The idea for Passing Through, the new musical receiving a “developmental production” (no critics allowed) at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester this month, began more than four years ago when Eric Ulloa was so moved by a This American Life NPR podcast that “I pulled my car over to the side of the road where I collapsed crying.”

The writer of the play about the Newtown shooting, 26 Pebbles, was inspired to musicalize the story of a 23-year-old man who — uncertain about what direction his future should take — decided to walk across America to listen to what the people would share about their own life choices, and sometimes their regrets.

The episodic musical was first developed at Goodspeed’s Mercer Colony of artists working on new material, then moved to the theater’s New Music Festival three years ago. It plays Chester through Aug. 18.

“When I began the show we were living in Obama’s America and now we’re living in Trump’s,” Ulloa says.

He feels the show brings hope as it deals with issues such as racism, immigration and prison reform. “It offers a way to look at a better version of ourselves,” he says. “It’s about both the goodness — and mistakes — that Americans make every day. It’s about what separates us but also what connects us, too.”

Some who have seen earlier versions of the show compare Passing Through’s uplift to the 9/11 musical Come From Away. “That’s a hefty order — but thanks. That was an incredible story of the goodness of people set in Canada. This is a story about us.”

goodspeed.org

Jamison Stern.jpg

Actor Jamison Stern performs in the solo comedy show "Fully Committed" at the Wadsworth Atheneum from Aug. 1-Sept. 1.

Funny, With Reservations

Jamison Stern knows what it’s like to be on the front lines of working in the restaurant world, one that many struggling actors and theater artists enter to pay the rent until their careers take off.

It’s a useful background to have in Stern’s case because he’s starring in the very funny solo show Fully Committed, about a struggling actor working the reservation desk at a tony restaurant. It will be Hartford TheaterWorks’ final season production, Aug. 1 to Sept. 1, at the Aetna Theater at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art while the TheaterWorks building on Pearl Street in downtown Hartford completes its renovation.

“I started out as a busboy in New Jersey where my mother was a waitress, which was no fun, I can tell you that,” says Stern, who starred in the TheaterWorks production of The Legend of Georgia McBride and as Albin in Goodspeed’s La Cage aux Folles.

“Countless other restaurants followed — none of which deserve a plug,” he laughs.

“I’ve worked as a host taking reservations at a very popular seafood restaurant on the Upper West Side called Doc’s. It was the only time a manager ever said to me: ‘The customer is not always right — and there’s a line of people who can replace whatever customer is being difficult.’ I loved that because there was a special sense of horribleness in an Upper West Side food customer.

“I also cater-waitered for a very long time. I was the youngest cater-waiter at Glorious Foods in the late ’80s and early ’90s where I was waiting on the richest, most famous people in New York and honestly, those people were lovely. The other waiters were terrible. They were mean, jaded and had that New York snotty-waiter thing.”

Any big tippers? “Rosie O’Donnell did tip $500 on a $100 check or something like that. She was always extremely generous.”

And not so generous?

“There was a musical artist named Crystal Waters and she came into the Maryland Crab House and she left like a 3 percent trip,” he says. “And where is she now?”

theaterworkshartford.org

Spamilton

The cast of Spamilton! An American Parody, coming to Playhouse on Park in Hartford Aug. 14-Sept. 8.

Spam Filters

Gerard Alessandrini was a little apprehensive.

The creator of the revue Forbidden Broadway, which for the past 30-plus years has featured some of the most outrageously funny parodies of Broadway shows, decided in 2016 to take on the biggest hit in decades, Hamilton, with Spamilton! An American Parody. Then he heard Lin-Manuel Miranda and his creative team were coming to see his show, which, at the time, also featured Fairfield’s Juwan Crawley, fresh out of Hartt School at the University of Hartford.

Not to worry, though. “He came with [Hamilton’s director] Tommy Kail and music director Alex Lacamoire and they were laughing heartily throughout the show,” Alessandrini says from his home in Essex. “Afterwards, they met the cast and hung out and gave Hamilton tickets to all of us, which was so generous of him. They were worth like $10,000.”

Spamilton! is a fantasy that centers on Lin-Manuel Miranda, who with Hamilton, raised the bar on Broadway shows,” he says. “It’s the type of show that re-invents the American musical, something you only see every 25 years or so. When I saw it off-Broadway I knew I just had to do it.”

Spamilton is now on tour and will be presented Aug. 14 to Sept. 8 at West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park, in association with Hartford’s The Bushnell.

And for Forbidden Broadway fans, Alessandrini says he’s returning to New York this fall with a new edition of his revue series, which received a special Tony Award in 2002. “Because Broadway is so child-friendly now maybe I’ll call it Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation,” he laughs. 

playhouseonpark.org

Have You Heard …?

… 2019 Yale School of Drama grad Jeremy O. Harris’ play Yell — which was the talk of May’s Carlotta Festival of New Plays — has been picked up by HBO to be developed into a series. Interesting subject: Radical queer African-American student confronts an Ivy League school grappling with cutting-edge political correctness and its own traditions and orthodoxy.

Kail, Wesleyan grad and director of Hamilton, will be staging a new musical, The Wrong Man, by multi-platinum singer-songwriter Ross Golan at off-Broadway’s Manhattan Class Company, with previews starting Sept. 18.

… Long Wharf Theatre’s lease will be up in 2022 and it’s uncertain if the Food Terminal in outlying New Haven will sell its property, leaving the theater without a home. Or it just might decide no offer is high enough and will simply extend the lease to Long Wharf for a few more years. The theater, meanwhile, is seeking financing for a possible alternative and/or additional site in downtown New Haven.

… Multiple Tony Award-winner Michael Yeargan became the first designer to receive the prestigious Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement in the theater from the Connecticut Critics Circle at its 29th annual ceremony in June at East Haddam’s Goodspeed Opera House.

… The award-winning London play by Matthew Lopez, the two-part epic The Inheritance, which was commissioned and developed at Hartford Stage, will be opening on Broadway in November.

This article appeared in the August 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.

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.