TheaterMania Logo
Home link

Joe Iconis, Georgia Stitt, and More Artists Sing the Praises of New Musicals at 54

The new series gives audiences — and writers — a first look at 10 promising shows.

Feinstein's/54 Below's currently running New Musicals at 54 series is presenting 10 promising, fresh shows throughout the first several months of 2016. Produced by programming director Jennifer Ashley Tepper, the series not only gives artists like Joe Iconis (Bloodsong of Love) and Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody) a chance to premiere their new work on the New York stage, it also treats audiences to an insider look at the next big things in American theater.

We asked the writers whose work is being presented as part of New Musicals at 54's inaugural season about why the series provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity and how the program benefits them as creators of new musical theater.

Georgia Stitt
Big Red Sun, written with John Jiler
Georgia Stitt is the coauthor of the new musical Big Red Sun.
(© Monica Simoes)

What makes New Musicals at 54 a unique opportunity for musical-theater writers?
In a way, the series at Feinstein's/54 Below feels like a festival in that you get the exposure of being part of something bigger than just your own project, and you are part of a community of fellow artists and fans who are invested in seeing how shows develop. But you don't have to go out of town to do your work, so the New York City community can embrace it, too. For me, I couldn't justify asking people to pay $40 to come to a staged reading of a new musical, so I used the Feinstein's/54 Below concert and the upcoming concert series at 11th Hour Theater Company in Philadelphia as an excuse to orchestrate the show. I wanted to present a concert of the show, celebrating the music, and that meant hiring great musicians and getting the charts written — something that in ten years of development we'd never had motivation to do. As I told Jennifer Tepper after the presentation of Big Red Sun, she didn't just showcase our work, she nurtured it. We have moved forward in the last few weeks in ways that it would have taken us months to advance on our own.

Amanda Green
An Americain Boy, written with Richard Thomas
Amanda Green is the coauthor of the new musical An Americain Boy.

What have you been able to learn about your show through the process of putting together your concert?
We learned so much: what material actors connect with, what is fun, moving for an audience to see. Hearing and seeing the songs we'd written helped put the story in focus for us, in terms of what story we want to tell. As is often the case, the singers brought their unique gifts to the songs and inspired us about where songs and characters could go — musically, emotionally and thematically. I think we answered an important question for ourselves: We learned that we do indeed have a story worth telling musically. And we're excited to move forward and keep writing.

Nick Blaemire
Fallout, written with Kyle Jarrow (February 9)
Nick Blaemire is the coauthor of the new musical Fallout.

What have you been able to learn about your show through the process of putting together your concert?
In rehearsals, we've already learned a ton about how the band affects the songs. Fallout is a period show, it takes place in 1962, and charts the transition in music from a very safe, shrink-wrapped suburban sound (Bobby Vee) to a far more dangerous era of expression (The Beatles, Rolling Stones). All of that changed during 1962, which was effectively the last year of the '50s, and which Fallout conjectures is directly related to the Cuban Missile Crisis. So it's been very cool to find those period sounds on songs that obviously were written in the 21st century.

Adam Gwon
String, written with Sarah Hammond (February 16)
Adam Gwon is the coauthor of the new musical String.

What makes New Musicals at 54 a unique opportunity for musical-theater writers?
It's rare that we get to combine the excitement of putting on a concert with the sometimes-stressful and not very glamorous task of showing off a new musical. This series is way more fun for everyone (audience included!) than your typical reading-of-a-new-musical, in-a-rehearsal-room kind of showcase. If only every new musical reading could be enjoyed while snacking on bacon mac-and-cheese!

Joe Iconis
Be More Chill, written with Joe Tracz (February 23)
Joe Iconis is the coauthor of the new musical Be More Chill.
(© Monica Simoes)

What makes New Musicals at 54 a unique opportunity for musical-theater writers?
I mean, it's very rare for most musical-theater writers to get such a high profile, supported platform to showcase their work in New York City. Most times, when you're doing a presentation of your new musical, it takes place in the middle of the day, in a too-crowded or too-empty rehearsal room. Nobody really wants to be there because the sort of people who go to see presentations of musicals in the middle of the day are the sort of people who see way-too-many presentations in the middle of the day every year. To have my musical be seen for the first time in New York at a beautiful club, where it's feels like an event and not homework, is really a wonderful thing. Jen Tepper is the only person who would ever be crazy or smart enough to mastermind this thing. She's a real gift to writers and to audiences.

Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary
17 Again, written with Marco Pennette (March 3)
Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner are the authors of the new musical 17 Again.
(© David Gordon)

What have you been able to learn about your show through the process of putting together your concert?
Putting together this concert for 17 Again has been a great excuse to reexamine the show, focusing primarily on the songs. Since songs tend to be the emotional "tent poles" of a show, it's been interesting to see if the story comes across in a concert form. After two readings of 17 Again in the past year, we've done a lot of rewriting and development work to hone the score, and we're excited to present it in a very streamlined fashion and see how the songs tell the story.

Paul Gordon
Sleepy Hollow, written with Hunter Foster (March 8)
Paul Gordon is a coauthor of the new musical Sleepy Hollow.

What makes New Musicals at 54 a unique opportunity for musical-theater writers? Feinstein's/54 Below provides a creative environment for musical-theater writers to showcase new work in a different setting than we are generally used to. When I am developing a new piece, I am mostly reliant on "readings" to show my work. This can be a sort of sterile arena when one is presenting new musicals. But 54 gives us a new opportunity to show our work in a completely different environment. Something more informal and friendlier, with an audience that is hopefully just tipsy enough to forgive our mistakes.

Zack Zadek
The Crazy Ones, written with Alexander Pototsky (March 16)
Zack Zadek is the coauthor of the new musical The Crazy Ones.

What makes New Musicals at 54 a unique opportunity for musical-theater writers?
I think this series is incredibly unique for theater writers, because it offers a kind of developmental presentation that acts as a sort of fusion of many of the best elements from other developmental steps. For example, a reading is great, because you have a contained way to learn about a musical and test drive it in front of an audience. But a reading will always have limitations: it's an invited audience, which will have certain thoughts and biases, and not necessarily indicative of the general audience that will see your show. And there's always a lack of "theatricality": no band, no lights, no stage, you get the picture. The response for many of us is to do a concert, which has all of those things, but often lacks the context of a complete piece. Who are these characters? Can I get invested in the story, which is what musical-theater writing is actually about, not just a faux-rock concert of songs. This series brings you the best of both worlds, in a way that serves us writers in our development process, and ultimately the audience who gets a ticket to an actual theatrical experience.

Michael R. Jackson
A Strange Loop (April 26)
Michael R. Jackson is the author of the new musical A Strange Loop.

What have you been able to learn about your show through the process of putting together your concert?
I have learned that casting is hard but super important! A Strange Loop is a show that we are looking to cast with all black, gay men to tell an emotional, bitingly funny, contemporary, story about a black, gay man, from the point of view of a writer who is a black, gay man. Assembling the right cast is essential and has required me to cast the net far and wide. That being said, I've never enjoyed the act of fishing more. As someone who is committed to continuing to address the issue of "diversity" in musical theater, it's extremely rewarding to do the hard work of finding the voices that will bring my piece to light and to life. I truly appreciate that New Musicals at 54 is being so generous with support toward this project.

Kirsten Childs
Funked Up Fairy Tales (May 31)
Kirsten Childs is the author of the new musical Funked Up Fairy Tales.
(© David Gordon)

What makes New Musicals at 54 a unique opportunity for musical-theater writers?
What's wonderful about putting up a concert for New Musicals at 54 is that it's giving me a chance to reexamine an old work in a new way. Distilling the essence of the story into a short, nightclub version is a challenge, but it's fun – almost as much fun as meeting the old and new friends who'll be coming together to help me put on the show.