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Stoppard stops in Philly

Composer Previn also expected to attend 'Favor' gala

PHILADELPHIA — Tom Stoppard will come to Philadelphia this fall for the Wilma Theater’s production of his 1977 play “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor.”

Rarely performed, because its script requires a symphony orchestra, “Every Good Boy” also will be attended by its composer Andre Previn, who will join Stoppard for the Wilma’s gala fundraiser Nov. 20.

The Philadelphia Orchestra will complete the show’s cast on the stage of the orchestra’s celebrated new home, the Kimmel Center. Because there will be just six performances, tickets are at a premium and are being offered only to subscribers of the Wilma and the orchestra.

Rossen Milanov, assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and conductor of the New Symphony Orchestra in his native Sofia, Bulgaria, will conduct.

Stoppard set the play in a Soviet prison for the insane. The two men sharing a cell are a dissident and a madman who hears music and conducts an orchestra in his mind. The play’s theme is human freedom.

“Every Good Boy Deserves Favor” has an intriguing backstory: In 1974 Previn invited Stoppard to write a play that would include an orchestra. Nothing happened until, two years later, Stoppard met Victor Fainberg, a protestor arrested during the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Fainberg had been declared insane and spent five years in the Russian gulag system, and for Stoppard he was “an insistent, discordant note … in an orchestrated society.”

Once freed, Fainberg worked for the release of Vladimir Bukovsky, who had exposed the abuses of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. Having found his subject, Stoppard wrote the play in a few weeks, dedicating it to Fainberg and Bukovsky.

At about the same time, in the mid-1970s, Jiri Zizka, the Wilma’s artistic co-director, who will direct “Favor,” escaped the political oppression in his native Czechoslovakia by emigrating to the U.S.

Stoppard, who has referred to himself as “a bounced Czech,” left his native Czechoslovakia as a baby.

The Wilma Theater has had a long relationship with Stoppard, presenting acclaimed productions of his “Travesties,” “On the Razzle,” “Arcadia” and “Indian Ink,” as well as the East Coast premiere of “The Invention of Love.”

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