Pssst, musical theater fan. Yeah, you.
Want to watch a new stage musical in the birthing process, midwifed by a couple of Tony nominees? For free?
Head on down to Lincoln on Tuesday, where the American Society of Composers and Publishers and the Lied Center for Performing Arts will launch a three-day New Musical Theatre Workshop and Festival.
ASCAP, which has been holding the workshops in New York since 1972 and in Los Angeles since 1998, accepted the Lied's invitation to try a Midwestern location.
“Never in a million years did I think I'd get to Nebraska, but here I come,” said Michael Kerker, ASCAP's director of musical theater.
ASCAP, with more than 470,000 member composers, songwriters, lyricists and publishers of every kind of music, protects licensing rights and distributes royalties. It's also committed to nurturing music makers, which is where the workshop comes in. Stephen Schwartz, of “Wicked” and “Pippin” fame, currently runs the New York and L.A. workshops.
The Lied Center has developed a musical theater festival to accompany the workshop, including master classes and a concert combining local talent with Broadway guest artists.
The guests are Tony nominees Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, composer and lyricist of Broadway musicals “The Wedding Singer” and “Elf,” and Emmy-winning singer-actress Karen Morrow (“Cabaret Tonight,” PBS), who appeared on Broadway in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Beguelin also wrote the book and some lyrics for the stage version of Disney's “Aladdin,” due on Broadway next year.
The workshop and festival events all are free and open to the public.
The idea to help “grow a show” came from composer Jim Koudelka of Lincoln, who had attended ASCAP's workshops in New York and Los Angeles. In late 2010, he urged the Lied Center, whose mission statement includes commissioning new works, to be a part of developing new musicals by partnering with ASCAP.
ASCAP officials liked the idea. Thus began two years of working with the Lied on a schedule that Broadway artists, ASCAP, the Lied and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln could agree on.
A call for new musical-theater works went out in January 2012, drawing more than 100 workshop entries. A committee from the Lied narrowed the field to 20. Then ASCAP, Sklar and Beguelin chose three shows that will be the focus of the workshop, announcing them in June.
They're a varied lot. “Crossing Over,” by Stephanie Salzman and Deborah Brevoort, centers on a young Amish woman as she enters mainstream society. “Cross That River,” by Pat and Allan Harris, is the story of a slave who steals his master's prize stallion and rides to freedom. “Threads,” by Michael McLean, is about women and clothes and what holds them together, and how people are much more than what they wear.
The musicals were cast in Lincoln in early August and have been in rehearsal for several weeks. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, 25-minute showcases of each will be presented. Sklar and Beguelin will give short critiques. The writers and performers then have a day to revise and refine the musicals before presenting three 50-minute staged readings Thursday, followed by lengthier feedback sessions.
Tuesday afternoon and all day Wednesday, Morrow, Sklar and Beguelin will hold master classes and do question-and-answer sessions with UNL music students and others in attendance.
All three guest artists will be part of a cabaret performance, “Hello, Broadway,” Wednesday evening at 7:30 p.m., along with local talent.
All activities take place in the Lied Center's 250-seat Johnny Carson Theatre, except the Wednesday night concert, which will be on the Lied Center's main stage. To participate in the workshop, visit the Lied Center ticket office, go to liedcenter.org or email Becky Boesen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Stephan, executive director of the Lied Center, said he's happy to provide Nebraska artists the opportunity to work with Broadway masters, along with expanding the Lied's mission of fostering new works to the musical theater world.
ASCAP's Kerker said he's excited to have two alumni of ASCAP's past workshops, Sklar and Beguelin, now running a workshop. Other notable workshop graduates include Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who wrote “Ragtime,” “Seussical” and “Once on This Island.” ASCAP is not in the producing business but is happy to help musical writers improve their work with feedback.
Perhaps most excited is Alisa Belflower, coordinator of musical theater studies at UNL, who teaches voice and theater acting. She is also the Lied Center's associate producer of musical theater development.
For musical theater students, she said, connections with Broadway professionals can be not only a source of expertise but a key to getting a foot in the career door. Those cast for workshop readings must learn new material very quickly, then absorb changes to it.
Belflower has been organizing staged readings of new musicals in Lincoln for years. She said they're great for students because they showcase their abilities as singer-actors. Lighting, costumes and scenery are not a part of the presentations.
Some composers have told Belflower they've done their best writing at UNL because it was such a stress-free environment, free of damaging negativity. Audiences ask questions, setting up a dialogue with the playwrights and composers.
“It gives me a thrill that here in Nebraska we can make a difference in what happens on Broadway in New York,” she said.