Change your tune

Human Race Theatre Company’s Festival of New Musicals

By Eric Street

Photo: Susan Blackwell will host the 2014 Songwriter

The Human Race Theatre Company’s mission to further the development of new works takes center stage Aug. 1 – 2 with its summer Festival of New Musicals. For the company’s seventh annual event, producing Artistic Director Kevin Moore has selected “Molly Sweeney: A Musical,” an adaptation of Brian Friel’s 1994 play by the same name, and created The Songwriter Showcase, a new concert production featuring a collection of songs from musicals in development by festival alumni and writers new to Human Race audiences.

“By combining our workshop with a concert, we can introduce at least 10 new musicals to our audience,” Moore said. “This provides an excellent snapshot of the great work going on across the country in musical theatre.” The staged readings are performed in the Loft Theatre over the course of the two-day festival, the culmination of a two-week-long workshop process in which writers get the chance to further hone their musicals with the help of professional actors, then see the shows performed before getting feedback from an audience.

Would you give up the beauty you know for the beauty others can see? That is the dilemma for the title character of composer/lyricist Caleb Damschroder and book writer Eric Ulloa’s “Molly Sweeney: A Musical.”

“We are the first writing team being granted full permission by Brian Friel to musically adapt one of his plays,” Ulloa said, “and we could not be more honored or grateful for that.”

Blind since early childhood, Molly is happy and independent, living a life of contentment in a world of her own creation. Now, her new husband, Frank, a restless soul seeking to save those in need, wants to save Molly by restoring her sight and enlists the aid of a once-great surgeon battling his own demons. When the bandages are removed, they discover success is in the eye of the beholder, and learning to see comes with unexpected consequences. Directed by Igor Goldin, the production features Human Race Resident Artists Jamie Cordes, Joe Deer, Katie Pees, Marya Spring, Scott Stoney, Claire Marie Northcut, Jeff Sams, Sherri L. Sutter, Cooper Taggard, Nick Verina and Lindsie VanWinkle as Molly Sweeney.

The Human Race has waited decades for a project like “Molly Sweeney: A Musical.”

“In 1994, we produced Brian Friel‘s Tony Award-winning ‘Dancing at Lughnasa,’ which featured Marsha Hanna in one of her rare on-stage appearances,” Moore said. “So, we have been fans of his work for many years and are thrilled to work with this talented new team.”

Eric Ulloa, last seen in The Race’s productions of “Shenandoah” and “Man of La Mancha,” and Caleb Damschroder, taking a leave from his regular job as a performer in Broadway’s current production of “Cabaret,” are equally pleased to be working with the theatre company.

“Having this all happen at The Human Race Theatre is a great honor and a tremendous benefit,” Ulloa raved. “There is not only amazing talent there, but they have a reputation of challenging their audiences and bringing them first-rate theatre that will not only entertain, but leave them with powerful stories of the human experience. What better a place for Molly’s story to blossom?”

Performances of “Molly Sweeney: A Musical” are Friday, Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 2 at 2 p.m.

In a first for the annual festival, Kevin Moore has created The Songwriter Showcase, a concert performance of a collection of new songs from musicals in development by a number of Musical Theatre Workshops alumni as well as some songwriters making their Human Race debut. Hosted by Broadway veteran and Dayton native Susan Blackwell (“Now. Here. This.”), the 2014 concert lineup includes works by Janet Vogt and Mark Friedman, Adam Gwon, Rob Hartmann, Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond, Sean Michael Flowers, Joseph Thalken, Doug Cohen and Dan Elish, and Edwin Wilson and Doug Katsaros, with performances by Human Race Resident Artists and friends. 

As Moore explained, the inspiration for The Songwriter Showcase came from a recent Dayton collaboration. 

“After the success of our Broadway Pops experience with the Dayton Philharmonic last spring, I thought our audiences would be equally excited to hear our Resident Artists performing songs from a handful of new musicals.” 

Moore is delighted Blackwell agreed to be a part of the experience. “No one is better suited to be our host than the ‘Belle of Broadway’ herself, Dayton’s own Susan Blackwell. It’s great to have her back on our Loft stage!”

The performance of The Songwriter Showcase is Saturday, Aug. 2 at 8 p.m.

The 2014 Festival of New Musicals is sponsored by the Jesse and Caryl Philips Foundation Fund for the Development of New Works and The Producers’ Circle.

The Human Race Theatre Company presents the Festival of New Musicals Friday, Aug. 1 and Saturday, Aug. 2 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. Performances of “Molly Sweeny: A Musical” are at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1 and 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2. The 2014 Songwriter Showcase is 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door for each production. For tickets and more information, please visit humanracetheatre.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Eric Street at EricStreet@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Eric Street
Eric Street is Professor of Music at UD with a doctorate from Indiana University. His Carnegie Hall debut led to performances in 36 countries on six continents. An opera lover, he’s taught Opera History and accompanied over two-dozen singers from the Metropolitan and NYC Opera. Reach him at EricStreet@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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