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New Work in Progress: Life After

Next, we chatted with Barry Edelstein, the Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director at NAMT member The Old Globe in San Diego, CA about the company’s upcoming US premiere of Life After by Britta Johnson. Life After was previously co-produced by NAMT members The Musical Stage Company and Yonge Street Theatricals. The Old Globe production is produced by special arragement with Yonge Street Theatricals.
Grieving the recent loss of her famous father, 16-year-old Alice begins to question the events surrounding his death and sets out to uncover what really happened on the night that changed her family forever. Britta Johnson’s Life After is a bittersweet, witty and life-affirming new musical that explores the mess and beauty of loss and love. Through the vivid imagination of a young woman looking for the facts, we find a more complicated truth instead. 
 

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Festival Show Update: Benny & Joon

This month, we chatted with with Mindi Dickstein, Nolan Gasser and Kristen Guenther, the writers of 2016 Festival show Benny & Joon. The show is about to open a production at NAMT member Paper Mill Playhouse, the show’s second production following the world premiere at The Old Globe. We chatted about what has changed since the world premiere and the process of getting to a second production.
 
Based on the 1993 film starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson, this new musical is a smart, funny, tender-hearted celebration of love: between children and parents; romantic partners; friends; and, most of all, siblings. The pair at the heart of the show are Joon, a young woman dealing with mental illness, and Benny, the big brother who’s determined to take care of her. When a charmingly eccentric stranger comes into their lives, he throws their carefully calibrated world off-kilter—maybe for the better. Large in emotional scope and artistic ambition, Benny & Joon embraces a difficult subject with warmth, honesty, and wit.
 

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NEA Awards Grants to NAMT and Our Members

The National Endowment for the Arts has recently announced that it will award over $27 million in grants to fund artistic projects and research, with $3.28 million going to companies working in the field of Theater & Musical Theatre. Many NAMT members have been selected to receive grants in this cycle, including $55,000 to NAMT itself, in support of our Festival of New Musicals and Fall Conference. Congratulations to those members receiving grants in this round of NEA funding, including:
Ars Nova
Atlantic Theater Company
Diversionary Theatre
Horizon Theatre Company
The Lark
NAMT
The Old Globe
Philadelphia Theatre Company
Playwrights Horizons
The Public Theater
Roundabout Theatre Company
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Theater Latté Da
Theatre Under The Stars
Village Theatre
ZACH Theatre
Congratulations to all, and thank you to the NEA for supporting arts organizations throughout the country! For a full list of the recipients, visit the NEA’s website. 

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NEA Awards Grants to NAMT and Our Members

The National Endowment for the Arts has recently announced that it will award over $25 million in grants to fund artistic projects and research, with just over $3 million going to companies working in the field of Theater & Musical Theatre. Many NAMT members have been selected to receive grants in this cycle, including $60,000 to NAMT itself, in support of our Festival of New Musicals and Fall Conference. Congratulations to those members receiving grants in this round of NEA funding, including:
Ars Nova
Atlantic Theater Company
Dallas Theater Center
Diversionary Theatre
Goodspeed Musicals
Horizon Theatre Company
The Lark
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
MCC Theater
NAMT
The Old Globe
Playwrights Horizons
Prospect Theater Company
The Public Theater
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Village Theatre
ZACH Theatre
Congratulations to all, and thank you to the NEA for supporting arts organizations throughout the country! For a full list of the recipients, visit the NEA’s website. 

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Festival Show Update: Benny & Joon

This month we caught up with the team from 2016 Festival show Benny & Joon: lyricist Mindi Dickstein, composer Nolan Gasser and librettist Kirsten Guenther. This September Benny & Joon will have its world premiere at NAMT member The Old Globe. We talked with the team about what’s been happening with the show since the Festival and how they’re preparing for this next exciting step.

What was the post Festival response to Benny & Joon like? 
The post Festival response to Benny & Joon was wonderful. We could not have been happier or more grateful for the exposure our participation in NAMT’s 28th Festival gave us. There was interest from theaters around the country, which was beyond our wildest expectations. Eric Keen-Louie, Associate Producer at The Old Globe, saw our presentation and loved it, which was a key factor in their offer of a full production to open their 2017-2018 season. We have spent the last few months furiously rewriting in preparation for this very exciting opportunity.

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NEA Awards Grants to NAMT and Our Members

The National Endowment for the Arts has recently announced that it will award over $30 million in grants to fund artistic projects and research, with $3,505,000 going to companies working in the field of Theater & Musical Theatre. Many NAMT members have been selected to receive grants in this cycle, including $55,000 to NAMT itself, in support of our Festival of New Musicals and Fall Conference. Congratulations to those members receiving grants in this round of NEA funding, including:
The 5th Avenue Theatre
Ars Nova
Atlantic Theater Company
The Lark
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
The Old Globe
Playwrights Horizons
Portland Center Stage
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Village Theatre
ZACH Theatre
Congratulations to all, and thank you to the NEA for supporting arts organizations throughout the country! For a full list of the recipients, visit the NEA’s website. Watch the NEA’s video above to learn more about their impact on the arts in America.

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NEA Will Award Over $82 Million in Grants

The National Endowment for the Arts has recently announced that it will award over $82 million in grants to fund artistic projects and research, with $2,735,000 going to companies working in the field of “Theater & Musical Theatre.” Many NAMT members have been selected to receive grants in the NEA’s 50th anniversary year, including NAMT itself, in support of our Festival of New Musicals and Fall Conference. Congratulations to those members receiving grants in this second announcement of NEA funding, including:
Barrington Stage Company
CAP 21
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Goodspeed Musicals
The Old Globe
Pace University
Paper Mill Playhouse
The Public Theater
Theater Latté Da
Walnut Street Theatre
Weston Playhouse
To view a full list of the grant recipients, visit the NEA’s website. Congratulations, all!

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New Work in Progress: Rain

This month, we checked in with Barry Edelstein from The Old Globe about their upcoming premiere of Rain, written by Michael John LaChuisa and Sybille Pearson. Rain is based on W. Somerset Maugham’s short story of the same title.


The year is 1924, the setting a boarding hotel on the island of Western Samoa, where a missionary, a doctor, and their wives are scandalized by Sadie Thompson’s arrival, particularly when they learn what she does for a living. But the missionary has secrets of his own, and when he tries to save her soul, more heats up than the South Pacific sun. This gorgeous and powerful new work reveals the explosive nature of repressed desire. 

How did Rain find its way to The Old Globe, and how does the production fit into The Old Globe’s mission?
I’ve known and admired Michael John LaChiusa for a long time. His music moves me and speaks to me in a distinct and personal way. I loved Giant when I saw it at The Public, and it introduced me to the work he and Sybille are doing together. We’re all represented by the same agent, Charles Kopelman, and it was he who asked me to read and listen to Rain. I loved it and grabbed it. The Globe has a long history of developing world premiere musical theatre (Rain is our 30th such premiere) and this piece, with its literary provenance in Maugham’s great story, seemed to combine the classic with the new in a way that resonates to me as an Old Globe show.

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Conference Report: TEDxBroadway 2013

For the second year in a row, I got to attend the TEDxBroadway conference last month (it’s also the conference’s second year), and soak up some ideas about the future of theatre and what we might be able to learn from other industries and examine some fresh approaches. This year, the conference organizers said we’d be looking more at Broadway the street, as a neighborhood and a destination, through the lens of its theatres. I wondered briefly if I should go, since this sounded very New Yorky and I wasn’t sure where I’d fit in as a representative of NAMT and its members. But it turned out that the discussion centered largely around theatre and communities, the world around arts institutions, not just in New York and not just commercially. I came away with a lot, and not always from expected sources.

Below you’ll find highlights of speakers and ideas that stood out for me personally (and as a representative of NAMT). Despite the very different backgrounds of these speakers and topics they addressed, there are a few common themes running through this:
It’s all about passion.
It’s all about connection.
It’s all about the audience.

Sure, that’s nothing we haven’t heard before, but as you’ll see as you read on, there are surprisingly diverse ways to approach these ideas.

Producer Daryl Roth spoke about the impact of theatre on audiences’ worldviews and connecting art with activism. Her experiences with plays like Wit and The Normal Heart – great plays that also have something important to say – have helped shape her as a producer and a person, and gave her opportunities to bring audiences into a discussion about the issues in the plays, as well as engage with people who might not be habitual theatre-goers but are drawn in by the topic. “If we share the deep belief that theatre matters…then isn’t that the best Broadway can be for all of us?”

Critic Terry Teachout pointed out that 75% of Broadway shows lose money, so everyone who works on Broadway is gambling. “Why do people gamble? Because it’s fun!” He made it clear that he wasn’t bringing up this harsh reality to crush anyone’s dreams, just to make them “look at them from a different point of view.” He wants people to say to themselves, “I’m going to write the best, most original show I can think of. It’s probably going to lose money anyway, so why not try? …Don’t settle for safe, gamble on great. Make something that makes you proud.” Sound familiar, Festival alumni?

I’ll admit that I was both most excited for and most wary of our next speaker. As a nerd who grew up a huge fan of the original Star Trek, I was thrilled at the chance to meet George Takei. But why was he here? What could he possibly have to say about theatre? A lot, actually. I’d forgotten that he’s written an autobiographical musical about his family’s experience in Japanese internment camps during World War II. When Allegiance premiered at NAMT member theatre The Old Globe in San Diego, it broke records and played to packed houses. Takei will always be famous for Star Trek, but in recent years he’s become an internet personality separate and apart from that, using social media to build a personal brand built on smart humor, science…and cats. He used that to help sell Allegiance, but also asked us why theatres weren’t doing more of it on their own, bringing it back to his science fiction fame and love of technology. “I don’t think Broadway has boldly gone where it needs to,” he said, imploring us to “embrace all of the technological advances of the times.”

I don’t usually do the celebrity thing,
but come on! It’s Sulu!

He also spoke of the power of musical theatre to “tell stories that need to be told.” It has an accessibility that can bring people in, and the music can reach them emotionally. (During this, playwright David Lawson tweeted, “Musicals are incredible at preserving history that might have been forgotten: mid 80s UK miners’ strike, June Rebellion, 1899 newsboy strike. And yes, two of those were not musicals first. But it was setting that history to music that made me hungry to learn of the history.” I couldn’t agree more.) Allegiance is aiming for Broadway this year, and hopefully it will expose audiences to this relatively little-known dark spot on American history. I got a chance to speak with Takei later in the day, and I was struck by what a theatre geek he is (he’s done stage work throughout his career, though when Allegiance (in which he also appears) comes in, it will be his Broadway debut) and how passionate he is about not just his show but about musical theatre in general. It was great to see. And I’ll admit that when he recited the opening lines of Star Trek during his speech, I teared up a little; the man knows his audience.

Christine Jones, a scenic designer and creator of Theatre For One, talked about the experience of making an intimate connection between audience and performance in any size space, creating design that can “respond to the visual acoustics of the moment, sometimes with a moment’s notice.” “I wish we had the same ability to make choices about how the audience is seated as I do with what’s on stage,” she said. As I work out the crick in my neck from seeing an otherwise fabulous show last night, I can’t help thinking that Broadway’s historic theatres and often tight space make this a largely unsolvable problem. But I also think fondly of the many comfortable evenings I’ve spent at NAMT member theatres around the country, and the opportunities those of you building or renovating theatres have to make flexible, comfortable spaces. Jones quoted Jujamcyn Theatres President Jordan Roth as saying “Seats are not born partial, they are made partial.” Here’s to never making a seat – or a patron – partial.

Tom Schumacher, head of Disney Theatrical Group, started off a little surprisingly, telling a story about hating and judging tourists (any New Yorker, however kind-hearted, can relate to this). “I have friends,” he said, “who believe the sippy cup is the end of days…. In the 1600s people thought ‘machine plays’ were a sign of theatrical apocalypse too,” but here we still are. “Times are changing. They are also staying very much the same.” 40% of adults surveyed at The Lion King were seeing a Broadway show for the first time. “Our pretention towards the audience seeing the show for the first time simply stands in the way of growing and sharing our business…. These lovely people had bought a ticket, and here I was judging them.” From a business standpoint, “by the definition of our venues and union contracts, this is not a growth industry,” but there is great potential for growth in the audience. While Broadway has a reputation as a place of aging audiences, it turns out kids are also coming in unprecedented numbers, so let’s embrace them and make magic for them – the same kind of magic Schumacher says he experienced going to the theatre as a child and learning that “a guy in a white turtleneck can be a horse and a white box can be a jungle.” Disney, unsurprisingly, takes its populism very seriously, serving as an important entry point into the world of musical theatre for multiple generations.

Two talks that really made me think of our members were by Susan Salgado, of Union Square Hospitality Group, and Erin Hoover from Sheraton. “To say it’s just about the show is discounting everyone who affects the experience of customers,” Salgado said. “We need to provide a great total experience.” (Considering I was yelled at by an usher last night before I had even taken a full step inside the building, I couldn’t agree more!) Hoover talked about how hotel lobbies have changed over the last few decades from purely transactional to spaces “designed to give the guest a series of branded experiences [where] connectivity is expected.” She suggested that theatre lobbies can be transformed to “a series of touch points to enhance the Broadway brand.” I know from my travels, and from lengthy discussions at last year’s Spring Conference, that this is something many NAMT members are already doing. They strive to make customer service a top priority, and recognize that every point of contact, from box office to usher to bar, affects a patron’s experience. Institutional theatres have brands to uphold and seasons to sell, and building a relationship with a customer is vital. What if Broadway focused on service and design brand-wide, like a not-for-profit theatre (or a hotel chain!) does? Your building and your staff can tell a story and be an experience you share, along with the play.

I was particularly inspired by Seth Pinsky, of the NYC mayor’s office, declaring that “the arts are a critical industry in New York and the ripple effect is a major economic engine… New Yorkers believe arts matter.” (We’ll be looking at how some other cities are supporting their arts communities and how theatres can advocate for themselves at this year’s Spring Conference.)

David Sabel from the National Theatre in London gave a great talk about the NTLive series of movie theatre screenings of plays. He referred to the National’s “spirit of R&D,” which covers both new theatrical work and new ways to get that work to audiences. Digital is considered part of the experience (or one possible experience), not just a marketing platform. Because NT is subsidized by the government (25% of their budget!), they feel a responsibility to give taxpayers access to their art and have “a commitment to openness, wide-ranging engagement and access to everyone” in their mission statement. They’ve never seen NT Live as a replacement for the live event, but a separate and worthy experience in itself. When a performance is filmed, the priority is on making a good film of that theatrical event, and the audience is treated like a studio audience for the film, with cameras going where they need to go. The screenings are limited to a brief window, so it’s still an “ephemeral event.” Perhaps of most interest to American theatres is the way the National worked with unions and artists to create something new. They replaced up-front fees with profit-sharing, giving artists and crews literal ownership over the project. And they’ve found that screenings haven’t hurt sales in the theatre at all. “Tech changes fast,” Sabel concluded. “You have to be flexible, nimble, fast. You have to use both sides of the brain.”

Other speakers talked about turning your passions into your work and achieving your dreams by being “flexible with the outcome” (Zachary Schmahl); making Broadway more diverse by telling diverse stories, embracing the theatre “community of nerds and misfits” and writing and producing shows that “cut so deeply to the heart that they transcend…into the cultural conversation” (Kristoffer Diaz); bringing theatre to schools and schools to the theatre (Vincent Gassetto); predicting the future by inventing it and learning what customers want and need by observing them rather than asking them (Ellen Isaacs); marketing to people who you know will never come to your show to make the arts matter to everyone (Adam Thurman); and finding Broadway’s equivalent of the Kindle to overcome limitations of space and money and connect to a wider audience (Randi Zuckerberg).

This year’s conference had some great examples of what we can learn from each other and from other industries. There was a great buzz in the room and online as people discussed ideas and how we might implement them, and old friends were introduced to new ones. Just like at NAMT conferences! (Oh come on, I had to.)

Thanks to the conference organizers, speakers, and especially everyone who was tweeting and blogging along. See you next year!

(For some other people’s observations about TEDxBroadway, I recommend Howard Sherman’s selection of quotes and write-up for the LA Times, and Ken Davenport’s takeaways.)

Updated 3/4/13: Now with videos! For all the videos from last year and this year, just search for TEDxBroadway on YouTube.

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FESTIVAL COUNTDOWN: Making the most of rehearsals

A guest blog entry from Itamar Moses, one of the writers of Nobody Loves You, about the secret blessings of only have 25 hours to put together your show for the Festival. 

There’s a possibly apocryphal story that I’m too lazy to verify right now about a Russian director who was asked how long he wanted to rehearse a production of Chekhov. He said, “Two years.” When he was told that that was impossible he said, “In that case, two days.”

Actors will often tell you that their best performance in rehearsal is at the first read-through and that they spend the remainder of the rehearsal process gradually working their way back there, hopefully arriving by opening night.

All this came to mind when I sat down to write a blog post on the subject of presenting a musical with only a few days to rehearse, which is what you have to do when your lucky enough to have your musical in NAMT. Because having only twenty-some-odd hours of rehearsal is, in a way, not as big a burden as one might imagine. There’s a spontaneity, an instinctive tendency towards surprising and daring choices, to which performers often have access early in a process that actually becomes more difficult (for a while) as those initial impulses are gradually complicated by the questions and alternatives that inevitably arise when you start to live with material for weeks or months instead of days. And while all of that exploration leads (ideally) to deeper and more nuanced performances on the other side, there’s a long slog through the desert of murky confusion in between in the midst of which it’s probably best not to make an audience sit through what you’ve got. That’s why the (possibly fictional) Russian director’s second choice after having all the time in the world was to have almost no time at all.

All of which is to say that there’s something clarifying, simplifying, even useful, about having just enough time to learn the songs, run the scenes, and make a few very basic decisions about how best to tell a story, before you put it in front of an audience. You may not have enough time to plumb your piece to its deepest depths but you also don’t have enough time to get in your way. Put another way: unless the middle of your process is going to be long enough, you might be better off having a process with only a beginning and an end.

In the case of our show Nobody Loves You in particular we’re in a slightly different situation in that five of the eight members of our cast have played these roles before, in the musical’s world premiere at The Old Globe in San Diego. But even in a case like this the principle applies. Our three new cast members are having to dive right in with nothing but the few hours of rehearsal we’ve got and, in turn, our returning cast members have only these few hours of rehearsal to incorporate and respond to the new energy this adds to the piece.

So as you watch all the great musicals at NAMT this year and you want to think to yourself, “This acting and singing is amazing! I can’t believe they had only a few days to rehearse!” instead think to yourself, “This acting and singing is amazing! They’re so lucky they didn’t have more time to rehearse!”

It’s like that Malcolm Gladwell book BLINK. Which I didn’t read but which when I think about it for a second think I have a pretty good what it says.

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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):

MAY

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

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

JULY
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

AUGUST

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)

SEPTEMBER

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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An interview with Eric Louie, Associate Producer at The Old Globe Theatre, about their upcoming production of A Room with a View by Marc Acito and Jeffrey Stock, happening this summer.
Amid the golden sunlight and violet-covered hills of Tuscany, sheltered English girl Lucy Honey Church meets freethinking George Emerson. For the first time, she glimpses a world of longing and passion she never imagined. Back in her corseted Edwardian life, Lucy must decide whether to yield to convention or give up everything she has ever known. Comic, romantic, satirical and real, A Room with a View blends a gorgeous score with this timeless story that gives a new voice to these unforgettable characters.
How did The Old Globe discover A Room with a View?
Director Scott Schwartz is an Old Globe alum (Golda’s Balcony, Lost in Yonkers, Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound). The project came to us a little under a year ago and we fell in love with it.
How closely does the show follow the story of the book or the movie?
It definitely follows the book, but as with any adaptation for the stage, there are of course changes—some characters are combined or cut, some dramatic moments added, etc. We’re true to the heart of the story and the characters.

The show is relatively young in its development. What work has The Old Globe done on the show so far and plan to do before you head into rehearsals?
We did 2 workshops—one in October 2011 and another in December 2011—which were focused primarily on script work with a few staging bits thrown in to the last workshop. We’ve learned an unbelievable amount from being able to hear the piece out loud and the process has been invaluable. The creative team has done an incredible job of taking the things we’ve learned from each reading and immediately going back to work on the piece. In fact, we just got a new draft of the script with a bunch of exciting changes this past week.
What moment in the script are you most excited to see realized on the stage?
Is it cheesy to say the entire thing? This piece is so rich with luscious music, an incredibly witty and sophisticated book, a design team to die for, all helmed by a brilliant director—I’m honestly most excited to see the piece in its entirety brought to life.
What are the hopes for the show after The Old Globe?
A goal is certainly to send the piece to New York and certainly for productions around the country.
Elevator Pitch: Why should we come to San Diego to catch A Room with a View?
When’s the last time you were swept away by a musical and taken on a journey that’s musically lush, incredibly witty and emotionally moving with a strong young female protagonist?
For more information about A Room with a View, please visit www.oldglobe.org.

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