If anyone ever doubts that New Jersey is home to great theatre, just point them to the world premiere of “Pamela’s First Musical” at Two River Theater. The cast and creative behind this show by Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang includes a combined total of more than 25 Tony Award nominations and seven wins. It’s a cast that would look impressive at any theatre – Broadway or otherwise. According to one of the stars, the opportunity to work with the 10-time Tony Award nominee director/choreographer Graciela Daniele and to be part of a new musical was too good to pass up.
“When somebody like Graciela Daniele is involved, everybody wants to jump on board,” explained Howard McGillin, who is one of the cast members with Tony Award and Drama Desk Award nominations on his resume. “She has fantastic energy and is just so talented. I worked with her 30 years ago on a show called ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ for Broadway and it’s great to be with her again. Of course, you can’t overlook the fact that we have David Zippel and Cy Coleman writing the songs and Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang with the book.”
The new musical tells the story of Pamela (played by 12-year-old Sarah McKinley Austin), an unhappy, imaginative young girl whose mother has died. Her father (McGillin), though well-meaning, doesn’t fully understand his creative, unusual daughter. When Pamela’s eccentric and fabulous Aunt Louise (a modern “Auntie Mame” played by Carolee Carmello) sweeps her away on her birthday to see her very first Broadway musical, Pamela meets many of the colorful personalities of the New York theatre world, including musical-comedy star Mary Ethel Bernadette (Andréa Burns), producer Bernie S. Gerry (David Garrison) and director Hal Hitner (Michael Mulheren). In meeting them and watching a clever musical-within-a-musical, Pamela discovers her tribe and the place where, as she sings, “all the pieces fit”—the world of musical theatre.
It may seem a bit risky to have a lead actress who isn’t even a teenager yet, but Sarah McKinley Austin has already been part of two national tours (“Matilda the Musical” and “Once”) in her young career. Being surrounded by this talented creative team is an incredible experience for her, but she is holding her own.
“She’s amazing,” said McGillin. “She is definitely holding her own. We’re all kind of in awe of her. She’s so solid and always thinking ahead. She’s a delight to work with.”
“Pamela’s First Musical” is based on the late Wendy Wasserstein’s children’s book and has taken a long path to reach this production. The musical was originally announced to have its premiere in November 2005 at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theatre in Connecticut. That production was canceled when Cy Coleman died of a heart attack in November 2004. Two years later, a 2006 production announced at TheatreWorks in California was shelved after Wendy Wasserstein died from lymphoma complications. With two major creative members gone, the play remained in limbo for years. Eventually John Dias, artistic director at Two River Theater, contacted David Zippel about presenting the work in Red Bank.
“It’s rare that you actually get an opportunity to work on a new musical,” explained McGillin. “Obviously, this is a musical that’s been around, but it’s never had a production. I think that was part of the attraction, as well. The people not only wanted to work with Graciela, but felt that this was an opportunity to take a crack at a new musical that’s never been produced. Broadway has become a lot about revivals, which are always fun to do, but there’s something very special about being able to put your mark on the first production of something. It’s definitely exciting.”
The play may be based on a children’s book, but its music, a storyline and jokes that will appeal to all ages. Some of that can be attributed to the work of New Jersey native Christopher Durang.
“He has added so much to this show in terms of the rewrites,” said McGillin. “From what I understand, a lot of the focus of his work has been on the show within the show. What is so fun and delightful about this show is that it’s seen through the eyes of this little girl, which includes the imagination she brings to seeing her first Broadway show. It goes from her seeing the show to suddenly taking on a life of its own given her imagination; what she’s thinking about and dreaming is happening in the show.
“I play her father in the story that begins ‘Pamela’s First Musical,’ where we meet Pamela. And then suddenly she goes to see her Broadway show and she sees me up on the stage playing another character – in fact, a couple of different characters in the show. Other people in her life also appear on the stage as other characters, too. So, it’s fun and a great opportunity for an actor to play a variety of things.”
The show has led cast members to recall the first musicals they attended. McGillin said he remembers seeing his first musical from the orchestra pit while in high school. It was a production of “The Sound of Music,” which ironically is gently spoofed during the show within a show segment of “Pamela’s First Musical.” During the segment, McGillin plays a Captain Von Trapp character. During the first musical he attended, his older brother played Captain Von Trapp. McGillin laughs at the way that play has come full circle for him.
McGillin says the audience at “Pamela’s First Musical” has been laughing out loud at the jokes and it’s great to hear that laughter. Based on the first performances, it’s clear that the play will remind audiences of classics like “Willy Wonka” or “Annie” – plays that appeal to adults as well as children.
It may have taken a long, strange journey to reach the stage, but “Pamela’s First Musical” is finally being introduced to the world, thanks to Two River Theater. In doing so, Two River has lured an amazingly talented cast to Red Bank and raised the theatre’s already lofty profile throughout the industry.
About the author: Gary Wien is a music journalist from Belmar, NJ. A three-time winner of Asbury Music’s Music Journalist of The Year, his writing and photographs have been seen in publications like Upstage Magazine, Backstreets Magazine, Gannett Newspapers, and Princeton Magazine. He is the also the author of two books: Beyond The Palace (about the history of rock music in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? (his picks for the Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists) and is the publisher of New Jersey Stage magazine.
Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
Eagle Theatre Presents A Holiday Revue At Kathedral Event Center (HAMMONTON, NJ) -- Eagle Theatre presents Season’s Greetings: A Musical Celebration of Holiday Traditions from Around the World from December 19 to December 23 at Kathedral Event Center. The show is guaranteed holly jolly fun for the whole family. Starring four all-star performers and a live band, this musical journey around the world, features over 40 holiday classics, a Dominick the Donkey sing-a-long, a salute to our military veterans, a cash bar, and a photo opportunity with Santa! This holiday revue takes audiences on a sleigh ride across the globe and straight into a Winter Wonderland. East Lynne Theater Company Receives $12,600 Travel and Tourism grant (CAPE MAY, NJ) -- The award-winning Equity professional East Lynne Theater Company is receiving $12,600.00 from the Cooperative Marketing Grant sponsored by the New Jersey Department of State: Division of Travel and Tourism. The award was given based on the scores of an independent evaluation and funding review committee that studied ELTC's application and marketing plan.Writers Theatre of New Jersey Presents 2019 Soundings Reading Series (MADISON, NJ) -- The Writer’s Theatre of New Jersey is kicking off their 2019 season with a series of new play readings in the new Madison Community Arts Center venue. This Winter Madison will be filled with writers eager to hear their pages come to life in front of an audience. Starting on January 3rd and going straight through until January 17th there will be 15 plays in 15 days.Pixie Dust Players Presents Home for the Holidays at UCPAC (RAHWAY, NJ) -- To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Pixie Dust Players, Union County Performing Arts Center is happy to present Home for the Holidays on Friday, December 21, 2018 at 7:30pm. The event consists of a gala and a benefit concert featuring over 150 performers and music from 24 different shows, all from the past ten years of Pixie Dust Productions. Prior to the concert, there will be a gala with light fare, a magician, and more. Not only is this a fundraiser for UCPAC’s Youth Programming, but also a celebration supporting the continuance of this exciting partnership.Grunin Center Hosts Lightwire Theater's "A Very Electric Christmas" (TOMS RIVER, NJ) -- Lightwire Theater is traveling north from the members’ New Orleans home base to present “A Very Electric Christmas” at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts on Sunday, December 23 at 3:00pm and 6:00pm. Lightwire Theater is known for its signature brand of dazzling visuals, poignant storytelling, and music designed to evoke imagery. The group debuted their first “A Very Electric Christmas” in New Orleans in December 2013, and now takes this captivating and magical tale of adventure, friendship, and love – centered on a young bird named Max – throughout the country and around the world. This show brings a whole new meaning to “home for the holidays.”
PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. REVIEW: "It's A Wonderful Life" At Mile Square Theatre Nestled in a corner of Hoboken, on the second floor, lies the studios of radio station WMST. It’s a wonderful art deco studio, replete with fine wooden walls, embedded with colorful lights an applause sign. On stage, we’ve got a few chairs, several microphones and a whole corner wedged with all the necessary props – piano, men’s shoes, sheet metal – to create the audio effects for the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”Betsy Aidem Puts A Woman's Touch On George Street Playhouse's "A Doll's House, Part 2" Betsy Aidem is a veteran actress you might have seen on Broadway. Or maybe on an episode of “Law & Order: SVU.” Or maybe on the big screen last year in “The Greatest Showman.”
But over the next few weeks in New Brunswick, Aidem is adding a brand-new section to her résumé — by helming a sequel (of sorts) to a classic play that’s more than 100 years old.REVIEW: "Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" at Paper Mill Playhouse One man’s ambition is comfortable yet to another it is anathema. This is the simplest way to convey the central theme of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn – now playing at Papermill Playhouse. The show is a rich, effervescent, beautiful, fun, musical that is well worth booking tickets for. It enthralled my phone addicted 13 year-old and earned a shout out on Instagram - high praise in and of itself.REVIEW: "A Doll's House, Part 2" at George Street Playhouse For well over a century the world has been wondering what ever happened to Nora Helmer from Henrik Ibsen’s classic play A Doll’s House. Nora was a woman during the 19th century in male dominated Norway when women could not sign contracts without their husband’s permission. She challenged this law, essentially committing forgery. And, even though she committed a crime for the purpose of saving her husband’s life, her actions wound up destroying her marriage when someone tried to blackmail her.
Event calendar Monday, Dec 17, 2018
THE NEPTUNES @ Lobby Bar at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 7:00pm