Living In A Musical Plays March 4 to 21 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (at E. 10th Street). The show is presented by Theater for the New City and runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 3:00 pm $10.
For info contact the box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Living in a Musical," with book and lyrics by Tom Attea, music by Arthur Abrams, direction by Mark Marcante and choreography by Angela Harriell ("Nutcracker Rated R"), is a contemporary story of a young man who is a song-and-dance talent in the tradition of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly. Not surprisingly, he finds that today's rock- and rap-dominated world has no place for him. To console himself, he has created an imaginative world in which he lives: the world of the classic American musical.
His comforting but fragile illusion is most clearly represented by his apartment, where photos and mementos from the musical world of the 1930's and 1940's abound. The musical explodes dramatically when the world of heavy-metal rock unexpectedly intrudes on his otherwise rather placid life. One night, outside his doorstep, he rescues a young woman who is being verbally and physically mistreated by her lover, a heavy-metal bandleader. She moves in with her new hero, setting the stage for a conflict not only in terms of love interest but also between styles of singing and dancing, between the elegant life as portrayed in the musicals of the 1930's and 1940's and the earthier life of today's rock-and-rap world. The musical merrily dramatizes the joys and sacrifices of going your own way and believing in your dreams.
"Living in a Musical" is the sixth collaboration of Tom Attea (book and lyrics), Arthur Abrams (score) and Mark Marcante (director). Their works have been called "Delightfully funny!" (Robert Hicks, The Villager) and "Witty! In the tradition of the Fantastiks" (The Greenwich Village Press). Tom Attea had collaborated with Arthur Abrams in the early 1980's in the playwrights' unit of the Actors' Studio, where both were under the tutelage of Charles Friedman. Friedman had been a show doctor in the '30s and a great friend of George S. Kaufmann and Moss Hart. Attea first came to TNC at Abrams' urging to contribute skits for a revue named "It's an Emergency, Don't Hurry," which dealt with the world's lethargy in responding to urgent issues. Mark Marcante was director. Attea, having been trained by a gifted theatrical mentor, was eager for a theatrical outlet as a relief from his TV writing. TNC provided talented collaborators. Stimulated by the experience of that first revue, Attea went on to write a musical a year with Abrams, all of which were directed by Marcante.
Then Arthur Abrams was hit by a car and wound up in critical condition in the hospital. To give him a new reason to live, Attea went to Abrams' bedside and proposed a musical based on "La Traviata" about a young hooker who worked on Central Park South who wanders up to Lincoln Center and falls in love with a tenor from the Met. The encouragement worked; Abrams recovered enough to write the score to Attea's libretto and book. It turned into "Lincoln Plaza, a large and electric production with a cast of 27 which was short-circuited when its leading lady, for whom there was no understudy, had to leave the show early. It was just before critics were to come. Saddened by this and by Abrams' lengthy need for additional recovery (he's fine now, thanks), Attea became sad and reflective. He laid out from theater writing for five years, thinking deeply about life. Now he's back to writing about it.
It was five years until Attea's next project dawned. He relates, "I began to think about a new musical. I considered how people who have affection for the traditional theater and in particular the traditional musical must feel alienated from mainstream rock and rap. I wondered if there was a way to provide them with a beautiful and satisfying metaphor to which they would be attracted. Yet I wanted it to be fair to people who do like mainstream contemporary music, whether or not they also like the theater. That's when I got the idea for "Living in a Musical.'"
Attea adds, "Crystal Field deserves credit for being a steady champion of us and of all people who write for the theater and hope to make a distinguished contribution. She has been kind enough to be a steady champion of mine. In fact, I don't know another person in the Off-Broadway venue who is as supportive of emerging talent, and I don't know, in this competitive and political world, if I could have found another artistic director or theater as inviting and supportive as the one she administers. She is to creators of theater every bit as great a mentor as Lee Strasberg used to be for actors at the Studio."