Kerstin Anderson, Estelle Parsons, Margo Seibert and More to Star in Michael Friedman's UNKNOWN SOLDIER
Playwrights Horizons today announced the cast and creative team of Unknown Soldier, a sweeping, elegiac chamber musical that melts time, spanning three generations as it follows a woman's journey to unearth the secrets buried in her family's past.
Unknown Soldier's cast includes Kerstin Anderson as Lucy Lemay, James Crichton as Male Ensemble, Zoe Glick as Young Ellen, Emilie Kouatchou as Female Ensemble, Erik Lochtefeld as Andrew, Jay McKenzie as Male Ensemble, Jessica Naimy as Female Ensemble, Estelle Parsons as Lucy Anderson, Margo Seibert as Ellen, Thom Sesma as Doctor, and Perry Sherman as Francis.
With a book and lyrics by Daniel Goldstein, making his New York writing debut, Unknown Soldier is also the last work from the late, beloved Michael Friedman (music and lyrics) to be premiered in the city.
Together, they created a work that profoundly illustrates the search into the existences of those who've passed, connecting the love and loss, hope and regret of two women-and a country forever scarred by war-across a century. Unknown Soldier follows Ellen Rabinowitz, a woman who's inherited her grandmother's home-and with it, a clue that her understanding of her family and of herself are incomplete.
Directed by Trip Cullman and choreographed by Patrick McCollum, this New York premiere production will take place in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street), February 14-March 29, 2020.
The creative team includes Mark Wendland (Scenic Designer), Clint Ramos (Co-Costume Designer), Jacob A. Climer (Co-Costume Designer), Ben Stanton (Lighting Designer), Leon Rothenberg (Sound Designer), Lucy Mackinnon (Projection Design), J. Jared Janas (Hair and Wig Designer), Marco Paguia (Co-Orchestrator), Julie McBride (Music Director), Tomoko Akaboshi (Music Coordinator), and Lisa Ann Chernoff (Stage Manager).
In 2003, Manhattan dweller Ellen Rabinowitz finds herself back in her inherited childhood home in Troy, NY, where she was raised by her resentful grandmother Lucy, who recently died. Ellen sings, "The only family I have left is this house I never wanted to see again." Cleaning it out, she discovers a mysterious photograph of an anonymous soldier, returned from battle in WWI, tucked away in a box of keepsakes. Unknown Soldier unravels a delicate tangle of family lore, as Ellen chases the extraordinary story that unlocks her history - and charts her future. In a New York Times review of the musical's world premiere (also directed by Cullman) at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Alexis Soloski wrote, "The people in Unknown Soldier never existed. But by this affecting musical's end, we feel that we know them. They're worth remembering."
Trip Cullman (Playwrights: The Pain of My Belligerence, Assistance, The Drunken City, Manic Flight Reaction; Broadway: The Rose Tattoo, Choir Boy, Lobby Hero, Six Degrees of Separation, Significant Other) returns to Playwrights after last season's "perfectly cast, beautifully acted, fluidly directed" (The New York Times) The Pain of My Belligerence (by Halley Feiffer). For Daniel Goldstein-who has directed numerous productions on and Off-Broadway and regionally, and in 2016 won the Kleban Prize for Musical Theatre for most promising musical theatre librettist-this marks the first New York production of one of his own works. Michael Friedman-who in his prolific and acclaimed career as a composer and lyricist was also a Civilians founding artist and Encores! Off-Center artistic director-had a vital artistic relationship with Playwrights, where Saved (with a book by John Dempsey and Rinne Groff) and Mr. Burns, a post-electric play (written by Anne Washburn) premiered for New York audiences. Following his death in 2017, he was remembered in The New Yorker by Sarah Larson, who wrote, "Michael Friedman...was a brilliant and prolific composer and lyricist, a pianist, a thinker, a mile-a-minute talker, a gesticulator, a person who dazzled and could leave you dizzied-not just by his talent and intelligence but by his kindness and humanity, which were always at the forefront of his work."
Goldstein met Friedman in Williamstown while directing María Irene Fornés' Mud, and first collaborated when Friedman offered to write music (based on twisted versions of nursery rhymes) and play cello for the production. After Friedman wrote music for an earlier play by Goldstein and musical directed his production of Falsettos at Huntington Theatre Company, they received a commission from the late Nicholas Martin-and for that began researching WWI, working in tandem to craft a new work together from the start. The result was Unknown Soldier, a musical combining arresting lyricism, emotional nuance, and wit, with a classically-based score Goldstein describes as "unlike anything anyone has heard from Michael."
Goldstein says, "Writing a musical, having spent a career as a director, was an incredible and wonderful challenge, and it was and a joy to create a piece that floats back and forth through time, weaving words and music together with Michael and reexamining how story can be told in a musical. We wanted our story to reflect the transient and non-sequential nature of how people experience their own lives."
In a 2015 interview for Williamstown Theatre Festival, Friedman described, "We wanted to address the transcendent, crazy-making power of love, and then out of our correspondence about our WWI research grew the idea of delving in by way of two contemporary characters... One of the big ideas is that there are moments in anyone's chronology, a family or a country, where no one knows what happened for a week, or for a year. There are things that the people in the present will never know about the past. There are things that the people in the past won't know about themselves."
"This musical is romantic and operatic in nature, and it's going to be interesting for audiences to engage with a whole side of the breadth of Michael's talent that people had not been aware of before," says Cullman. "The play is about loss, memory, and death, and how we take for granted the people who are closest to us while they're still alive. It's resonant to me, as a really close friend of Michael's, to re-engage with the material, because I feel like by conjuring up his artistic presence in a room again, I'll feel closer to him, and I'll feel like I'm wrestling with the things that he was wrestling with every day, in a creative and satisfying way. It's a huge privilege to at least attempt to resurrect his artistic sensibility for a moment, in rehearsal, production, on this play."
Unknown Soldier runs February 14, 2020 through March 29, and officially opens on March 9. Tickets go on sale Tuesday, January 21 at 12 PM on phnyc.org. For a full schedule, visit phnyc.org. Press performances will be at each performance on March 4, 5, 6, and 7, and at March 8's evening performance.
Photo Credit: Stephen Sorokoff
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