National Alliance for Musical Theatre 25th Annual Festival of New Musicals

October!  Instead of autumn leaves and Halloween, for many artists and professionals all over the country working in musical theatre, October evokes the thought of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival of New Musicals.  For 25 years, every fall in New York City, the NAMT Festival showcases a select group of new musicals before an audience made up of NAMT members, producers and other industry professionals with the experience and resources to move the work forward.

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The National Alliance for Musical Theatre is a nonprofit organization whose mission is the development and advancement of the musical theatre art form with a focus on quality, diversity and new voices. Since 1989, the NAMT Festival has introduced musical theatre producers to over 288 musicals and 510 writers from around the world.  More than 75% of these shows have gone on to subsequent productions and tours, been printed in publishers’ catalogues and recorded on cast albums.  Betsy King Militello is Executive Director of NAMT and New Works Director Branden Huldeen oversees the Festival and all of the New Works programs for NAMT.

Betsy King Militello and Branden Huldeen of NAMT Photo by Ric Kallaher for NAMT

Betsy King Militello, E.D. &
Branden Huldeen of NAMT
Photo by Ric Kallaher for NAMT

This year’s Festival will take place October 17-18 at New World Stages in New York where 45-minute presentations of nine new musicals will feature casts of Broadway and Off-Broadway actors.  Sometimes the authors choose to present one full act (usually the first) of a two-act musical; other writers choose to cut and shape a special 45-minute version of the entire story to showcase certain songs and fit the time frame.

This year’s selected shows are diverse and provocative.  There are two that already have my bells ringing for personal reasons:  Come From Away is based on the true story of the thousands of passengers from international flights diverted on 9/11 for security reasons to Gander, Newfoundland, stranded for many horrible hours (without food or water) on planes there and then released into a community of the kindest people on earth — this is how I heard the story in real time from a family friend who was on one of those flights with her two children — so that musical is of particular interest.  Another, Analog and Vinyl, was written by Paul Gordon, whose work I adore and have written about before (see “The Importance of Being Paul Gordon”) so that, coupled with music from the Brill Building era, has already got me sold.

Here are brief descriptions from NAMT of all the selected musicals for the 2013 Festival:

Analog and Vinyl

Book, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon
Jodie Moore is music director
“Harrison is obsessed with LPs from the sixties and the superior quality of analog. Rodeo Girl, a quirky Silver Lake hipster, is obsessed with Harrison but he barely notices. With his vintage record store about to go under, Harrison and Rodeo Girl are visited by a mysterious customer who makes them a devilish offer they can’t refuse.”

The Astonishing Return of…The Protagonists!

Book and lyrics by Kevin Del Aguila, music by Michael Shaieb
Directed by Christopher Gattelli with musical direction by Lynne Shankel
“The Protagonists was once a mighty group of superheroes battling the forces of evil. Twenty years later, they find themselves battling the forces of thinning hair and menopause. But when an old nemesis re-emerges with a sinister plan, can the former superfriends pull it together to save the world again?”

The Boy Who Danced on Air

Book and lyrics by Charlie Sohne, music by Tim Rosser
The Boy Who Danced on Air focuses on a tradition in Afghanistan called Bacha Bazi: wealthy men take in poorer boys and train them to dance. The boys perform at parties and are often sexually abused. This is the story of what happens when two of those boys fall in love.”

Come From Awaygander

Book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Brian Hill directs with musical direction by Dan Pardo
Come From Away tells the true story of when seven thousand people landed on the doorstep of Gander, Newfoundland… and the people of Gander ‘put the kettle on.’ A rocking musical about when 38 planes from around the world were diverted to a small, Canadian community on September 11, 2001 — doubling its population in an instant. While the world witnessed the worst acts of humankind, the stranded passengers had their faith in humanity restored by the spirited people who comforted those who had come from away.”

Eastland

Book and lyrics by Andrew White
Music by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman
Amanda Dehnert directs
“Early morning, July 24, 1915: Moored on the Chicago River, the S.S. Eastland overflows with passengers ready for their company picnic. The boat leans to port – and keeps leaning, until it tips completely over. By day’s end, hundreds will perish, whole families will vanish and unexpected heroes will emerge.”

My Heart is the Drum 

Concept and music by Phillip Palmer
Original Story and book by Jennie Redling
Lyrics by Stacey Luftig
Schele Williams directs
“When Efua Kuti is pulled from school and forced to marry, she flees her village in Ghana to pursue her dream: an education. Guided by the spirit of her grandmother, she confronts life-threatening dangers—and discovers her own heart. A tale of modern Africa with driving rhythms and rich vocal harmonies, this big, coming-of-age musical celebrates the promise within us all.”

The Sandman – a little nightmare musical 

Music by Richard Oberacker
Book and lyrics by Robert Taylor & Richard Oberacker
Based on the disturbed scribblings of E.T.A. Hoffmann
Valerie Gebert is musical director
“Germany, 1838. What if Clara’s nutcracker had been built by a clockmaker whose children were held hostage by the Sandman? What if the clockmaker’s nanny had invited the Sandman in? What if the Sandman steals children’s eyes at night? Too ghastly to contemplate. Who dares put such horrors in a musical?”

The Single Girls Guide

Book by Gordon Greenberg, music and lyrics by Tommy Newman
Kevin Moriarty directs
“Jane Austen meets Helen Gurley Brown in the stylish world of 1964 Manhattan. Filled with the buoyant sounds and bright spirit of the mid-1960s, The Single Girl’s Guide is a fizzy riff on ‘Emma’ and ‘Sex and The Single Girl’ that echoes the questions we continue to ask about marriage, sex and being single.”

The Three Little Pigs

Book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe, music by George Stiles
Victoria Bussert directs with musical direction by Ryan Fielding Garrett
“Take three little superstar Piglets, their devoted single-parent Mom, a misunderstood Big Bad Wolf and the award-winning tuneful wit of Stiles and Drewe and you’ve got the perfect “Great Big Little Broadway Show” for audiences of three years old and up. This very curly musical tail will huff, puff and blow you away!”

In addition to showcasing diverse new musicals to promote new work and encourage future production, NAMT’s objectives and goals in holding the annual Festival include nurturing the artists, stimulating networking opportunities and providing a forum to spark new collaborations and ventures.  It’s not hard to understand why so many people look forward to the NAMT Festival every year.

I am fortunate in being able to attend the NAMT Festival this year on a press pass and, while no reviews of the work or performances are permitted (which is not my thing anyway), I will be writing some general impressions and speaking with some of the artists and theatre producers.  This sounds like  a great Festival and it’s hard to beat October in New York.  Stay tuned. . .

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