FOR THE NEW CITY'S DREAM UP FESTIVAL PRESENTS "LETTERS," NEW
MUSICAL BY DANIEL SCHWARTZMAN, DIRECTED BY ELMORE JAMES
NEW YORK, August 7 – What can we do when it's too late to fix the mistakes of the past? "Letters,” written and composed by Daniel Schwartzman, is a musical about Frida, a middle-aged writer of children’s books long estranged from her parents. The reasons come into focus as the action progresses, moving back and forth through time. With her parents recently deceased and no longer a threat to her stability, Frida decides to finally read the letters they had sent her over the years, all unanswered. She is joined by visions of her mother and father as she reads the letters, often leading into highly charged scenes. As Frida grows from age five to 16, we watch a creeping toxicity take over their household, eventually destroying the family. In the final third of the musical, we discover where this began. Frida’s beloved younger brother, Mikey, drowned in the sea at age six while the parents had one of their nasty arguments nearby. Frida was present at the scene and it left her changed forever. Elmore James directs this world premiere, with musical direction from Erica Kaplan. The songs are modern Broadway in style, a mix of ballads and more childlike songs.
That terrible day put into motion what would become Frida’s loathing for her parents, as she blamed them for her brother's death. Now, years later, she finally reads their letters as she looks out over the sea. The sea itself plays an important role, opening Frida’s mind and enhancing her ability to plunge for the depths of meaning in her parent’s words. She reconnects in these letters to the loved child she once was, and the parents she once loved in return. Frida begins to see them as real people, with their flaws, and through coming to know them she may finally find peace. The water becomes a metaphor for the human mind, memory and mortality, with Frida's opening song, "Gazing Out at the Sea."
In "Letters," we explore from the perspective of the present how the past can shape someone's life irrevocably. Schwartzman's dialogue and music bring us deep into the troubled heart of a woman as she moves through ages five to 16, and finally to middle age. Through her parents' letters, we are brought into a family torn apart by grief, alcoholism and fatal mistakes. "Letters" is a musical which forces us to confront questions of accountability and guilt -- as we follow Frida's timeline of her pain, we come to understand the suffering faced by her parents as they mourn the loss of their son. At its core, this musical is about seeking forgiveness and peace for the sins of the past. Is it ever too late for reconciliation?
Daniel Schwartzman (book, music, lyrics) is a playwright, composer, music director, conductor and faculty member of several theatre schools. Born in New York City, he has been based in Tel Aviv since 1983. He received a B.A. in music from SUNY Purchase and an M.A. from Tel Aviv University in Composition and Conducting. In the last few years alone, he has conducted and directed music for the Israeli productions of "The King and I," "Billy Elliot" (which won best Israeli musical for 2016 in the Broadway World competition), and the "Sound of Music," which was praised by the Rogers and Hammerstein Organization. He has written books, music, and lyrics for at least 15 musicals, several of which have been produced in the United States and Israel. This is the third time a musical by Schwartzman has been produced at the Dream Up Festival NYC. For more about his work, please visit his website: www.musicaldan.com
Elmore James (director) is a theater director, musical performer, opera singer, a professor of acting and musical theater, having worked both in the United States and in Europe. He is a veteran of five Broadway shows and has performed in regional theater and in opera, including the Metropolitan Opera House, as well as the opera houses of Italy, Germany, France and Scandinavia. He has directed everything from Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter and Lanford Wilson to Jerry Herman, Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Weber. Some of the venues where he has directed include the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and at the Mynt Teatern in Stockholm, Sweden. He was the artistic director for an acting company he founded in Munich, Germany called the Münchner Ensemble Theater. He was also resident director at the Urban Arts Theater in New York City. His award-winning career spans over 40 years and he now teaches his own course in universities in the United States and in Europe. He has taught at NYU, Stephens College, Fordham University, Temple University and Mercy College. He trained at the School of Performing Arts, SUNY Purchase, the Juilliard School and, for many years, under the mentorship of the great Broadway director and co-founder of The Actors Studio, Robert Lewis.
The cast includes Maria Baratta, Jacob Harran, Susan Varon and Troy Powell.
The eighth annual Dream Up Festival (www.dreamupfestival.org) is being presented by Theater for the New City from August 27 to September 17. An ultimate new work festival, it is dedicated to the joy of discovering new authors and edgy, innovative performances. Audiences savor the excitement, awe, passion, challenge and intrigue of new plays from around the country and around the world.
The festival does not seek out traditional scripts that are presented in a traditional way. It selects works that push new ideas to the forefront, challenge audience expectations and make us question our understanding of how art illuminates the world around us.
A unique and varied selection of productions will again be offered that draw upon a variety of performance specialties including singing, clowning, poetry, street music, magic and movement. The Festival's founders, Crystal Field and Michael Scott-Price, feel this is especially needed in our present time of declining donations to the arts, grants not being awarded due to market conditions, and arts funding cuts on almost every level across the country and abroad.
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