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.

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We are thrilled to announce 18 awards granted from the National Fund for New Musicals, and five awards granted from the Innovation & Exploration Grant program. Now in its tenth year, this year the Fund is providing grants totaling $58,000 to organizations across the country. The Innovation & Exploration (I&E) Grant program, now in its second cycle, is providing grants totaling $7,000 to organizations nationwide.
NAMT Executive Director Betsy King Militello stated: “We are honored and excited to support our member theatres both as they work to develop innovative and provocative new musicals, and as they explore ideas to create new best practices in the field. With these grants, we have now awarded 135 grants totaling $481,000 to NAMT members across the country. These projects will join a growing list of important new musicals and initiatives supported by NAMT’s granting programs.”

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NAMT member Center Theatre Group’s new production of Zoot Suit was recently featured in a New York Times article. The article highlights the audience reaction to this season’s production; the show was first staged by CTG in the late ’70s and premiered on Broadway in 1979. This year’s production has proved extremely popular, with sold-out houses and three extensions. Audience members are also expressing their excitement about the show in another way–by coming to the theatre dressed in the fashions highlighted onstage. The NY Times spoke with several of these audience members about what seeing the show staged today means to them.

 “My mom was a pachuca, and before I saw the play I would be very embarrassed, I would be ashamed of my own skin. Then she took us to the play, and what stood out to me most was that most of the audience was Anglo and they were shouting and embracing what was going on. I remember feeling kind of proud, finally. I thought, Wow, this is my culture and where we come from.”
-Valerie Munoz

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Festival Alumni in the News

Festival Shows in the News

Members in the News


Congrats To Our Members and Alumni Nominated for NYC Theatre Awards

The incredibly busy New York awards season is underway, and the hard work of many NAMT members and alumni has been recognized in this full season of musical theatre. Congratulations to all!
The 70th Annual Tony Award nominations were announced last week. Hamilton (developed at and produced by member The Public Theater) received a record-breaking 16 nominations. Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (produced in part by member Center Theatre Group) received ten nominations, including Best New Musical. School of Rock, written by Festival Alum Glenn Slater (Fest ’08, Beatsville) received four nominations, include Best New Musical. Duncan Sheik’s (Fest ’15, Noir) American Psycho the Musical (produced in part by Center Theatre Group) earned two nominations, and the revival of his Spring Awakening received three nominations, including Best Revival of a Musical.

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An interview with Center Theatre Group’s (CTG) Associate Artistic Director, Kelley Kirkpatrick, about their upcoming production of The Black Suits by Fest Alumnus Joe Iconis (Bloodsong of Love, ’12) and Robert Maddock.

Every rock and roll fantasy begins in a garage. Scattered among the drums and guitars are the hopes, dreams, angst and rebellion of a new generation screaming to be heard. Joe Iconis takes us behind the music as four teenage Long Island misfits band together to escape Garden City, to conquer the world, to be “cool and whatever.” Now if the Black Suits can only win the St. Anne’s Battle of the Bands, their friendship just might survive the perilous transition to adulthood. The Black Suitscelebrates the wannabe rock star in all of us: with a score that sends us out of the theatre singing and longing to be eighteen again.

How did The Black Suits find its way to CTG?  
I first became aware of TBS after seeing Bloodsong of Love at the NAMT Festival in 2011. I spoke with Joe and his agent, Scott Chaloff, briefly after the NAMT presentation, as I wanted to let them know how much I enjoyed it. Scott followed up (like a good agent always does) with me the following week and we had a long conversation about Joe and where he was in his composing and writing career. While ultimately I didn’t feel that Bloodsong of Lovewas quite the right fit for CTG at the time, I thought Joe was a tremendously gifted composer. Scott sent me The Black Suits to read along with a few of the songs from the show.
After reading and listening to it, I thought The Black Suits showed a lot of promise, but CTG wasn’t in a position to produce a new musical in the upcoming season, so I had to pass (for now). I asked Scott if he could arrange a meeting with Joe and me in order for us to get to know each other a bit more; sort of like an artistic first date between composer and not-for-profit institution. Joe and I had a terrific meeting discussing his past and future projects as well as ideas he had for future shows. I felt that Joe would be an exciting artist to share with CTG’s audiences in Los Angeles and we agreed to stay in touch and look for the right opportunity to work together in the future.
Fast forward to the fall of 2012 and Scott Chaloff called and asked if I would look at a new draft of The Black Suitsas they had just completed a developmental production at Barrington Stage Co. I read it right away and was very excited by the work that had been accomplished since the last draft. I immediately passed it on to Michael Ritchie and asked him to read it and consider it for the 2013/14 season at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

How does the show fit into CTG’s overall new works programming? 
At any given time, CTG has 5-7 plays and 2-3 musicals in various stages of development. Whether they be commissioned, submitted or discovered, CTG has the great luxury of working with a very wide vocabulary of new works due to our three unique theaters. CTG can go from a new musical by Kander & Ebb (Curtains) at the Ahmanson, to Michael John LaChiusa & Ellen Fitzhugh at The Taper (Los Otros) and finally to Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) at the Kirk Douglas.
We decided to present The Black Suitsat the Kirk Douglas as that serves as our primary home for early and mid-career artists that we want our audiences to develop a long and lasting relationship with.

CTG has been very active on working on the show including readings and a workshop.  How does CTG make a plan on how to specifically develop each show and why was this course chosen for this show? 
Once Michael gave the thumbs up to start moving forward with the show, I met with Joe and John [Simpkins, director] to discuss next steps. At CTG, we tend to let the artists chart their own course while we remain at the ready to support, advise and keep them from running into the rocks when needed. I asked Joe and John one question: “What do you need?” It is my favorite question to ask any artist. We ended up doing a two-week workshop focusing on the book while starting to explore the choreography (with the incredible Jennifer Werner). Prior to this, they had never had the opportunity to spend a prolonged period of time just working on the script with actors. Before the workshop began, we had several note sessions and generated a list of the areas of the script we wanted to focus on during the workshop process.
In the end, the workshop taught us a lot about the show, but we agreed that there was still more work to do. We didn’t have the script we wanted to start rehearsals with. So, we gathered again for a lengthy note session and decided to do a one-day “work session” with actors. We spent the morning of the work session putting in new pages, reordering songs and trying out new ideas that came out of the prior two-week workshop. That afternoon we read the script for the creative and production team as well as CTG’s commercial producing partner. A week after the one-day work session, the team gathered for one final note session prior to going into rehearsals. We now felt that we could begin rehearsals with a script that allowed Joe and John to focus on getting the show up in front of audiences and less on “fixing” the script. Of course, there will still be things to address in rehearsals, but the heavy lifting was finished.

What are your hopes for the show while it is at CTG? 
I simply want to give our audiences the best show possible. I can’t wait for them to “meet” the incomparable Joe Iconis and the insanely talented team behind The Black Suits.

Why is this show a good match for your LA area audiences? 
This show is right up our audience’s alley at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. They are always up for a new voice and new experience. They love to be challenged and entertained and be the first to see and hear the next generation of theater artists.

Why should people hop over to CTG to catch The Black Suits this fall?
Because for any NAMT member who comes I will personally buy a drink at the bar and regale them with stories of new musical development!

For more information on The Black Suits, please visit

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FROM THE ROAD: A Coast to Coast Summer

One of my favorite parts of my job is getting the chance to visit our members around the country.  There is no better way to take the pulse of the industry and help discover new ways for us to serve our members than to meet them on their home turf, see their shows and meet their staffs.  Summer is the busiest travel time for the NAMT staff because it is when the number of shows skyrocket in our member theatres.  My summer was filled with 10 productions (7 of them premieres),  2 workshops and 6 readings from New York to California, from Vermont to Tennessee.  We a few Festival shows and National Fund for New Musicals (NFNM) grant recipients along the way.

Here is the quick rundown (NAMT member theatres and Festival shows are bolded blue):


Los Angeles, CA- World premiere of Los Otros at Center Theatre Group 
San Diego, CA- World premiere of Nobody Loves You (NAMT Fest ’12, past NFNM Project Development Grant) and Scottsboro Boys at The Old Globe, world premiere of Hands on a Hardbody at La Jolla Playhouseand the chance to sit in on a rehearsal for Harmony, Kansas (NFNM Production Grant, past Writers Residency Grant) at Diversionary Theatre.
New York, NY- World premiere of February House (past NFNM Project Development Grant) at The Public Theater, reading of Suprema (NFNM Writers Residency Grant) at Ars Nova and Speargrove Presents (NFNM Writers Residency Grant) at New York Theatre Barn

Connecticut- Readings of When We Met and String at The O’Neill Theatre Center, production of Mame at Goodspeed Musicals

New York, NY- Production of Triassic Parq (by Festival alumnus Marshall Pailet) produced by Amas Musical Theatre and New Musical Development Foundation at SoHo Rep  
East Haddam, CT- Final dress of Carousel at Goodspeed Musicals
Poughkeepsie, NY- Workshop of Murder Ballad (by Fest alumna Julia Jordan) at Vassar Powerhouse


Rhinebeck, NY- Reception for Beatsville (NAMT Fest ’08) at Rhinebeck Writers Retreat
Palo Alto, CA- TheatreWorks Festival of New Works with readings of Being Earnest and Triangle (NAMT Fest ’12) and a developmental production of The Trouble With Doug (NAMT Fest ’10)


New York, NY- Reading of notes to MariAnne (NAMT Fest ’11) at New York Theatre Workshop
Weston, VT- World premiere of Pregnancy Pact (NAMT Fest ’11) at Weston Playhouse Theatre Co.  
Crossville, TN- Regional premiere of Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge (NAMT Fest ’11) at Cumberland County Playhouse
New York, NY- Broadway Bound concert at Merkin Hall featuring songs from Watt?!? and The Dogs of Pripyat, both from the 2011 Festival 

And I am pretty sure I am missing a few.

I got a lot more out of these trips than a wallet full of receipts and slight confusion as to my time zone.  I was fortified in my belief that our members and alumni are creating, producing and exploring the best musical theatre in the country.  They are continually engaging, challenging and building audiences through their great work.  They are not resting on their laurels but pushing forward.

It is very hard to find a show today that does not have the NAMT stamp somewhere on it…and that makes me very proud to be just a small part of any show that adds to the crazy tapestry of musicals across the country.  The great work continues all over the country, and I’m the lucky one who gets to take in at least a fraction of it.

Branden Huldeen
New Works Director

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Congratulations to the 7 member theatres selected to receive grants from 
our National Fund for New Musicals this year. In the last 4 years, the Fund has given out 45 grants totaling $197,000. 

Production Grants of $10,000 have been awarded to:
Diversionary Theatre(CA) for Harmony, Kansasby Bill Nelson & Anna K. Jacobs
Playwrights Horizons (NY) for Far From Heavenby Scott Frankel, Richard Greenberg & Michael Korie (’89–Blanco)
TheatreWorks (CA) for Wheelhouseby Gene Lewin, Brendan Milburn (’04–Striking 12, ’11–Watt?!?) & Valerie Vigoda (’04–Strking 12).
Project Development Grants between $2,000-$3,000 have been awarded to:
American Musical Theatre Project at Northwestern University (IL) for The Verona Project by Amanda Dehnert.
Center Theatre Group (CA) for a new musical about urban superheroes by Matt Sax.
Dallas Theatre Center (TX) for Stagger Lee by Justin Ellington, Will Power & Daryl Waters.
Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre at University of Oklahoma for Something Wicked This Way Comes by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill (both, ’07–The Story of My Life).
A special thanks to all of our National Fund for New Musicals donors including Stacey Mindich Productions, The Alhadeff Family Charitable Foundation, The ASCAP Foundation Irving Caesar Fund and everyone who contributed in honor of our former Executive Director Kathy Evans.
If you are interested in contributing to the National Fund, please contact Executive Director Betsy King Militello. Donations of all sizes help grow the Fund and provide more grants to new musicals across the country.

Congratulations to all of the members and artists involved in these exciting projects! 

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