Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, including musical ones.
Tom Kitt, composer of the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical Next to Normal — which just had a terrific production at Hartford’s TheaterWorks — is in Connecticut working on a new musical that taps into fantasies of empowerment.
Kitt is collaborating with John Logan (Sting’s The Last Ship, the Tony Award-winning Red) on Superhero, which will have a staged reading on July 8, 9, 12 and 14 at the National Music Theater Conference at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Jason Moore (Avenue Q, Shrek) directs.
Kitt, who is writing words and music, says he wanted to tell a superhero story focusing on the human aspects of the very special character and not just make it about big action duels with the villain. “It’s more about the Clark Kent/Bruce Wayne idea and less about the action-packed things.”
The show is centered on a mother and son who are dealing with a tragedy and loss and their neighbor who has some strange characteristics. “So it’s really a question of: Are they living next door to a superhero?”
Kitt, who grew up on Long Island and in Westchester, says he is playing it straight rather than satirizing or commenting on the show’s fantastical elements. “I’m trying to tell an emotional story that I feel very passionate about and creating music that feels both melodic and dramatic.”
Like Next to Normal, “It’s a project I feel deeply personal about and cathartic. I really feel like my heart’s on the page.”
Kitt’s imagination is getting a workout this year. He is also developing, as musical director, The SpongeBob Musical, which had a successful run in Chicago last year, and the musical Freaky Friday, based on the young-adult novel by Mary Rodgers and two Disney films.
What Christopher Shinn Is Against
Christopher Shinn, the Hartford-born, Wethersfield-raised playwright, whose dramas have been produced in England, New York and in regional theaters across the country, has a new play, Against, that will bow at the Almeida Theatre in London beginning in mid-August. It stars Ben Whishaw, who was in Broadway’s The Crucible, and played Q in the recent James Bond films Spectre and Skyfall. Whishaw is currently filming Mary Poppins Returns.
Set in the future in Silicon Valley, Against centers on Luke, played by Whishaw, who is an aerospace billionaire who sets out to change the world. Luke is convinced he is the next messiah, “whose calling is to confront violence in America.”
“I’ve been studying violence and thinking about it for a while,” Shinn says from his apartment in New York. Shinn touched on the theme of violence in contained ways in his Dying City (a Pulitzer Prize finalist which played Hartford Stage), but here he looks at it in expansive ways with a work that calls for a cast of 12 actors playing 20 characters.
Shinn, whose last play, An Opening in Time, premiered at Hartford Stage in 2015, says he sees Silicon Valley “in some ways as having an optimistic culture. People there envision the future with rockets and new forms of energy.” But he contrasts these great minds and money at a time when “there’s so much suffering and uncertainty and a tension in the world.”
His main character is “someone who is trying to make a difference against the pervasive force of violence. He’s trying to address problems in a different way.”
She Drones On — But In a Riveting Way
Elizabeth Stahlmann was about to graduate from the Yale School of Drama in a few days when she talked to me recently about her first gig out of school: starring in George Brant’s Grounded at the Westport Country Playhouse. (Anne Hathaway starred in the show staged by Julie Taymor last year off-Broadway.) “And I have to move out of my apartment and start rehearsals,” she laughs. “I’m pretty much running on adrenaline right now.”
What’s going through her head as she’s about to graduate and start rehearsals on such a high-profile solo show?
“It’s a combination of feeling so confident and excited but also realistic about how unpredictable my career choice is,” she says.
It helps that the show, playing July 11-29, is directed by one of her Yale teachers, Liz Diamond. “I’ve never worked with a director who has intimately watched you develop as an actor,” Stahlmann says. “I feel like I’m in incredibly safe hands.”
The play centers on an ace fighter pilot who finds her world flipped “from top gun to top mom” when she finds herself pregnant and is reassigned to the “chair force” as a drone pilot in a trailer near Las Vegas.
“It’s incredible how striking the confidence and a sense of self, ambition and entitlement this character has,” she says.
But that’s shaken to the core by real-life circumstances.
“Being grounded is a pilot’s nightmare,” says Stahlmann, who grew up in a northwest suburb of Minneapolis. “Her passion and independence is wrapped in the vastness of flying and the g-force as she tears through the sky. But she is brought to the earth literally because of her [pregnancy], which makes an interesting exploration of women, careers, maternity and being a warrior.”
Have You Heard (I Have) …
… that Cheshire’s Jonny Orsini (Broadway’s The Nance) was featured in the off-Broadway play The Whirligig by Hamish Linklater?
… that a major study is being undertaken by Connecticut’s five keystone theaters — Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, Yale Rep, Westport Country Playhouse, Goodspeed Musicals — to better understand how to attract younger audiences?
… that Tony Award nominee Christopher d’Amboise will be both directing and choreographing the musical Newsies at Connecticut Rep’s Nutmeg Summer Series July 6-16? Leading the cast are Jim Schubin, Tyler Jones, Richard R. Henry and Tina Fabrique.
… that Bridgeport’s Juwan Crawley, who graduated a year ago from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, made his Broadway debut as Genie in Disney’s musical Aladdin?
Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter@ShowRiz.