New Work in Progress: Men With Money

This month, we chatted with Ann-Carol Pence and Anthony Rodriguez, co-founders and respectively the Associate Producer and Producing Artistic Director at NAMT member Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, GA about the company’s world premiere of Men With Money, written by Bill Nelson and Joseph Trefler. Men With Money is set to open on March 7. 

Louis, Max, and Sonny are charming, young and eligible bachelors looking to marry their way from rags to riches. This romantic romp is full of dreams, schemes and lavish musical numbers set in the golden age mecca of Manhattan in the 1950’s, with a twist. It’s an alternative gleaming, fabulous and mighty Big Apple. And two of our leading men are looking for husbands, oh my!

What is Aurora Theatre’s history with new works, and how does this production of Men With Money fit into your overall commitment to new works development?
Shortly after Aurora Theatre’s move to downtown Lawrenceville in 2007, the company made an artistic shift to produce more new work to highlight contemporary theatre. The first world premiere musical was a pop-chamber musical entitled Academy, by John Mercurio, conceived and created by Andrew Kato in spring of 2011. The show was directed by Freddie Ashley (Actor’s Express Artistic Director) and choreographed by Ricardo Aponte. Since then, our company has produced the world premiere of Clyde ‘n Bonnie: A Folktale with book by Hunter Foster; music & lyrics by Rick Crom, directed by Lonny Price, with choreography by Josh Rhodes (spring of 2012) and The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown (now called The Mad Ones, NAMT Fest ’16) by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk (spring of 2014) and directed by Justin Anderson. In addition, Aurora Theatre has been an early adopter of new musicals that go on to enjoy greater popularity with regional theatre audiences than they did on Broadway. Shows like A Catered Affair (2010), The Bridges of Madison County (2017) and Hands on A Hardbody (2015) were huge milestones for Aurora. As the organization grows, working with living playwrights and composers has become a rewarding part of creating great regional theatre. In addition to musicals, Aurora has produced dozens of world premiere plays as well as several second and third productions. These productions continue the process of fine-tuning a production before publicly licensing.   

How did Men With Money first find its way to Aurora Theatre, and what kind of developmental work have you done with the writers on the path to this production? 
Aurora Theatre Co-Founder and Associate Producer Ann-Carol Pence has been on the selection committee for the NAMT Festival of New Musicals for the past two years, in addition to being a past supporter of NYMF. Co-Founder and Producing Artistic Director Anthony Rodriguez has recently joined the NAMT Board of Directors. Their search for the next great musical led them to Men With Money. Ann-Carol loved the classic, old-style musical feel of the show. Anthony Rodriguez and Associate Artistic Director Justin Anderson were excited by the story of three men finding love. After speaking with creators Bill Nelson and Joseph Trefler, there was a great synergy toward collaboration combined with the values of equity, diversity and inclusion that Aurora embraces. From many years in the business, the founders felt strongly the show deserved a full production. In the fall of 2018, Aurora produced a staged reading of the full show minus dance breaks. This was helpful to both creators and producers, allowing both sides to go back for revisions before beginning rehearsals in February 2019. Based on the workshop, a new ending was devised, songs were moved into appropriate keys, and a few roles were recast. It is worth noting the reading was incredible. For a free event, with just one email invitation, more than 200 people came to see “what they were in for.” Audiences were given post-show surveys and the show received overwhelmingly positive feedback, with only two surveys registering dismay. This is an incredible response for a primarily straight, suburban, Christian audience. 

What inspired Aurora to produce this show now, and what makes you a great partner for this piece? 
Working on the show inspired the tag line, “An Old-fashioned Brand-new Musical!” The juxtaposition of two seemingly differing concepts is commonplace for Aurora. Located in suburban Atlanta, Aurora’s early success was built on the backs of politically conservative patrons and sponsors. To many in our industry, this partnership may seem odd for an organization that has produced so much new work. Consistent artistic achievement and a deep personal connection to our patron base has made these seemingly opposite forces attract. Interestingly, over the past two decades, there has been a seismic demographic shift. Gwinnett County is now the most diverse county in the entire Southeast. The idea of creating something musically rooted in the style of the 1950s, but with a brand-new perspective is a perfect fit for this community’s journey.

Why should folks plan a trip to Atlanta to see the show this spring?
Aurora would not be producing this show if they did not feel like it has the real potential to be the next great musical. First and foremost, it is a musical comedy. The staged reading demonstrated the show will be “laugh-out-loud,” “pee-your-pants” funny when the musical is fully staged. The world Bill & Joseph created is a fantastical era where race and sexual identity play no role in the story. This musical is not created to make a political statement or to indict the ills of society, but rather to allow people who love and revere classic Broadway to finally see themselves at the center of a great old-fashioned new musical.

For more information about Men With Money, and to buy your tickets today, visit Aurora Theatre’s website.

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