The Human Race Theatre Company
Encore Theater Company
This weekend, the Human Race Theatre Company, in collaboration with Encore Theater Company, will continue its ardent support of new works and emerging composers with a musical theater festival containing multigenerational appeal. Nostalgia is a key element in the Human Race presentations of the 1950s jazz-infused “Play it Cool” and an overdue salute to Grammy, Oscar and Tony nominated lyricist/composer Bob Merrill entitled “Love Makes the World Go ’Round.” Encore, fueling the popular trend of movies-turned-musicals, will let loose with “Pump Up the Volume,” adapted from the 1990 film starring Christian Slater. Each show will be delivered as staged readings at the Loft Theatre.
“Working with Encore seemed like a no-brainer since (Encore founders) David Brush and Jim Farley were a part of the first Human Race musical theater symposium,” said Kevin Moore, Human Race producing artistic director. “Our festival lineup is very exciting. I’ve known about ‘Love Makes the World Go ‘Round’ for a while, ‘Pump Up the Volume’ is something Encore has had in the works, and ‘Play it Cool’ is really timely and relevant.”
“Play it Cool,” conceived by Larry Dean Harris and accented with a terrific jazz score recalling Cy Coleman and David Zippel’s “City of Angels” and Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia’s “Sweet Smell of Success,” was among the standouts I particularly admired at New York’s National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival last fall. Featuring music by Mark Winkler, lyrics by Phillip Swann and a book by Harris and Martin Casella, the musical cleverly injects a noir sensibility into its charming, bold tale of five people who fall in and out of love at a secret 1953 Hollywood club called Mary’s Hideaway. The score includes such breezy numbers as “In My Drag,” “Baby’s on Third,” “Future Street,” “Curvy Time Bomb” and the beautifully lush “Jazz is a Special Taste.” Directed by Sharon Rosen, “Play it Cool” will arrive off-Broadway next month with Sally Mayes reprising her amazing performance from the NAMT presentation. Dayton audiences are fortunate to have a chance to see it first, in its re-written form, with a promising cast led by Human Race resident artists Deb Colvin-Tener (“Dirty Blonde,” “Lend Me A Tenor”) and Jamie Cordes (“Play it By Heart,” “right next to me”).
The songs of Bob Merrill, who famously believed “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” fashion “Love Makes the World Go’ Round,” billed as a “revusical” (revue-meets-book musical) by librettist Duane Poole and music arranger Brad Ellis. Directed by Kevin Moore and centered on three women who connect through Merrill’s repertoire at a piano bar, “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round,” featuring Ellis and Human Race resident artist Katie Pees, incorporates 30 numbers including the songwriter’s catchy hits like “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” and “Mambo Italiano” in addition to show tunes from his lilting yet underappreciated “Carnival!” (which he wrote both music and lyrics) and legendary “Funny Girl” (music by Jule Styne). Merrill was also a ghost lyricist for “Hello, Dolly!” (“Elegance” and “Motherhood” in particular) and composed an ill-fated version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” starring Mary Tyler Moore that closed on Broadway during previews.
Ellis, familiar to fans of “Glee” as the silent choir room accompanist dressed in black, says investigating the Merrill canon to create a balanced tribute was an enjoyably challenging assignment.
“I’ve loved the challenge of rolling up my sleeves, like the old days of off-Broadway, and coming in with strong ideas, then being ready to turn on a dime,” he said. “I’m proud of the arrangements, and I’m also proud that I haven’t lost track of the fact that I’m featuring the songs, not featuring the arranger. Bob Merrill has a surprising range of songs, emotions and musical feels, in part because his work as composer/lyricist inhabits such different worlds than his work as lyricist for composer Jule Styne. I don’t think it’s as much that he’s underrated as it is that people who know the extensive Broadway catalogue don’t know the even-more-extensive pop hits, and vice versa. Here’s hoping our show can bridge that gap, and make him a household name. His song ‘Beautiful Candy’ is in a big national commercial right now, and Seth MacFarland has used his songs for his TV show ‘Family Guy,’ so millions are hearing his music right now, whether they know it or not!”
Since its 2009 debut on Fox, the Emmy winning “Glee,” created by Ryan Murphy (“Nip/Tuck”), has been a pop culture phenomenon offering a slew of fantastic musical moments (Kristen Chenoweth’s “Home,” Chris Colfer’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and Lea Michele’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” to name a mere few). As the show’s music director, Ellis, who has written vocal arrangements for various episodes, particularly the pilot, has been pleased with his involvement since the beginning.
“I’ve worked with casting agent Robert Ulrich on musical projects for television before, and we enjoyed working together, so Robert brought me in when Ryan Murphy began casting ‘Glee.’ The three of us worked closely on actor’s songs when bringing our final choices to the network brass for approval. I enjoyed watching how Ryan worked with the auditioners. I think he was pleased with my ability to translate his ideas into musical choices for the singers as well as my gentle but demanding approach, which makes less confident singers feel more comfortable, and therefore, show themselves to best advantage, no matter their experience level.”
Ellis ranks Charice, Chenoweth and Carol Burnett among his favorite “Glee” special guests thus far, but views the entire cast and creative process as special. He also anticipates fresh possibilities for the series as Season Three approaches.
“The cast is varied and magical people, who’ve maintained a sense of gratitude in a world where everyone wants a piece of ’em, and everyone else is telling them why they should have large egos, and instead, they stay grounded. A lot of that may be due to Jane Lynch, who is a visibly grateful person herself, and perhaps quietly sets the tone. It helps that Ryan Murphy is the modern equivalent of Jerome Robbins, combining an impish sense of fun with an unerring sense of both culture and craft. For me, Seasons One and Two have been an education in film. ‘Glee’ is shot on film with Panavision cameras, not shot digitally, so it has a lot in common with the way great movies and movie musicals have been shot since the 1930s. I’ve also really enjoyed watching my friends on the show evolve and grow. I’m biased, but I think the Class of ‘William McKinley High’ 2009-2011 (and beyond) will launch a lot of careers, similar to the first few seasons of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘E.R.’ Corey (Monteith), Dianna (Agron), Lea (Michele), Matthew (Morrison), Kevin (McHale), etc., when they break out, will spread out like a billiards shot and light up big segments of the industry. Season Three? I have no predictions. When I read the pilot, I thought, ‘I love this! I am the audience for this, but it’s ‘niche,’ and will probably find a life on FX or USA network.’ I’m an idiot. Don’t go by me. I can say I’m excited about the new writers. Michael Hitchcock, the only one I already know, is one of the funniest, most honest actors I’ve ever had the privilege to work with, so I’m looking forward to some new ideas and surprises.”
As “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round” continues to develop, Ellis remains confident in its prospects. Considering recent news of a Broadway-bound production of “Funny Girl” underway starring Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”), the timing, especially if a New York berth is in its future, couldn’t be more perfect.
“I’ve been fortunate to have helped create a number of very successful off-Broadway and regional shows (such as) ‘Forbidden Broadway,’ ‘Plaid Tidings,’ ‘Tin Pan Alley Rag,’ etc., so I know the markets. This show could be good business. It has small casting and tech requirements. Whenever I cast any show, I’m overwhelmed by the talent out there, especially women who would be great for ‘Love Makes the World Go ‘Round’ who are not working as much as they deserve, which means it won’t be hard to find great actor/singers for productions.”
Based on the film of the same name written and directed by Allan Moyle, “Pump Up the Volume,” featuring music by Jeff Thomson, book and lyrics by Jeremy Desmon and additional lyrics by Jordan Mann, tells the story of a shy teenager who starts a pirate FM station in his parents’ basement. Directed by Joe Beumer, the show will feature Drew Bowen, Corinne Derusha, Renee Franck-Reed, Tommi Harsch, Justin King, Zach King, Matthew Owens, Elizabeth Wellman, Yvette Williams and Ray Zupp. Encore Theater Company will also present “The Consequences,” an indie rock-flavored love story about high school friends who reunite 10 years later. Written by Kyle Jarrow and Nathan Leigh, “The Consequences,” which has been developed at the New York Theatre Workshop and the Williamstown Theatre Festival, will be directed by Shawn Hooks and star J.J. Parkey, Amy Geist and Alex Carmichal.
Encore progressively continues to sprinkle local community theater with current, contemporary musicals. The troupe presented a delightful regional premiere of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s ‘[title of show]’ last season, and will tackle Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s Tony winning “Spring Awakening” in January, which will be staged by Encore artistic director David Brush. In addition, two projects developed by Encore last season successfully advanced. “Next Thing You Know” received an off-Broadway run two months ago, and the hilarious “Hot Mess in Manhattan” will open in Washington, D.C. later this year.
“By the end of this season, ETC will have hosted five creative teams here in Dayton working on new material to take back to New York,” Brush said. “The process is working and ETC is thrilled to be a part of it.”
Brush is also ecstatic to have Encore join forces with the Human Race as both organizations strive to supply a productive and entertaining musical theater festival.
“Encore Theater Company is really honored to partner with the Human Race Theatre Company, who has really perfected the musical development process for the region. I personally cannot say enough for Kevin Moore and the entire Race staff for both their forward thinking in this area and recognition of what ETC is working to do.”
Musical Theater Festival Schedule
Thursday, August 4
10 p.m. “The Consequences”
Friday, August 5
7 p.m. “Play it Cool”
10 p.m. “Pump Up the Volume”
Saturday, August 6
12 p.m. Meet the Writers (Loft Lobby)
7 p.m. “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round: The Songs of Bob Merrill”
10 p.m. “The Consequences”
Sunday, August 7
2 p.m. “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round: The Songs of Bob Merrill”
7 p.m. “Pump Up the Volume”
– Human Race Theatre Co. Photos by Scott J. Kimmins
– Encore Theater Co. Photos by Ray ZuppWe encourage local theatre companies to submit calendar items HERE, and official press releases to onStageDayton@gmail.com.
Tickets & Performance Information:
LOVE MAKES THE WORLD GO ‘ROUND
PUMP UP THE VOLUME
at the LOFT THEATRE – 126 N. Main St.– map
For more information, call the Human Race at (937) 461-3823 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org.
Tickets are $15 in advance and can be purchased by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visiting www.ticketcenterstage.com. Beginning August 5, tickets are $20 and will also be available at the Loft Theatre box office two hours before curtain.
performed in the KeyBank building (lower level patio) at Courthouse Square.
For more information, visit www.encoretheatercompany.com
Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door.