It’s one thing to put on tried-and-true Rodgers & Hammerstein classics like “Oklahoma!” or “South Pacific.” They’ve been around for generations and have been staged on Broadway and in just about every dinner theater from Cincinnati to San Diego.
It’s quite another to develop new musicals – originals, from the first word through full production – and that’s the task undertaken by the drama department at UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts. By forming an alliance last year with the North Hollywood-based Academy for New Musical Theatre, a 30-year-old creative incubator, CTSA hopes to become a spawning ground for the classic musicals of tomorrow.
The plan, hatched by Gary Busby, assistant drama professor, and ANMT executive director Scott Guy after serving together on a professional panel, is to generate new works and, by doing so, sculpt how Broadway will look in five or 10 years.
“The university should be a place where this art form is being created,” Busby says. “The goal is to raise CTSA’s profile by establishing a niche for itself, which will attract better drama students and build a larger and broader audience base for our performances.”
The plays will be originated by ANMT’s professional writers, composers, lyricists and producers. They’ll be designed, performed and directed by CTSA students and faculty.
“With a new B.F.A. in music theater being offered – and with our alumni starring in Broadway, off-Broadway and several national productions – the UCI drama department is uniquely positioned to impact the future of American musical theater,” says Busby, who developed the music portion of UCLA’s music theater program before joining UCI’s faculty six years ago.
Two original musicals – “e-$cape,” a gripping rock musical set in a virtual world, and “Aging Out,” an affecting tale about the foster-care system – were selected earlier this year and put through the months-long table reading and workshop process. This will culminate with staged readings Sept. 18 to 20 – a weekend celebration to launch what Busby hopes will become an annual musical theater festival.
The works will be presented in Winifred Smith Hall without costumes, scenery or lighting, and audiences will have a rare chance to see original plays in their embryonic stages and provide feedback to help determine which will be fully produced next season.
“In order to maximize our students’ potential, we need to look at where the marketplace will be, rather than where it is now,” says Busby. “Originating new works will allow us to do just that.”
Performances of “e-$cape” will be Friday, Sept. 18, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 20, at 8 p.m. “Aging Out” will be performed Saturday, Sept. 19, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 20, at 5 p.m. Tickets are $6 each or $10 to attend both plays. Call the Arts Box Office at 949-824-2787 or visit www.arts.uci.edu/events for more information.
Because feedback is a crucial component of developing new works, audiences are encouraged to stay for discussions after each performance.