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L.A. gets into musicals

Festival plans '08 debut

HOLLYWOOD — Attempting to change the perception of Southern California and increase its cachet as a theater destination, the former chief of tuner revival series Reprise! Broadway’s Best has created the Festival of New American Musicals.

Fest will debut in May through June 2008 in Southern California. It will include full productions, staged readings and workshops of musicals, cabaret shows, concerts and master classes, and involve works by established composers such as Stephen Schwartz and Ricky Ian Gordon. Schwartz and Michael Kerker, director of musical theater at performing rights org the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, are the primary advisers for the fest.

“Musicals and Los Angeles go together like chocolate and fish,” Jason Alexander joked at the fest’s launch event Feb. 28, at L.A.’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. He quickly changed his tune, however, recounting his recent experience directing “Sunday in the Park With George” for Reprise! The org was run for 10 years by FNAM exec producer Marcia Seligson.

Producing artistic director of Reprise! from its inception in 1995 until 2005, Seligson is in New York this week taking meetings to secure corporate sponsorship. The org already has some foundation grant money and is applying for more.

Seligson is exec producing with Reprise! board member and marketing maven Bob Klein. By creating the FNAM umbrella org, they believe they can provide necessary venues to develop new tuners and bring attention to the role Southern California is playing in the pre-Broadway world. A filmed presentation featuring Alexander is loaded with footage from tuners that got California starts: “Jersey Boys” and “The Drowsy Chaperone”

“Over the last dozen years, I have been involved in the musical theater workshop at ASCAP,” Schwartz says, “and I have been blown away by the writing talent. We find ourselves in another golden age of American musical theater, and I find Los Angeles to be very hospitable. It’s a great environment. There’s an enthusiasm and interest that is on the rise here.”

Productions will be housed in venues ranging from high schools to proper legit houses and even parking lots. “This is a work in progress until opening night,” admits Seligson.

Organizers already have 60 or 70 projects under consideration; potential tuners have come in via Seligson’s Reprise! contacts and ASCAP’s musical theater program. The larger Los Angeles and San Diego theaters have yet to announce whether or how they will participate in the program. Exec producers say they are reviewing material with Geffen Playhouse, Pasadena Playhouse, Old Globe Theater and UCLA Live!

As part of the event, the Hollywood Bowl hopes to present a concert to celebrate the works of major composers and up-and-comers.

Seligson explained that each producing entity, whether it be a high school or theater, will finance its own production, while the festival will provide umbrella marketing for the event. The model appears not unlike that of the New York Musical Theater Festival or the New York Intl. Fringe Festival, both of which have provided initial exposure for shows that went on to commercial runs.

Already on the slate are the first English-language production of Schwartz’s untitled Hans Christian Anderson bio-musical ; a production of Scott Schwartz’s “My Antonia,” based on the Willa Cather novel; a suite of music from Gordon’s “The Grapes of Wrath”; and a presentation of “Sarah Plain and Tall” June 4-7 at Pepperdine U.’s Smothers Theater, with the intention of taking it to the Edinburgh Festival. Jason Robert Brown, the composer of “13,” will perform a concert of his music.

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