BWW Feature - Discovering Where Musicals Are Born in Winter Park Playhouse's New Musical Festival

BWW Feature - Discovering Where Musicals Are Born in Winter Park Playhouse's New Musical Festival

In my years since joining BroadwayWorld Orlando, I've seen our arts community grow by leaps and bounds. With so many Great Performances and classes throughout Orlando, the next logical step would increase our national arts footprint by fostering new work. That's where Winter Park Playhouse's Florida Festival of New Musicals comes in.

During this inaugural four day event, six musicals showcased their first act in a reading format. Meaning no sets, no costumes, no choreography, it's just story and music. It is followed by a 15-minute talk back session with the creators. This bare bones approach allows show creators to let their work live or die without the added complexity that is a fully staged production.

What an experience to give direct feedback and ask questions to the people who put their creative juices and their effort behind their work. This is where musicals are born and shaped. "Being able to share our work before an audience that's risk free is a unique opportunity," said composer Ted Kociolek of AGE OF INNOCENCE. "Festivals like this give us a platform and helps our process. We're assigned a director and a cast who interpret our work and give us a new perspective."

As the only new musical festival in Florida, and in fact, the only new musical festival south of Atlanta, this has been a long time coming and a true labor of love. Earlier this week, I had a chance to chat with Artistic Director, Roy Alan about the festival - click here to check it out. You get this sense of appreciation from the creators I spoke to. They use this opportunity as a whole to really shape and direct the next steps for their shows.

In order for a musical to be submitted for consideration, it must be complete. Each of the works were assigned a director, casted locally, and given 10 hours of rehearsal time. My initial impression upon hearing these parameters was that I was going to see half-baked ideas, but this was not the case at all. I only had a chance to catch two shows, but impressed nonetheless. AGE OF INNOCENCE was fully and thoughtfully fleshed out with a beautifully sophisticated score. GIGOLO, which is a Cole Porter revue, could easily be a production on the Winter Park Playhouse stage next season.

For musical fans, a local new musical festival is important. It's important for creators, artists, and this community. You can truly see it all come together with our best talent and best voices showcased for our incredibly supportive hometown audience. These creators come from all around the United States to present their work. It is interesting to hear where ideas for musical begin and how long of a creative process it has been. It's definitely not the same for everyone. Lyricist Walter Holland presented his libretto for AGE OF INNOCENCE to Ted Kociolek in March 2006 and they have been working it off and on since then. Mr. Kociolek has another musical that he's going to workshop next month in London that he's been working on for 30 years. I asked when he knows a piece is done. To which he replied, "When there's nothing left to say."

Other musicals in the festival like Paul Gilger's GIGOLO have taken much less time. "I got a call to do a fundraiser within a week and decided it should be a Cole Porter revue," he said. Gilger, whose work was seen last season in Winter Park Playhouse's SHOWTUNE revue, uses the idea of song cycles to tell a story. Song cycles use no spoken words and focus on the lyrics of songs to tell a singular storyline. In this case, GIGOLO tells the story of Porfirio Rubirose who is most famous for being a real playboy. Unlike his other revue, GIGOLO really focuses on storytelling with staging similar to a standard musical. The lyrics really play well into this singular plot idea. "He's an interesting guy," Gilger says. "I was reading a book about his life by Shawn Levy and thought 'this could work.' I got permission from the Cole Porter Trust to use his lyrics and here we are."

In his pre-curtain speech, Roy Alan prefaces the audience by saying, "You never know where the next HAMILTON or DEAR EVAN HANSEN will come from." And he's totally correct.

"If this form is going to stay alive," Ted Kociolek said. "It needs to continue to appeal to people of all interests." AGE OF INNOCENCE is written rather lyrically using the elegance of Edith Wharton's prose. This is not the style that is currently trending on Broadway, but Kociolek doesn't see this as a problem. "If it's good, it will find a place," he says. "There's room for everybody and everything. Not all things appeal to all people and that's what's great about musical theater."

So why participate in a New Musical Festival so far away from New York City? The key is the east coast. "The east coast is the action for theater," Paul Geiger describes. "East coasters know theater. There is true ensemble here."

This idea of community jumped out at me as I saw the familiar faces of Orlando's local theater scene take the stage. It was an honor to watch these hard working actors perform work that could someday make it into the annals of theater history. Lofty words, I know, but musicals all start from somewhere, so it might as well be here.

The Florida Festival of New Musicals ran at the Winter Park Playhouse from August 24 - August 27th. While you may have missed its inaugural year, be sure to mark it on your calendars for next year! For more information about Winter Park Playhouse and their 2017 - 2018 season visit

Image credit: Winter Park Playhouse

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From This Author Kimberly Moy

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