Musical theater work by visual artist and poet Dean Kostos is about art’s redemptive potential.

February 1 to 18, 2024
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
Tickets $18 gen. adm., $15 seniors & students
Box office (212) 254-1109,
Runs 2 hours including intermission
Reviewers are invited on or after February 2 (opening date).

NEW YORK, January 7 -- “The Boy Who Listened To Paintings” is a new musical theater work based on the memoir of the same name by the late visual artist and poet Dean Kostos (1954 - 2022), an extensively published, award-winning poet. It is the story of a young, sensitive visual artist growing up in the 1960s in a highly dysfunctional family. Bullied to the point of suicide, he contends with his budding gay sexuality, a flirtation with hard drugs and other confusing exigencies of life. He is saved by discovering he has the gift--or curse--of synesthesia: the production of a sense impression relating to one sense by stimulating another sense. With book by Dean Kostos and Paul Kirby, music by Paul Kirby and direction by Lissa Moira, the musical will be presented by Theater for the New City(TNC) for its world premiere February 1 to 18.

Before his unexpected death from a heart attack in November 2022, Kostos had co-authored the work with composer Paul Kirby. It was presented as a Zoom production in April 2021, directed by Lissa Moira. Now Theater for the New City will present the work's stage premiere with a cast of 21 directed by Moira.

Dean Kostos (1954 - 2022) founded the Greek-American Writers’ Association and authored eight books. One of them, "The Boy Who Listened to Paintings" (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019), is part of a growing literature of memoirs by boys and girls have been treated in mental hospitals. It is a lucid portrait of the artist as an adolescent mental patient, whose self-destructive despair is overcome by therapy, connections with other patients, painting, poetry and the kind intervention of influential arts patrons. His nightmare is experienced through the filter of his adult survival and recovery. He manages to survive through appreciation of his own synesthesia and thanks to the slow realization that art itself is health.

The musical follows the plot of the memoir almost entirely. Bullied to the brink of suicide, the Dean Kostos character--renamed Nicky Thanos--spends two years in the mental hospital where his mother had stayed: the Institute of Pennsylvania hospital, known to its inhabitants as "The Toot." While there, Nicky believes there's only one way for him to get well: on his own. That's how he had approached his problems before hospitalization, and he clings to this credo within the hospital walls. He endures his condescending and sex-fixated psychiatrist; a neglectful nurse known as Glasses; his contemporaries who insult or ignore him and his own confused or distracted parents. The story is actually life-enhancing. At the end of his nearly two years at the Toot, he emerges as a happier, wiser, better person. He benefits from a caring nurse, a mind-enhancing teacher and older patients who guide him on his way. He also encounters patients his own age who form a supportive, loving, fraternity. What looks like dead-ends (befriending the sociopath, shooting heroin, slashing his wrists) are important lessons teaching him not to make that same mistake again. The overriding message becomes: in order to be free, you must be allowed to make mistakes, provided you don't kill yourself.

Kostos had collaborated with composer Paul Kirby on the musical for three years before the pandemic shutdown, and saw the Zoom production in April 2021 before his untimely death on November 14, 2022. He regarded it approvingly.

Kirby's score is Broadway-style. The production is scored for a single piano, which will be played by musical director Peter Dizozza.

Nicky, at different ages of his life (age 8-18), will be played by four actors: Michael A. Green, Milo Longenecker, and brothers Niko and Luka Zylik. The other actors are Louisa Bradshaw, William Broderick, Thom Brown, Anthony Cedeno, Donny W. Counts, Maude Elizabeth, Alisa Ermolaev, Dominique Ernewein, Matthew James, Patrick Kenner, Taryn Lynch, Zack Martin, Bradley Nowacek, Alyson Reim, Carlos Rodriguez, Amelia Sasson and Toni Renee Taylor.

Choreographer is Toni Renee Taylor. Stage Manager is Emma Weiner. Virtual set projections and videos are created by Alan Hanna. Lighting designer is Alexander Bartenieff. Costume designer is Billy Little.

Dean Kostos (book/co-lyricist) was the author of nine books of poetry and the memoir of the same title, published by Spuyten Duyvil, on which this musical is based. He was also an educator, anthologist, and editor of Pomegranate Seeds, an anthology of Greek-American Poetry. His collection, "This is Not a Skyscraper," was selected by Mark Doty for Red Hen Press's prestigious 2013 Benjamin Saltman Award. His collections also included "Rivering," "Last Supper of the Senses," "The Sentence That Ends With a Comma" and "Celestial Rust." His poems, personal essays  and translations appeared in over 300 journals. He co-edited "Mama’s Boy: Gay Men Write About Their Mothers." His libretto, "Dialogue: Angel of Peace, Angel of War," was set to music by James Bassi and performed by Voices of Ascension. He taught at Wesleyan, the Gallatin School of NYU, and at CUNY. He received a Rockefeller Innovation Grant,was invited to read at Princeton and Harvard, and was the recipient of a Yaddo Fellowhsip. He died age 68 in 2022.

Paul H Kirby (composer/co-lyricist) serves as organist at Zion-St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and 7th Church of Christ, Scientist NYC, and as Vice President of the Musicians Club of New York. He composed and conducted two performances of The Night of the Secretary-General, an opera on texts of Dag Hammarskjöld, in 2017. Two of his compositions are currently published by Carl Fischer, Inc. He has served as music director of several symphony orchestras. He received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from CUNY in 1996, and has participated in the BMI Musical Theater Workshop.

In 2017, Kirby collaborated with director Lissa Moira on a music drama oratorio, "The Night of the Secretary-General," which he composed for one singer and a nine-piece orchestra on texts taken from Dag Hammarskjöld’s "Markings," a combination memoir, poetry, musings and reflections translated by W. H. Auden and Leif Sjöberg.

Lissa Moira (director) is a playwright, screenwriter, director, artist and poet. She is two-time Jerome Foundation grantee and an OOBR Award-winning actress. She directed and was dramaturg of "Siren's Heart, Norma Jean and Marilyn in Purgatory" by Walt Stepp, which enjoyed a seven-week run at TNC in 2011 and then played 14 months Off-Broadway at the Actors Temple starring Louisa Bradshaw. The following year, she directed "Skybox," also by Walt Stepp, at TNC. Her direction of "Cocaine Dreams" at the Kraine was described by the NY Post (Chip Deffaa) as "inspired." Last season, she directed two musicals at TNC: "Who Murdered Love?" a Dadaist musical comedy which she co-wrote with Richard West, and "Bliss Street," an Indie Rock musical by Abra Bigham from a concept by Rich Brotman with songs by Charlie Sub. The latter show traced the role of the club-owning Sub family in the making of New York's decade of punk, glam and glitter rock.

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Reviewers are invited on or after February 2 (opening date).