Kickstarter campaign tops $32,000 to bring Benedict Arnold play to Norwich

Norwich — By Thursday morning's end of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a musical biographical play about Benedict Arnold, 155 backers had pledged $32,144 to guarantee that the world premiere of the play will be staged in Norwich.

The fund drive, conducted on www.kickstarter.com, received a major boost this week, when the Norwich 350th anniversary committee agreed to donate $15,000 in its coffers left over from the 2009 yearlong celebration to the play, Spirit of Broadway Theater Artistic Director Brett Bernardini said.

Les King, president of Semiseptcentennial Inc., the financial entity that oversaw the 350th celebration, said Thursday that the committee pledged to donate its funds to efforts that would promote Norwich history, education and research into Norwich history. He said the Benedict Arnold play met all three goals.

Bernardini said $10,000 was pledged to the $30,000 Kickstarter campaign to be used to purchase the exclusive rights to the play, and the remaining $5,000 will help pay for the orchestra.

Bernardini told the Norwich Community Development Corp. Thursday that this will be a multiyear project that will get better with age and added dollars. The envisioned full production of the play — including detailed costumes, wigs and sets — will cost $110,000 and take many months to put together, Bernardini said.

Because the fund drive got off to a late start after earlier investors backed out, Bernardini likely will use the first two weeks of the play starting Sept. 11 as a "staged reading" to get it off the ground and receive feedback from the audience and observers.

"It will be like what you see at the Eugene O'Neill Theater," Bernardini said, referring to new productions getting a first look.

Over the next several months, "Benedict Arnold: The Musical" will be refined, and he hopes to take a staged reading to Broadway in New York City for more critical review — and some wider publicity as well.

A full production should return to the Spirit of Broadway Theater next August.

Along with the play, several city organizations are planning events related to Benedict Arnold in September.

On Sept. 21, the Leffingwell House Museum will have a Benedict Arnold re-enactor giving interviews from noon to 4 p.m. The Norwich Historical Society plans a fundraiser dinner at the Leffingwell's tavern room on Sept. 20 followed by a trip to the Spirit of Broadway for the play. Walking tours of areas associated with Arnold's youth in Norwich also are planned.

King said organizers of the 350th anniversary celebration had wanted to include events associated with Arnold but never had time to organize a well-researched event.

"All of a sudden, Brett was doing this play, and we said, 'Now is the time,'" King said. "One of the reasons we jumped on the play was because there was some urgency."

c.bessette@theday.com

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