (production stage manager), Kevin Brunette (assistant director), Matthew Burgess (assistant stage manager), and Andrew Shield (copyist) and Lindsay Levine (company manager).

Kara Cutruzzulla, the lyricst of the in-development "Fever Dreams" added, "Even though this is the inaugural year, the New Musicals Lab already feels like the best-kept secret in the theater world. My collaborators and I feel privileged to be writing, composing, and creating alongside such bright talents."

The New Musicals Lab is made possible through the generous support of the Ferguson Center's annual donors, The Reverend Dr. Janet Edwards,, Susan Griffin and Black Wren Studio.

Designed by renowned architects I.M. Pei and Henry Cobb, CNU's Ferguson Center provides a world-class facility for CNU's theatre and music programs, including the 1,700-seat Diamonstein Concert Hall, 500-seat Peebles Theatre and 250-seat Studio Theatre.

To find out more about the New Musicals Lab, visit

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