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    Monday, March 27, 2023

    Goodspeed commissions two musicals as part of new program

    Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie (Submitted)
    Joriah Kwamé (Submitted)
    Goodspeed Opera House (Caryn B. Davis)

    Goodspeed Musicals has established its first formal commissioning program, which aims to support the creation and development of musicals “that celebrate inspiring and transformational stories.”

    The first two works commissioned as part of the program, dubbed GoodWorks, are “The Snow Goose” by Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie and “Little Miss Perfect” by Joriah Kwamé.

    Goodspeed has a long history of supporting and developing new work, but commissioning musicals is a new step. With GoodWorks, Goodspeed is now the initiation point for musicals. For example, Goodspeed Artistic Director Donna Lynn Hilton thought that the book “The Snow Goose” would make a wonderful musical, so the Goodspeed team optioned the book and recruited Gilmour and MacKenzie to write the musical version. Goodspeed has a short list of other ideas for musicals to pursue in the future.

    Why establish GoodWorks? Hilton says that, particularly coming out of the pandemic, “We clearly recognized that collaboration is going to be one of the key pieces of the path forward — with other theaters, commercial producers, all of that. But also home growing our work that we have control of and that has the potential to deliver revenue back to Goodspeed — that is going to be another piece of the puzzle that helps make our operations sustainable in the future. So what better way (to do that) than by taking some funds and commissioning some new work?”

    Through its years of developing new work with its other programs, she says, “We have grown the pool of donors that want to support new work and that really understand the value of new work and really understand that new work today is going to be the classic in 30 years — and they have the opportunity to participate in creating that. We’ve really grown that pool of donors so we were able to cultivate some funding specifically for commissioning.”

    The sponsors and donors include the Richard P. Garmany Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving; the estate of Christopher Weed; Susan Gonsalves; Jon Lukomnik and Lynn Davidson; and Straighten Your Crown Productions, Inc.

    Goodspeed declined to say how much the writers were paid for the commissions.

    How it works

    In an ideal world, the GoodWorks program would be the first step in a process that would eventually give the show a full production on the Goodspeed stage. Then Goodspeed would hand it off to a commercial producer to take to Broadway, or to a licensing house so other theaters could produce it.

    Right now, Hilton says, it’s a pretty clean and simple commission. Goodspeed pays the writer a lump sum (she declined to say how much) to get the piece to a certain phase of development. Then, once Goodspeed has seen the results, it has the option to continue with the musical or not. With these projects, Goodspeed has three years to get them to a place where the theater decides either, yes, it wants to continue further with the project, or no, Goodspeed isn’t going to move forward with it, but somebody else can; at that point, the writers are free to do what they want with the piece.

    The first shows

    The writers for “Snow Goose” and “Little Miss Perfect” will work on developing their musicals with several members of the Goodspeed artistic staff. Goodspeed might bring in outside resources as well.

    “Little Miss Perfect” grew out of the song of the same name that Kwamé wrote. The tune won the Write Out Loud contest in 2020. It was covered by Taylor Louderman (who originated the role of Regina George in “Mean Girls” on Broadway in 2018) and has more than 1 million views.

    Kwamé and his agent approached Goodspeed with the idea of the theater commissioning a full-length musical based on the song. The premise: “Coming of age is even harder when you’re also coming out. Noelle struggles to decide whether she will be true to herself and an ally to her peers, or if she will settle with simple being Little Miss Perfect.”

    The Scottish writing team of Gilmour and McKenzie, also known as Noisemaker, who are working on “The Snow Goose,” had a previous musical performed at Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in 2019. It was “Hi, My Name is Ben,” about a man who loses his voice but ends up turning a neighborhood of strangers into a community of friends.

    Gilmour and McKenzie travelled to East Haddam last winter to talk about the expectations and goals for the first phase of work on “The Snow Goose.” They have a story treatment, and they will start writing the piece during a residency in March at Britten Pear Arts in England, where the story is set.

    “The Snow Goose” is adapted from the Paul Gallico novella. In it, a wounded snow goose brings together a young girl and an artist living in an abandoned lighthouse, all against the backdrop of war.

    ‘Reveal the best in humankind’

    Goodspeed says GoodWorks’ goal is “to commission and develop musicals that reveal the best in humankind; celebrate that which is good in our world; and will resonate with and inspire our audience.”

    Asked about that, Hilton says, “Don’t we want all to leave the theater feeling uplifted? I work and have worked for a long time at Goodspeed Musicals, so I think people understand where my tastes lie. But I also am not afraid — and I think we’ve learned that our audience is not afraid — to be challenged by material, to be moved by material, to allow themselves to learn something even while they’re enjoying a great piece of musical theater. I want to do shows that I want to see, and I want to see things that leave me feeling uplifted. I think that probably is something that came post-pandemic. I certainly feel, and I know that most of the artists that I work with feel, that it’s no longer enough to just make a great show. Something about that show needs to leave the environment we’re in a little bit better than it was.”

    Festival of New Musicals, Writers Grove and Terris Theater

    Goodspeed Musicals has helped develop and has presented new musicals in other contexts for years.

    Its Festival of New Musicals started in 2005 and returns for a 2023 iteration in mid-March. As part of that, three new musicals are treated to staged readings. Details on the festival are scheduled to be released shortly.

    The Johnny Mercer Writers Grove, which dates back to 2013, features a four-week residency program for musical theater writers to concentrate on writing new musicals.

    And Goodspeed’s Terris Theater, founded in 1985, focuses for the most part on staging new works. Though it hasn’t reopened since the pandemic, it is expected to be back this summer, with information to follow.

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