SoCal fest will put spotlight on new American musicals


Jason Alexander and Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz on Wednesday officially announced the inaugural Festival of New American Musicals, a celebration of works slated to take place in Southern California in May and June 2008.

The festival's executive producers, Marcia Seligson and Bob Klein, said the two-month event will showcase musicals produced by more than 30 Southland performing arts organizations, as well as staged readings, master classes and workshops taking place at several venues, including the Hollywood Bowl and Pepperdine University.

Alexander, who recently directed a production of "Sunday in the Park With George" at UCLA's Freud Playhouse in Westwood, recognized that Los Angeles is not traditionally known as a musical-theater town.

"Musical theater and Los Angeles go together like chocolate and fish," he joked with the crowd gathered for the news conference at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion's Music Center. "(But) there's probably more theater on any given day going on in Los Angeles than there is in New York City."

Klein, who intends to make the festival an annual event, said he and Seligson were inspired by the recent spate of original musicals that were produced in Southern California before moving onto big Broadway success, like "Jersey Boys," last year's Tony winner for best musical, which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in La Jolla. "The Drowsy Chaperone," the 2006 Tony winner for best musical book, also played the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles before bowing in New York.

"Anyone who has been noticing what's been going on on Broadway must realize by now that we seem to suddenly find ourselves in another golden age of American musicals," Schwartz said. "It's enormously exciting."

Three new musicals are already slated to play as part of the festival: A suite of music from Ricky Ian Gordon's "The Grapes of Wrath" will be performed at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles; an adaptation of Patricia MacLachlan's novel "Sarah, Plain and Tall" will premiere at Pepperdine in Malibu; and "Snapshots," a revue based on Schwartz's songs, will bow at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura.

Appropriately, the news conference featured several musical performances. Schwartz performed a song he contributed to "Mit Eventyr," a new musical based on the life of Hans Christian Andersen, and Alexander later played a song from his own musical-in-progress based on Richard Bach's 1977 novel "Illusions." Actor-composer Michael Arden and married singer-songwriters Jason Robert Brown and Georgia Stitt also performed new songs.

Lauren Horwitch is news editor of Back Stage West.