New Work in Progress: NINE WIVES

An interview with John Simpkins, Artistic Director of SharonPlayhouse, about their upcoming production of Nine Wives with music and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen (Barnstormer, Fest ’08; Glimmerglass, Fest ’00; The Gig, Fest ’94) and book and lyrics by Dan Elish.

Based on the novel Nine Wives by Dan Elish, this new musical tells the story of Henry Mann, a 32-year-old bachelor who discovers that the love of his life has met someone new and is about to get married. What’s worse, he’s been invited to her wedding! What follows are Henry’s frantic attempts to find a woman he can take as his date – a potential future wife – to prove to his ex-fiancée (and the world) that he too is ready to move on.

How did Nine Wives find its way to Sharon Playhouse?
I had seen a reading of the show a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It had always been on my radar – and then Jayson Raitt, one of the producers on the show, approached me and wondered if it might be a nice fit for Sharon. I had worked with Dan Elish before…and I’ve admired Doug Cohen’s work for years. It seemed like a great fit to join their team. They had done quite a bit of really good work on the story since I had seen the reading and we had a terrific meeting about the things they wanted to accomplish with a developmental production in Sharon.

What drew you to this story?
I have a tendency to really fall for stories about the everyman. The protagonist, Henry, is one of those people who rarely shows up in musicals. He is, as he describes himself “a perfectly acceptable athlete, an excellent musician, passably good-looking, and disease free.” He just happens, like many people, to not be able to find someone with whom he clicks enough to have a real relationship. I tend to connect as a human with characters who are in the kind of turmoil that regular people experience in their life.

Why is the show a good fit for your mission and audience? 
The Sharon Playhouse aspires to be a place where the next generation of artists and audiences can be celebrated and given a place to grow together. We have a diverse and eclectic audience that can get equally excited about a heavy drama as they can about something light and funny that they have never seen. We are proud of our ability to give artists a place to experiment and work – and our audiences are thrilled to be a part of that process and understand the way musicals develop and grow through production opportunities.

How does this show fit into your theatre’s overall new works program?
We are committed to assisting writers in several stages of development – but the one we can be most helpful with on our Stage 2 space (where Nine Wives will be produced) is something early in the life of a piece. This will be the first staged production of Nine Wives – and we devote the resources of our terrific resident designers and staff to work with the creative team and writers/ producers throughout the process. This summer new work production slot in our season gives a musical a chance to have an actual small production instead of a reading – something that we hope is valuable in the evolution and development of any show.

Nine Wives is still very much in progress as a script. What are you and the writers working on for this production?
Like any musical at this stage of development, we have a long list of things that we’re working on across the board – most of which we will learn as we allow the characters to live and breathe off the page and out from behind music stands. In addition to those things that are learned through the production process, the writers are making some terrific changes in all areas of the book, music and lyrics based on the pre-production conversations we’ve been having. Hopefully people who have been exposed to this show in the past will see continued and exciting development as they come see us in Sharon July 24-27!
Why should people head up to Sharon, CT this summer to catch
Nine Wives?

It’s a fun and terrific show, it’s a first production by a very talented writing and creative team, it’s a beautiful drive or train ride (under 2 hours from NYC!) and it’s a terrific chance to see a piece that you may want to program at your theatres. As currently structured, Nine Wives is a three person, 90-minute (no intermission) show with a pianist. It’s terrifically achievable to produce in any theatre setting – and we’re hopeful that the Sharon production will be the first of many.

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