Campus to focus on tuners

Oken aids Northwestern in taking on Theater Project

EVANSTON, Ill. — Thanks to a new association with former Disney Theatricals exec Stuart Oken, Northwestern U. has plans to position itself as a center for the development of serious musicals.

Per Oken (who now is Chi-based) and longtime Northwestern faculty member Dominic Missimi, the suburban Chi campus will be the site of the new American Music Theater Project, wherein theater students at the school will collaborate with professionals on tuners that might fall between the commercial cracks, if not nurtured.

“Some of the shows will be new,” Oken said, “and some will already have been produced in regional theaters but still need further work.” Hollywood helmer (and Northwestern booster) Garry Marshall has come up with some of the seed money.

Including in-kind support from Northwestern, project is said to be a $2 million endeavor.

In the fall, it will produce the Oz-oriented “Was,” an adaptation of the novel by Geoff Ryman, with music by Joseph Thalken, book and lyrics by Barry Kleinbort. Tina Landau will direct. Next summer, “The Boys Are Coming Home” (music and lyrics by Leslie Arden, book by Berni Stapleton) will get a turn.

Announced projects currently without firm dates include Doug Hughes’ helming of a new adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel “The Pearl” (book and lyrics by Arthur Perlman, music by Louis Rosen). And Landau will be back to work with Ricky Ian Gordon on a new time-traveling show called “States of Independence,” dealing with the import of the American Revolution. Shows mainly will have student casts and professional creative teams.

“We have ambitious plans to expand further,” Oken said, noting that he hopes the project can become a summer festival devoted to new tuners.

Northwestern plans to negotiate a small stake in future royalties, but no other strings or commercial production clauses will be attached.