VOTES to Offer Musical Theatre View of the Clintons at Castillo This Spring

By: Mar. 11, 2016

VOTES by Jacqueline S. Salit and Fred Newman, composed by leading pop/country tunesmith Annie Roboff, is an "outsider" musical with a canny view of the Clintons as a political couple. The piece is set on the eve of the 2016 election, with America only hours away from choosing its first woman president. Melanie Jefferson, a former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, is ready to count the votes when an unexpected visitor from her past arrives to challenge her conscience and her destiny. Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd Street, will present the work's world premiere April 1 to May 8, directed by Gabrielle L. Kurlander.

The musical explores the cost of power by looking "under the hood" of America's leading power couple, who came out of the 60's aiming to create a new political culture and went through a process of having it corrupted. The playwrights are primarily interested in this "cost of power." This serious, realpolitik theme underlies a whimsical book and lyrics.

VOTES is built upon a preceding musical, "The Last Temptation of William Jefferson," written by the late Fred Newman and Annie Roboff in 1999, in the aftermath of the Lewinsky scandal. Songwriter Annie Roboff has five #1 hits under her belt and her songs have sold over fifty million records to date. Roboff and Salit wrote a new song for VOTES as an addition to the pre-existing score. Jacqueline S. Salit, who has a lifetime of experience as a campaign strategist, treasured the play and updated it in VOTES. In this "sequel," she portrays the life of William and Melanie Jefferson 17 years later, preserving the original musical as flashbacks. We see Melanie go from the edge of a nervous breakdown to becoming the leading Presidential candidate.

What's constant in the two productions is how the first couple plays the game of politics. Playwright Salit explains, "The first couple made a pact that they would go for power, all the way to the White House, refusing to take the game too seriously. But Melanie has come to believe that the only way to go is to play the game for keeps." "Votes" is playful in tone and many of its songs (like "They Don't Inhale at Yale") exhibit the intimacy and mischievousness that Melanie and William share with one another. Salit introduces a third principal character named Vivian, an old friend and advisor, who challenges Melanie's gamesmanship and leads Melanie to the doorstep of new opportunity.

Lisa Ann Wright-Mathew plays Melanie Jefferson, Wayne Miller plays William Jefferson and Debbie Buchsbaum plays Vivian Traveler, their confidant, adviser and "conscience." The cast also includes Tori Ogunsanya, Bryan Austermann, Frances McGarry and former Channel 7 newscaster Art McFarland.

Musical director is David Belmont. Set designer is Miguel Romero. Choreographer is Lonné Moretton. Lighting designer is Nick Kolin. Costume designer is Kerry Gibbons. Sound designer is Michael Walsh.

VOTES is one of two plays coinciding with this year's New York Democratic Presidential Primary (April 19). The other is "Hillary and Clinton" by Lucas Hnath, which was developed at New Dramatists NYC in 2009 and will premiere April 1 to May 1 at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater. While the two plays are different in style and form, they both take place in hotel rooms on or close to election night, tackling themes of the ruthlessness of politics, how Hillary and Bill created themselves, and Hillary's role as a female power player.


April 1 to May 8, 2016
Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd Street (betw. 10th and 11th Avenues)
Presented by Castillo Theatre
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Sundays at 2:00 PM
$35 gen. adm., $15 seniors, $10 students
Box office: www, 212-941-1234
Running time: 2:15 hours, plus intermission.
Critics are invited on or after April 3 (opening date).

Playwright Jacqueline S. Salit has a 30-year history in independent and insurgent politics. An agitator and "outsider" strategist, she managed Michael Bloomberg's three successful mayoral campaigns on the Independence Party line and was a key figure in the long-shot presidential bids of Ross Perot and Lenora Fulani. She is the author of "Independents Rising: Outsider Movements, Third Parties and the Struggle for a Post-Partisan America" (Palgrave Macmillan) and publishes regularly on the Huffington Post. Her theatrical credits include co-writing "Crown Heights" with Fred Newman and Dan Friedman (1998) and "Newman's Women" (2012). She made her acting debut in "Sally and Tom (The American Way)" in 2012.

Composer Annie Roboff is a Grammy-nominated songwriter whose works have been recorded by artist as diverse as Faith Hill, Whitney Houston, Bonnie Raitt, The Indigo Girls, Tim McGraw and The Dixie Chicks. With five #1 hits to her name, Ms. Roboff is considered one of the most important songwriters working today. Her songs appear on albums that have sold over forty five million copies. In her theater work, Ms. Roboff collaborated with late Castillo artistic director Fred Newman on several political musicals, including "Sally and Tom (The American Way)" and "Still on the Corner."

Director Gabrielle L. Kurlander has been a member of the Castillo Theatre company since 1989. Her production of the musical "Sally and Tom (The American Way)" by Fred Newman and Annie Roboff won five 2012 AUDELCO Awards including an award for Outstanding Director of a Musical. Ms. Kurlander's other directing credits include "Dr. Du Bois and Miss Ovington" by Clare Coss (2014), "Playing with Heiner Müller," winner of a 2011 AUDELCO Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance; "Coming of Age in Korea" (co-directed with Desmond Richardson), "Still on the Corner," "Billie and Malcolm: A Demonstration," "Revising Germany" and "Lenin's Breakdown," all by Fred Newman; "The Task" and "Heiner Müller: A Man Without a Behind" by Heiner Müller; and "Hot Snow" by Laurence Holder. A longtime activist and non-profit leader, Ms. Kurlander is President and CEO of the All Stars Project, Inc.

Playwright Fred Newman was the artistic director and playwright-in-residence of the Castillo Theatre from 1989 until his retirement in 2005. He wrote 43 plays beginning in 1986, including "Sally and Tom (The American Way)," "Billie & Malcolm: A Demonstration," "Lenin's Breakdown," "Outing Wittgenstein" and "Stealin' Home" (to name a few). His play "Satchel: A Requiem for Racism" was co-produced by Castillo and the New Federal Theatre in 2008. In 2002, he wrote and directed the independent film "Nothing Really Happens (Memories of Aging Strippers)," which won several film festival awards. In addition to his theatrical work, he was an independent political pioneer, a social therapist and a philosopher. He was a co-founder of the All Stars Project, Inc.

The Castillo Theatre is the award-winning Off-off Broadway theatre of the All Stars Project. It opens up the world of cutting-edge political theatre to young people and adults. Its audience comes from diverse communities across New York City, and more than 9,000 people attended productions there last year. The All Stars Project ( is a privately funded national nonprofit organization founded in 1981 whose mission is to transform the lives of youth and poor communities using the developmental power of performance, in partnership with caring adults.

Pictured: Lisa Ann Wright-Mathew as Melanie Jefferson. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

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