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Kris Wilton
Barrington Stage Company: Musical Theater Incubator
By Kris Wilton

August 7, 2012

Babak Tafti and Remi Sandri in The North Pool (photo by Kevin Sprague.)

Hailed by the Boston Globe as “one of the jewels in the state’s crown,” the Barrington Stage Company [BSC] in Pittsfield, in the Berkshires, has established itself since its founding in 1995 as a destination for locals and vacationers alike and as an incubator for new theater, especially musical theater. In 2004, the BSC developed and premiered The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, an infectious show by William Finn that not only made it to Broadway in 2005, but swept that year’s Tony awards. In 2006 BSC opened its Musical Theatre Lab, in which Finn mentors writers as they develop new work, staging everything from readings to full productions.

“It’s an opportunity to get to know composers’ work early in their careers and really to help them,” Julianne Boyd, BSC’s founder and artistic director, told me. “Bill Finn is a marvelous mentor. He tells these young writers they can do it.”

“We have very high expectations from them,” she added, “and they generally meet them. They just need to have that opportunity to have that first show.”

Coming out of the Musical Theatre Lab this summer is a workshop of The Black Suits, a new rock musical about a high school garage band on Long Island trying to win a battle of the bands. (August 16 – September 2; music and lyrics by Joe Iconis; Book by Joe Iconis and Robert Emmett Maddock)

The Lab is also staging a reading of the unlikely sounding The Suicide: A Musical Comedy. Set in Stalin’s USSR, it’s about an unemployed curmudgeon who decides to kill himself in order to achieve fame. Friends and neighbors join in on the plot, hoping to exploit the death for fun and profit. Based on a farce written in 1928 by Nikolai Erdman, whom Stalin punished with twenty years at a Siberian labor camp in addition to banning his work, it’s been adapted by David Bridel. (August 26-27)

Also getting off the ground this summer is Mr. Finn’s Cabaret, a small space featuring performers from the company or from New York. It’s selling out regularly.

Meanwhile, in the non-musical category is The North Pool, which is having its East Coast premiere. Written by Rajiv Joseph, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and Tony nominee, this thriller about a high school principal and a Middle Eastern transfer student has received kudos for superb acting and a tight atmosphere of suspense. (Through August 11)

The next mainstage production is See How They Run, a British comedy about a vicar’s wife trying to find her way in a small English village. “It’s a hilarious farce,” Boyd says. “Some people think tragedies are hard to do – no, farces are. It’s split-second timing; they’re not funny if there’s not a character behind all of the antics.” (August 9-26)


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