New Work in Progress: Soft Power

Next, we chatted with Michael Ritchie, the Artistic Director of NAMT member Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, CA about the theatre’s upcoming world premiere production of Soft Power by David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori. Soft Power was recently awarded a production grant from the National Fund for New Musicals.

How did Soft Power first find its way to Center Theatre Group, and what makes it such a great fit for the theatre?
Soft Power was originally commissioned by Center Theatre Group about four years ago as a world premiere play to cap off the Mark Taper Forum’s 50th Anniversary Season. And as the play evolved into its current form, it became clear it needed to move to a bigger stage, and we had that in the Ahmanson. Plus, David—who happens to be an Angeleno—is no stranger to the company, having premiered works including Yellow Face and Flower Drum Song at the Taper.

Soft Power has undergone some significant changes since the show was first conceived. How has the show come to its current form, and how has CTG’s support of the project allowed the writers to take risks as they continue to rework the show?
About a year and a half after our first meeting, David told me his idea had transformed into a play that would become a musical—and that he wanted to collaborate with the composer Jeanine Tesori. He explained that he wanted to turn The King and I on its head, and I was completely intrigued by the idea, because I grew up on musicals like The King and I. As a nonprofit regional theatre with three different stages, Center Theatre Group is uniquely capable of creating new works on a grand scale, without the commercialized limitations of Broadway, because we can give a creative team enough space to realize something that is truly special. And that’s what I think we’ve done here.

With the show’s opening coming soon, what has the development process looked like as CTG has worked with the writers to prepare for the piece’s world premiere?
As a nonprofit regional theatre, we’re responsible for not only maintaining the art form but pushing it forward by commissioning and developing and producing new plays. So we’ve done everything we can to support this creative team over the course of the past four years, including 13 readings and workshops before rehearsals even began.

What about this show are you most excited to share with your audiences?
There is nothing better in the world than working on a new musical. This is a chance to see what two brilliant artists are going to do with a great, extremely relevant idea.

Why should everyone mark their calendars so they don’t miss Soft Power?
This is the first collaboration between David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori, and it promises to be the biggest opening to hit Los Angeles this year.

For more information about Center Theatre Group and Soft Power, visit the CTG website.

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