Theater News

An Unquestionable Quest

A new musical raises funds to restore a school for the arts in Puerto Rico.

From Questionable Quest
From Questionable Quest

In 1998 Hurricane George brought devastation to Puerto Rico, and to the Palmas Academy, located near a heavily damaged area. For the 250 students in the school, which promotes education with training in the arts, there was no option but to turn to their natural resources–the musical theater talents of one of their students, that is–to help rebuild.

A year later, at the Centro de Bellas Artes in San Juan, Relatively Speaking, by Academy student William Fox, raised $100,000 toward that effort. And on April 26, Fox’s newest production, Questionable Quest, continues the fund-raising mission in New York with eight performances at the Beacon Theatre.

Playwright Fox and director Elliott Taubenslag spoke (on a speaker-phone conference call from Puerto Rico) about Questionable Quest, their latest collaboration. Fox has been a student at Palmas Academy for three years, where he started piano lessons at the age of six. There was none of the usual parental urging to get him to practice (“I loved it immediately,” he says), and he started composing a few years later.

Taubenslag has a strong background in children’s theater, but when asked to direct Relatively Speaking, he initially declined. “At the time I had so much going on, and had far too many commitments to other projects,” he recalls. “But then I read the script, they invited me to visit Puerto Rico and I fell in love with everything here.”

Quest, he says, is even stronger than Fox’s first musical, which benefited from a strong production team and local interest. “It took on a grand scale,” he

From Questionable Quest
From Questionable Quest

says. “After they brought me in, I brought in other people and the show became an event. We had a full orchestra, support from the community, and performances in a theater equivalent to those in Lincoln Center: absolutely enormous. Our matinee performances were filled with school children, and evening performances were filled with adults.”

Questionable Quest is a medieval tale of a serf who is unwilling to accept a predestined life of misery and toil. Determined to change his fate, he withstands trials and tribulations before achieving his goal, finding romance along the way. Fox and Taubenslag say that the finale sums up the show’s theme: No matter what people are saying, take a chance if you know you can do something.

The score of 14 songs is performed by a Latin band, which Taubenslag describes as simply magnificent. The cast of 40 ranges in age from eight to 15, and the musical runs 90 minutes without an intermission.


From Questionable Quest
From Questionable Quest

Taubenslag, who knows Fox well, recalls Fox’s reaction upon hearing his score played by an orchestra for the first time. “He is very shy, yet it gave him so much joy. I told William that it must be simply thrilling to for any composer to have their music played by musicians of that caliber.”

Taubenslag describes his production colleagues as a dream team, and remains in total awe of the show’s choreographer, Waldo Gonzales. “Since I have two left feet, I let him do all the dance work,” he laughs. “And he’s had to be particularly inventive, since many of the cast members are not trained dancers.”

While the gentlemen are proud of their work on Questionable Quest, they are equally excited about appearing on upper Broadway, with its promised package of events: performances in a 3,000-seat theater; a meet, greet, and proclamation with Mayor Giuliani; Broadway shows; tours of the city; scores of parents tagging along to visit family and friends. “The kids would fly without a plane, if they could,” Taubenslag says.

While directing the show, Taubenslag has been particularly sensitive to its heritage and spirit. “Directors who haven’t worked with a Latin cast don’t know what they’re missing. And when the music starts, don’t tell me that it isn’t genetic, because dancing in Puerto Rico is a part of life. When I heard the score, knowing that we were coming to New York, I insisted that it not become a Sesame Street musical. We had to preserve its Latin flavor.”

If the future for young William Fox looks promising, so too does the future of Questionable Quest. There is a possibility of an open-run production with an adult cast in the spring. Several of the musical’s songs are being considered by Latin artists, and if recorded, will boost the possibility of a full production.

The students of Palmas Academy have got everything to look forward to: the thrill of opening night, visiting New York, and joyously transporting a bit of Puerto Rico to Manhattan. “And when the music starts,” Taubenslag adds, “even I can’t keep my feet still.”

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