"A for Adultery," a dramatic musical based on Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" by veteran composer/playwright Paul Dick, will be presented September 14 to 30, 2012 by Passajj Productions at Little Times Square Theatre (of Roy Arias Studios & Theatres,) 300 W 43rd Street (4 fl.), Manhattan, directed by Marlene Thorn Taber. Paul Dick has penned over 15 Off-off Broadway tuners between the 60's and now. His last productions were an operatic "Wuthering Heights, a Romantic Musical" at the Mint Theatre Space in 2010 and a musical version of the Exodus story at Roy Arias Theatres last fall.
Everyone's read "The Scarlet Letter" but have you heard it sung? In an age of postmodernism, when most theatrical adaptations of Hawthorne's magnum opus have done little for his legacy, Paul Dick's adaptation is instead extremely faithful to the novel, so you won't find yourself grasping for your bearings. Dick refers to his show as a "dramatic musical." He approached the book with reverence and now says, "Hawthorne wrote a beautiful novel. I have tried to the best of my ability to match his work." He quips that this musical may be a new vision, but it's not a revision. Beside standard adult audiences, the piece is recommended for high school students, who usually read "The Scarlet Letter" in their literature programs.
The production, an AEA Showcase, is not an opera by definition but some of its roles require well-trained singers with operatic "chops." The role of Hester, the adulteress who struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity, is written for a lyric soprano. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, her lover whose life is broken by his guilt, is a tenor. Doctor Roger Chillingworth, Hester's missing husband who was presumed dead but reappears as Dimmesdale's nemesis, is a high baritone. There are seven more in the ensemble, including two children, who play Pearl, Hester's willful, impish daughter; and Elizabeth, the "good child" whom Pearl is frustratingly measured against.
The music includes ballads and "angst driven" songs of shame and remorse. It's operatic in the sense that most of it is sung, although much of the show's drama comes from spoken parts. The score, overall, is fluid in its tone and texture. There is recitative, set into pieces in which the characters reveal what they are going through. Mr. Dick has a knack for writing good tunes and a distinctive musical style informs most of his writings. It's his own voice: lyrical, chromatic and unexpected. Harmonically, the score is similar to Mr. Dick's other shows, including his "Wuthering Heights," which was seen at the Mint Theater in 2010.
The stage picture will be dominated by Roejendra Adams' costumes, which will have an authentic 17th century look and feel. The set by Rohit Kapoor will have a "nature-like" cyclorama or backdrop, with tree limbs to suggest the rustic nature of the Puritan colony. Otherwise, the locations will be suggested minimistically, with lighting to establish different locations the story moves through.
Paul Dick is author of over 15 musicals; many are based on classic sources, including "Madame Bovary" (directed by Elizabeth Falk, 2007), "I Knock at the Door" (based on the Sean O'Casey novel) and "Once/Twice" (the first half based on "A Sunny Morning" by the Quintero brothers; the second half was based on Chekhov's "The Bear"). Others are based on more contemporary sources, such as "Tania" (based on newspaper accounts of the Patty Hearst affair, presented by NY Theatre Workshop), "White Widow" (based on the play "Mafia" by Mario Fratti) and "Anytime, Anywhere" (a story of gay soldiers in Vietnam).
Mr. Dick is an Off-off Broadway original. His earliest works were presented by the WPA Theater when it was located on 333 Bowery. He participated in Lehman Engel's BMI Workshop and his musicals were championed by Alan Schneider. He currently resides in Long Valley, NJ.
Mr. Dick's body of work represents an unusual abundance of shows and reflects an unusual variety of creative interests. "Quiet Cry: A Musical Murder Mystery" (2005) was about babies born to drug-addicted mothers. "Soar Like an Eagle" was about the Berlin Airlift. "Cybele, a Love Story" was based on the Academy Award-winning French film, "Sundays and Cybele." Some were referred to as "piano operas." At least three are still unproduced. One of these, "Inferno," is about the founding of a labor union. They are mostly antithetical to the dissonance of modern operas and straightforward compared to the thumb-in-the-eye alternative theater that has often surrounded them in "Downtown" theaters.
"A for Adultery" was produced once before, at the Beckett Theater on Theatre Row in 2004.
Director Marlene Thorn Taber helmed Dick's Exodus adaptation, "Moses, My Love," last fall. She is a director and choreographer of international theater who lived, worked and taught in China, Ukraine, and Moscow from 1998 to 2008. She choreographed a Jazz Dance Concert for the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Beijing and was the first foreign teacher asked to return several times more. She further directed/choreographed two musical revues funded by the US Peace Corps in Ukraine. Prior, she directed shows for the US Air Force Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Division in CA and was honored for her work in "Tops in Blues." She was an assistant to Director Alan Schneider for "The American Dream" and "Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung" by Edward Albee at the Phoenix Theatre. As a result, she became Executive Coordinator to Edward Albee for over five years early in her career. Her pre-Broadway credits include "In the Name of the Awesome, the Seed, and the Blinding Light" by Fred Gordon (St. Clement's). She taught Jazz Dance at La Guardia High School of Performing Arts from 2009 until 2011 and has been asked to return. In 2012, she taught classes at Manhattan College and Rutgers University. She holds a PhD and is a member of SDC.