Next, we chatted with Bill Berry, the Producing Artistic Director at NAMT member The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA about the company’s upcoming premiere of Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical, written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Marie, Dancing Still is set to begin previews on March 22.
In 19th-century Paris, an era of groundbreaking artistry, a girl named Marie dreams of being the next star of the ballet. Despite the odds of her hard-scrabble life, she scrimps, saves and steals in pursuit of her ambitions. But when fate leads her to the studio of Impressionist Edgar Degas, she unknowingly steps into immortality—becoming the inspiration for his most famous sculpture ever: Little Dancer.
What is The 5th Avenue’s history with new works, and how does this new production of Marie, Dancing Still fit into your overall commitment to new works development?
For us, the only thing as exciting as creating today’s must-see musical is imagining tomorrow’s. Marie, Dancing Still – A New Musical marks the 20th new musical produced by The 5th. Nine of those have gone on to Broadway runs, garnering 14 Tony Awards including two for Best Musical (Hairspray and Memphis). Since 2001, The 5th has been a driving force in developing new musicals that push artistic boundaries and tell new stories that audiences want to hear.
Now, obviously, Marie, Dancing Still has a literal dream team of talent associated with the piece: five-time Tony Award-winner Susan Stroman; legendary composing team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty; Broadway luminaries in the cast like Terence Mann and Louise Pitre; and ballet superstar Tiler Peck.
But there’s a reason that you see artists of such an incredible caliber who have been attached to the project for years and that is that there is something truly special about this story: a young girl caught between two worlds fearlessly pursuing her dreams as best she could in a time when there weren’t a lot of choices for young women.
How did Marie, Dancing Still first find its way to The 5th Avenue?
Well, working with writers like Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty is a dream for any regional theater developing new musicals! We had been aware of the project for a long time, and had always felt that it was an exciting concept. The 5th also has a long-standing relationship with commercial producer Anita Waxman and we had been talking for some time about finding an opportunity to collaborate. So when she contacted us with the opportunity to partner on Marie, Dancing Still, we jumped at it.
What kind of developmental work have you done with the writers on the path to this new production?
We have worked with our commercial partners to support the show’s creative team as they move through edits. The last time the show was staged was in 2014 at the Kennedy Center. Since that time, the company has done one industry reading and one developmental lab to try and keep the material fresh. We participated in those and shared feedback. We’re looking forward to see how the show looks in its latest incarnation onstage!
The 5th has put together an excellent team to support the show’s development. Can you tell us about who’s in the room for Marie, Dancing Still and how the rehearsal process is helping shape the show?
You cannot go wrong with Susan Stroman at the helm. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are incomparable writers who sense every little nuance in the story. Their gift for fine tuning a scene is truly magical to watch. Music Director Shawn Gough is doing a superb job bringing Stephen Flaherty’s score to life and we’re all looking forward to hearing it with the full orchestra. David Loud, who of course worked with Lynn and Stephen on Ragtime is acting as the music supervisor and we feel very fortunate to work with him.
And then of course, there’s the cast itself. They bring so much of themselves to these roles and Lynn and Stephen are very responsive to the talents and gifts that they bring. As I mentioned, there’s NYC Ballet Principal Dancer Tiler Peck as Marie and Broadway legend Terrence Mann as Degas. And there’s just a superb list of strong female Broadway luminaries: Louise Pitre, Karen Ziemba, Dee Hoty, Jenny Powers. Truly, the caliber of talent on this show is absolutely incomparable.
We often feel that the secret to producing good musical theater is putting the right people in the room together and giving them space to create. And that’s what is happening in the rehearsal room and that’s how it’s shaping the show.
The production will be in previews while the NAMT Spring Conference is taking place—why should all NAMT members make sure they check out the show while they’re in Seattle?
This one’s easy: Susan Stroman, Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty. Enough said!
For more information about Marie, Dancing Still, and to buy your tickets today, visit The 5th Avenue’s website. If you’re attending the Spring Conference, you can purchase your tickets on the registration form!