Eight veteran actors, directors, writers, choreographers and producers have created FWD Theatre Project (“Festival of Works in Development”), a grass-roots initiative for the discovery, development and delivery of original musical theater to the Chicago community.
Artistic Director Amber Mak along with Collective Artistic Associates Justin Brill, Wade Elkins, Michael Gillis, Karen Multer, Steve Multer, Missy Greenburg and Scott Sowinski, have announced LaunchingFWD!, a one-night-only concert event at City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph Street, Mon., Sept. 22 at 8 pm (doors open at 6 pm for food and cocktails).
The LaunchingFWD! concert will introduce this new initiative and showcase selections from five new musicals in development, selected for FWD’s inaugural season of staged reading presentations. Chicago native Jessie Mueller (2014 Tony Award-winning Best Actress for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) will make her first hometown appearance since winning the Tony earlier this year.
She will be joined by her sister, Abby Mueller (currently on Broadway with Kinky Boots) and Karen Mason (Broadway: Mama Mia, Sunset Boulevard, Outer Critics Circle Award-winner for And the World Goes Round) along with an exceptional cast of Chicago industry-favorites and up-and-coming musical theatre performers.
Rather than producing new works, Mak and her devoted team have devised a seed organization to partner with Chicago’s strong community of producing entities, delivering worthy but as-of-yet undiscovered projects to local artistic directors and dedicated audiences. FWD Theatre Project will seek out the best original projects from around the globe with strong production appeal. Following development through festival-style staged readings, workshops, educational seminars and community outreach, FWD will actively work to place those new shows into the hands of Chicago theaters structured to bring them to their next levels.
On May 15 of this year, FWD Theatre Project opened submissions for original, unpublished full book musicals for its inaugural festival season. By June 30 they had received more than 220 plays from across the U.S. and beyond. The reading committee narrowed the field to 30 semi-finalists, then 10 finalists, and in August selected five winners to be featured in LaunchingFWD! on September 22 at City Winery. These shows will go on to receive two fully-produced staged readings in the 2015 Festival of Works in Development, planned for Summer 2015.
The five inaugural FWD Theatre Project works include:
• The Black and White Ball by Stephen Cole (book, lyrics) and Todd Ellison (music). Set amid the racial tensions of New York City in the summer of 1966, The Black and White Ball is an energetic, big band-filled exploration of complex social issues. It revolves around Truman Capote, who has just announced he will host a Black and White Ball for five hundred of his closest friends. In the depths of Brooklyn, Emma, a young black teenager, hears about the Ball and misunderstands it to be a party to unite the races. She tenaciously meets Capote and unwittingly becomes his next “cause,” joining the two in a revelatory friendship.
• Swift as Desire by Jeffrey Lunden (music) and Arthur Perlman (book, lyrics)
Based on a novel by Laura Esquivel, Swift as Desire uses fiery Latin music to tell the tale of Jubilo, a war telegraph operator, and his desire for Lucha, a wealthy girl who abandons herself to passion but misses possessions. Shifting between past and present, Jubilo, now infirm and in the care of his daughter, reflects on his love affair with Lucha and the tragedy that has haunted his life.
• Pride and Prejudice by Lawrence Rush (book, lyrics, music). A musical adaptation of Jane Austin’s literary classic about social class, gender politics and unexpected romance. This period piece with strong female leads brings fresh insight to the strong-willed and warm-hearted characters of Austin’s 19th century England as Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Bingley and all of Austin’s beloved characters burst to life through an elegant, lush score.
• Exposure by Erik Della Penna (music, lyrics), William Brown and Doug Frew (book), conceived by Cathy Nathan. Composed in a bohemian, “rockabilly” musical style, Exposure is the story of a young lesbian who finds herself homeless on the streets of New York City after being thrown out of her family’s Midwest home. With an encyclopedic knowledge – and even physical resemblance – of James Dean, she befriends a former uber-star photographer and together they discover an unlikely but transformative connection.
• Love and Other Fables by John McMahon (music, book) and Jay Jeffries (lyrics, book). This new romantic screwball comedy, set in 600 B.C., follows the early life of Aesop, the not-yet-famous slave, as he creates the “fable” while persistently wooing the headstrong girl of his dreams and entering into a battle of wits with the King of Egypt, changing the course of history.
Single tickets for LaunchingFWD! are on sale now, priced $20 – $35 with a limited number of VIP tickets available for $100. Tickets are available through the City Winery box office at (312) 733-9463 or online at www.citywinery.com.
FWD Theatre Project’s mission is to establish Chicago as a premier place to develop the new American musical by producing a Festival of Works in Development with industry professionals through concerts, readings, workshops, productions, and educational seminars.
The founding collective are Chicago artists who champion the future of the Great American Musical, and the power of collaboration to reach that goal. This varied team shares a combined 125 years of theatre experience including 12 Broadway shows, two London productions, eight tours, two Vegas shows, 150+ regional productions, multiple Jeff Award nominations and 70+ productions as directors, choreographers, music directors, producers and writers.
Members of Actor’s Equity Association, the Society of Directors and Composers, SAG, AFTRA, ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild, the group boasts graduates of Northwestern University, Syracuse, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia College, San Diego State, Harvard, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Boston Conservatory, University of Illinois and Juilliard.
More information on FWD Theatre Project and its artists is found at www.fwdtheatre.org.