New Musical YOUR NAME ON MY LIPS to Play TNC This March
It is a 14-character musical drama (with a cast of seven) that examines love and passion, obsession and commitment. Director is Gerald vanHeerden and choreographer is Maria Torres.
Eric B. Sirota is a physicist specializing in soft condensed matter and polymer physics. He's also a classically-trained composer and author of a number of book musicals and other works since 1990, including this romance. American musical theater has already presented the topic of love through the eyes of many bards, so isn't it about time we got it through the eyes of a physicist?
The protagonist is Sam, a self-taught painter, who struggles to get into an art institute while fighting to hold onto Suzanna, the love of his life. He is a painter, she plays the cello. He has bonded with her since childhood and she has been, well, his muse. Their youthful connection is genuine and devout, but it is tested as their paths diverge in their college years.
Without the benefit of art education in high school, Sam never envisions art as a career and starts to earn a living as a house painter. He is initially content to do art as a hobby with Suzanna practicing her cello at his side. As Suzanna prepares to go away to a liberal arts college with a scholarship and on to endless possibilities, their relationship changes. Sam feels that to be worthy of Suzanna and true to himself, his career must be that of an artist, so he sets his mind to go to an art institute. They pledge to always fall asleep "with your name on my lips," but Sam's path is fraught with obstacles and Suzanna encounters parental and peer pressures which threaten to pull them apart. The show is not written as if it is looking back on youth by someone older, wiser and maybe cynical. It holds that the young characters' feelings are real, powerful and valid, warranting soaring, passionate music. Sirota's contemporary, classically-infused score is firmly in the Broadway genre, arranged for piano, cello and percussion. It staunchly intends to transport you back to when love was earnest, feelings deep, and romance unabashedly unapologetic.
There are actually two Suzannas in the show. One is the real girl who goes away to college; and the other is her spiritual representation in Sam's mind--Fantasy-Suzanna--who keeps Sam True to Suzanna and becomes his muse in her absence. Fantasy-Suzanna's movement is portrayed through the choreography by Maria Torres. The characters also include Suzanna's parents and a science fraternity rock band that functions as a sort of "Greek chorus." It plays three songs which relate lyrically to the plot, but with science double-entendres: "Magnetic Moment," "Jewels/Joules" and "Gravity."
Sam's numerous paintings that are seen on the stage throughout the musical are the work of artist Cara London (caralondon.com), who is the playwright/composer's wife. Concurrent with the production, the TNC Art Gallery will offer an exhibition of Ms. London's work. The gallery is immediately outside the theater and an opening reception for the exhibition will be on Thursday, March 2 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, immediately preceding the first performance. When works by London were on display accompanying Sirota's musical in the 2015 Dream Up Festival, art critic Piri Halasz stated, "London is a representational painter in the luscious tradition of Monet, Renoir & Cézanne, as filtered through the sensibility of abstractionist John Griefen, with whom she studied some years ago" and labeled her work as "delectable."
Eric B. Sirota graduated from Stuyvesant High School and Brown University (where he studied musical composition with Ron Nelson and Gerald "Shep" Shapiro) and got his PhD in Physics from Harvard. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society. He hails from Flemington, NJ and in his "day job," he is a highly published and cited physicist at a research company in nearby Annandale, NJ. A resume of his scientific publications can be found at scholar.google.com/citations?user=fIs6ALAAAAAJ. He says, "I'm not a rocket scientist, but I am a soft-condensed matter physicist, and writing book, music and lyrics for a musical is much more difficult."
Sirota's work first hit the NYC stage in 2012 as composer for a "A Day at the Whitehouse" at the West Village Musical Theatre Festival. Another short musical, "At the Well," had a production at the Players Theatre. His first full length, "Day of Wrath," based on Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," was in NYMF in 2015 as an Official Selection of the New York Musical Theatre Festival's Reading Series.
"Your Name On My Lips" was developed with staged readings at the Emerging Artists Theatre, Midtown International Theater Festival (where it was nominated for awards), the West End Lounge and Shawnee Playhouse (where it was a finalist in the Original Playwright Series). This was followed by a first production in the Dream-Up Festival at Theater for the New City and is now returning to TNC after a year of rewrites, dramaturgy and more rewrites. Sirota declares, "I am incredibly grateful to Crystal Field and TNC for the continuing opportunity to develop my work, and now truly feeling that I am part of the community with this resident production. The work of TNC in educational outreach is especially important to me. It is particularly meaningful to be here at TNC, returning to the neighborhood where I went to high school, decades ago. Arts education, or the lack of it, plays a role in setting up the plot for "Your Name On My Lips." It is there for the storyline and originally not intended to make a statement; but while as a scientist I know that scientific literacy is important, it is no more important than humanities or arts education."
In initially devising this musical, Sirota knew little about art but felt the plot he envisioned would work best with Sam being an artist. Little did he know that shortly after finishing his first draft, he would meet an artist, Cara London, whom he would soon marry. For about a decade, musical theater took a back seat to his science career and family life. But eventually he returned to writing, both new works and revisiting his earlier works with fresh eyes, a greater maturity, and a better understanding of writing for musical theater. "Your Name On My Lips" took on new depth and inspiration, understanding the drives, fears and aspirations of an artist, absorbing the influence of London's prolific and powerful painting.
Asked if scientists bury principles of their specialties in their writing, Sirota replies, "Hopefully they do in their science writing! Actually I've been known to incorporate original songs in my scientific presentations. While I can't not think like a scientist, my musicals come from my heart. I write them to tell stories and take you with me on an emotional journey." Referring to his Frankenstein musical, Sirota muses, "Although the fact that Victor Frankenstein is a scientist may have been one of the things that attracted me to the material, I wrote "Day of Wrath" to be about the human need for love and companionship." Another work in development, "Go, My Child," is an original story about the 'untold' early years of biblical Sarah and Abraham, dealing with xenophobia, infertility, leaving one's parents and the search for truth. Sirota says, "My Abraham, I think, is a scientist and the 'truths' he seeks are also the truths of nature."
Sirota credits Theater Resources Unlimited, an organization run by Bob Ost, with not only helping him understand the process for developing a musical, but also helping him to connect with fellow writers, directors, producers and performers, making it "one of most helpful, supportive and nurturing organizations I have encountered." Sirota also credits the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshops run by Stephen Schwartz and Michael Kerker, which he has been observing for many years, as being invaluable to him in learning to write book musicals.
Director Gerald vanHeerden is a graduate of The Boston Conservatory and an alumnus of Webster University Theater Arts Conservatory. He is Artistic Director of Plays for Midtown International Theatre Festival. He specializes in the discovery and development of new plays, the conceptualization of new musical theater and the shepherding of new talent through his work as a teaching artist. He has been directing since the 90's and has worked in regional theaters and in NYC at the Hudson Guild, the June Havoc Theatre, the Dorothy Streslin Theatre and the Harry du Jur Theatre, among others. He is a member of SDC. His work includes numerous plays of MITF and works presented by Break A Leg Productions at CUNY Graduate Center. (geraldvanheerden.com)
Maria Torres (choreographer) is a two-time Cleo Award Winner for her choreography, with multiple nominations for others, and has worked with producers and directors at MTV, NBC, HBO, BBC and Walt Disney. Choreography credits include: lead choreographer for Lucille Lortel and Carbonelle Award (nominated for best choreography) "Four Guys Named Jose," associate choreographer for the Oscar nominated film "Enchanted," contributing choreographer and lead performer in Broadway's "Swing" and associate choreographer on showcase for "In The Heights." As guest choreographer on "So You Think You Can Dance," Torres won two Choreography Festival Awards for her original pieces. She most recently choreographed Luis Valdez' revival of "Zoot Suit" for the 50th Anniversary season at Center Theater Group (Mark Taper Theatre).
Matt Mitchell plays Sam and Michelle Siracusa plays Suzanna. The cast (in formation as of this writing) also includes Brandon Grimes and Erin Evers as Suzanna's parents. Musical Director is Anessa Marie.