CHICAGO— Like many undergraduates at Yale University in the mid-1960s, Bill Hannay was fond of avant garde literature, especially if it tested people’s commitment to the constitutional principle of freedom of expression. He followed, for example, the obscenity trials over the publication of the novel Naked Lunch underway in Los Angeles and Boston. The latter turned out to one of the last landmark decisions on obscenity in the 20th Century. Hannay’s passion for the law led him to a career as an attorney, and he has been a partner at Chicago’s Schiff Hardin LLP for 30 years, but another life-long passion – for the theater – never waned, either.
Looking back on the Naked Lunch trials, which featured testimony from an assortment of colorful characters ranging from sheltered librarians and New England society matrons to “beat generation” writers like Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, and Jack Kerouac, he saw a way to tell the story of this precedent-setting case through musical theater. In June of 2015, he and his musician friend and Yale classmate Damon Baker decided to collaborate on a musical comedy dramatizing and musicalizing the novel’s initial obscenity trial in Boston Superior Court (a decision that was later reversed in favor of publication by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court). Baker’s score and Hannay’s lyrics set the testimony of the witnesses to an original score of 12 songs in musical genres ranging from 1950’s jazz to Gilbert and Sullivan-like operetta and patter songs.Hannay and Baker first produced the musical with a group of his Class of ’66 Yale classmates at the class’s 50-year reunion in 2016. The response encouraged them to mount Naked Lunch: The Musical at The Electric Lodge – an arts incubator in Los Angeles – this past October. Hannay, Baker and many of the original cast– a mix of his Yale classmates and talented Chicagoans with acting and music experience – are remounting that production for a three-day public workshop at St. Sebastian Theatre in Lakeview on June 1, 2 and 3.
For the June workshop, Hannay will again take the role of Edward de Grazia, the famed First Amendment attorney who argued the case for publication of Naked Lunch. Many of the other cast members were Hannay’s Yale classmates, some of them also attorneys. The presiding judge of the trial will be played by Jim Munson, a Yale alumnus and retired trial attorney who has embarked on a second career in the theatre. Munson has performed in shows at Theatre Wit, TimeLine, Steep, and Victory Gardens, among others. Mark Fisher, who like Hannay is a partner at Schiff Hardin and a former Yale Whiffenpoof, will play the American publisher of Naked Lunch. Terry Mullin, a South Florida lawyer who as an undergraduate also sang with the Yale Whiffenpoofs, will play Kerouac. New York attorney and Yale grad Jeff Parish will play Maurice Girodias, the Frenchman who first published Naked Lunch. Other Yale alumni in the cast include Rich Look, a New Orleans cabaret performer and advertising jingle writer who will play Burroughs, San Francisco financier Jeff Hill as Ginsberg, Los Angeles musician John Carney as poet John Ciardi, and Peter Lownds, professional Hollywood actor, professor, translator, bed and breakfast owner, and all around bon vivant as Norman Mailer.
The cast will also include Joanna Ceciliani, a veteran of the Portland Opera, as matron Mrs. Cabot-Lowell; Julia Walls, a musical theater student at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts as the shy young librarian; Clyde Patterson – a suburban actor with credits including John Adams in 1776 and Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — as the Prosecutor. Others on the creative team include Jamie Pastman (music director/accompanist), Vlad Babenko (musical scorer), and Claire Doty (lighting designer).
Performances will be Thursday, June 1, Friday, June 2 and Saturday, June 3 at 8 p.m. at St. Sebastian Players Theatre, 1625 W. Diversey Pkwy., Chicago (just west of Ashland).
Full-priced single tickets are $25.00 and can be purchased online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2891715.