Last year, I scheduled my vacation for the week after Labor Day, thinking I wouldn’t miss anything important after the summer had died down. I knew there was a “little theatre …
Last year, I scheduled my vacation for the week after Labor Day, thinking I wouldn’t miss anything important after the summer had died down. I knew there was a “little theatre festival” (my words, not theirs) called “In the Works ~ In the Woods” (ITW) happening at the Forestburgh Playhouse, but didn’t consider it crucial that I attend. I asked the River Reporter’s Cass Collins to check it out for me.
Cass raved about the new plays, musicals and workshops she attended, so I vowed to not miss the second installment, which took place last weekend.
ITW is a new, annual theatre festival dedicated to nurturing playwrights and composers, lyricists as well as emerging, innovative theatrical works and cabaret. The festival features staged readings, talkbacks, celebrity Q&A sessions, special VIP events, parties and more.
Franklin Trapp, producing artistic director for the Forestburgh Playhouse, and Matt Lenz, (Broadway’s “Hairspray” and “Catch Me if you Can”), the festival artistic director, are the founding executive producers—a title that includes dozens of inspired theatre-makers from Broadway and beyond.
I checked out the schedule of events in order to determine which projects sounded interesting. First on my list was “Bottle Shock! The Musical,” based on a 2008 cult hit movie of the same name that I’d never heard of.
“Bottle Shock!” is the story of the early days of Napa Valley winemaking and the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” wine competition, I read online, “when for the first time California wines beat the French in a blind tasting, and history was upended.”
“Who in their right mind wants to see a musical about making wine?” I moaned to the dog, but grabbed her leash and took my seat for an open rehearsal of the new show being presented “in the works” at the playhouse.
As it turns out… I do.
With book and lyrics by James D. Sasser and music and lyrics by Charles Vincent Burwell, “Bottle Shock!” which is directed by J. Scott Lapp, with musical direction by Vadim Fiechtner, flat-out blew me away.
The score, story and cast were (IMHO) superlative, unexpectedly drew me in instantly—and it was an amazing beginning to the festival. “In the Works ~ In the Woods” built in momentum, showcasing an incredible array of emerging work. I’m going on record: Broadway-bound future award-winners.
My next choice was a new children’s show, now known as “Theatre for Young Audiences” (TYA) called “Gordon Gets Down,” which I read was a musical fable revolving around goats. That’s right—goats.
“It’s Martha Gruffington Day at Sunny Creek Goat Farm!” the festival website informed me. “While preparing for the farm’s annual line dance, Gordon discovers he’s got four left hooves. With a little self-discovery, a lot of love and a few songs along the way, Gordon is sure to find the right moves!”
“Oh, dear lord,” I groaned to my dog, who was wagging in anticipation, thinking there would be actual animals at the playhouse. “Who on Earth wants to see a musical about dancing goats?”
Apparently, I do.
The new musical, featuring music and lyrics by Caleb Damschroder, and book by Matthew Ravey, was more than charming. The score is fantastic, the cast was ridiculously talented and the story is chock-full of positive messages for not only young people, but even old codgers like me. I cannot wait to see where this one goes. As far as I’m concerned, (there’s a very moving song called “Every Cloud is Not the Same”) the sky’s the limit.
I was pretty excited to read that Charles Busch was scheduled for an afternoon of “Off the Cuff Creative Conversations,” a series of talks with “celebrated writers and theatre insiders,” and I reserved a seat for what I was sure would be a fascinating peek at his storied career. Busch is a writer in theater and film (“Psycho Beach Party”) and famous for crossdressing in his films and theatrical presentations. He also garnered a lot of attention for playing a prisoner named Nat Ginsberg for two seasons on HBO’s “Oz.”
Nominated for Broadway’s 2001 Tony Award as the author of Best Play nominee “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” Busch regaled the audience with anecdotes about his life in the theatre, which held us rapt with attention and roaring with laughter. Who wants to hear the riveting history about how cult hit “Die, Mommy, Die” was created?
A packed house of fans, and me. I do.
In addition to the new productions being workshopped last week, the ITW schedule included a program called the “Catskills Cab Lab,” showcasing never-before-seen cabaret acts. Directed by Alan Muroaka and Scott Evans, with musical direction by Steven Cuevas, this year’s lab featured “emerging cabaret stars” Marrick Smith and Ariana Valdes, both of whom have already made their mark in shows like “Dear Evan Hansen” and “In the Heights,” respectively.
Both singer/songwriters have impressive credits and powerhouse voices; what made the workshop so fascinating was the way the directors worked with the talent to create cabaret acts with strong personal storylines and theatrical style.
Valdes’ act was funny, charming, moving and packed with a variety of impressive vocal styles. Smith’s was a surprisingly raw, intense, sometimes disturbing journey of self-discovery through the 12-step process for a recovering alcoholic.
Unprepared for anything beyond being entertained with a few fun songs, I turned to the dog as tears streamed down my cheeks. “Who wants to see this on a Saturday night out on the town?” She pawed at me gently as I answered my own question. “I guess I do, old girl. I do.”
Fun Fact: “I Do! I Do!” is a 1966 musical with a book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, based on the Jan de Hartog play “The Fourposter.”
For more information on “In the Works ~ In the Woods” and other theatre programming, go to www.fbplayhouse.org.
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