Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Off to Kansas

As regular readers here are aware, every year in April I head off to the William Inge Theatre Festival for four days of theatre and celebration in America’s heartland — Independence, Kansas — as we honor great American playwrights in the hometown of William Inge, author of Picnic, Bus Stop, Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and Come Back, Little Sheba. And joining me, as he did a few years ago, is my friend and mentor back when I was a callow youth in 1971, the Old Professor.

This year we are honoring Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, creators of the longest-running musical ever, The Fantasticks.

“Simplicity” is a supreme compliment that applies to Jones and Schmidt musicals. They broadened the scale of the Broadway musical with their engaging and innovative approach.

“This legendary writing team is bold and adventurous in their work; funny and touching, enormously romantic and sentimental without being cloying,” said Inge Center Artistic Director Peter Ellenstein. “They have a long line of marvelous, innovative musicals, and I’m excited to have the public gain greater knowledge of the breadth of shows by these phenomenal talents.”

The Jones and Schmidt style is bold: the musicals are characterized as “minimal,” with small casts and modest sets, but are inspiring and audacious.

“The Fantasticks” exemplifies that simple yet limitless style. Inspired by an Edmond Rostand play, this love story of a young couple and their conniving parents opened in 1960 at an off-Broadway theater—and ran 42 years, counting 16,875 performances through nine presidencies. It has since been revived off-Broadway.

Jones and Schmidt followed with their first Broadway show, “110 in the Shade.” This adaption of the N. Richard Nash story “The Rainmaker” is celebrated for a glorious score and was revived on Broadway in 2007, starring multiple Tony-Winner, Audra Macdonald.

Broadway was again their next stop in “I Do! I Do!” a two-character musical, starring Mary Martin and Robert Preston in an adaptation of the Jan de Hartog comedy “The Fourposter.”

What that means for what goes on here at the blog is that the focus will shift somewhat to my secret identity as a theatre scholar and playwright, plus observations of life in the arts today… at least until I get back to Miami. I hope you’ll stick around, and if you’re in the neighborhood — Independence is 70 miles north of Tulsa and a hundred miles east of Wichita — stop by and enjoy the shows.

If I see Dorothy and Toto, I’ll put up pictures.