Doug Anderson’s New Musical Tells the Story of Coming of Age | Performing arts | Seven days

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The main characters in some of Broadway’s most popular musicals are young adults. Sophie Sheridan, 20, from Mama Mia! plots to find her real father so he can walk her down the aisle. The greed and envy sparked by Elphaba’s teenage years shape her life in Nasty. Arnold Cunningham and Kevin Price preach with earnest youth in The Book of Mormon.

Doug Anderson, founder and artistic director of the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury, considers this emphasis on young people to be typical of musicals. Anderson was inspired in another direction: he wrote the musical welcome to Paradise to tell the story of adulthood.

“I wanted to write a play with middle-aged performers that is about middle-aged,” Anderson, 69, said. Seven days by telephone.

Based on the true story of a woman Anderson met while studying abroad in England in 1973, welcome to Paradise debuted at the Town Hall Theater August 12–14, featuring six Vermont actors and a seven-piece orchestra.

The musical’s protagonist is 51-year-old Eleanor Murray, whose husband, Andrew, frequently travels to the Middle East for work. One day, Andrew disappears. As government officials inquire after him, Eleanor begins to unravel the mysteries of her husband’s life, an investigation that leads her on a journey of self-discovery.

Andrew never appears on stage. The plot follows Eleanor and five other women related to her following her disappearance.

The show has around 30 musical numbers, and Anderson said he aimed to make it a raw, realistic story that’s also fun to listen to. “It’s not some kind of jazz-hands-and-tap-dance musical. It’s a very serious, sophisticated story told in a musical way,” he said.

welcome to Paradise is the first Broadway-style musical Anderson wrote. He did, however, write musicals for children and directed around 50 musicals and operas, which he says is the best writing training in the genre.

He started to write welcome to Paradise in 1991 with her high school friend Patti McKenny. Early in the writing process, McKenny died suddenly, which put the project on hold.

Then, in 1997, Anderson was swept up in another endeavor: revamping the derelict building at 68 South Pleasant Street into what is now the Town Hall Theatre. “My life as a writer basically ended in 1997,” Anderson said.

When the pandemic hit and the Town Hall Theater was forced to temporarily close, Anderson finally had time to return to the musical and he had McKenny’s notes to guide him through the writing process. . “I always felt like she talked to me about it every day,” he recalls.

While it felt odd to return to work on a project after a 30-year hiatus, Anderson said, the hiatus provided him with a key experience: middle age. He had gained more perspective on what it means to be that age and to grow old in that society, two central themes of the show.

Soprano Suzanne Kantorski, who will play Eleanor in the Town Hall Theater production, agreed with Anderson that the show succeeds in articulating the values ​​and issues specific to middle-aged women.

“The wisdom of women lacks a platform in many ways. To be able to show that artistically is a privilege,” said Kantorski, a semi-retired professional opera singer.

Kantorski has worked with Anderson on a number of shows through the Opera Company of Middlebury, which he founded and where he serves as artistic director and stage designer. She said she was excited about the musical because it is lighter than opera, both in style and content.

“It’s all connected and revolves around this man, but first and foremost it’s a show about women,” she said.

Kantorski, along with supporting actors Cathy Walsh, Jillian Torres, Melinda Hinsdale Bickford, Nessa Rabin and Sarah Stone, began rehearsals for the production on August 1. Led by Music Director Ronnie Romano, the show’s seven-piece orchestra includes musicians from the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Opera Company of Middlebury.

Although the musical has full-fledged costumes, props and lights, Anderson said he calls it a workshop rather than a premiere. He will continue to tinker with the plot and welcomes feedback from performers about their characters and the show.

“Everything that happens on stage will go through a period of development,” Anderson said. “It’s rare to have a musical [correct] right out the door.”

Once he makes changes, Anderson hopes to present an official premiere in professional theaters nationwide.

While it’s exciting to put together a brand new show, Kantorski said, the workshop stage is challenging for the actors because they don’t have reference points from previous performances. As a result, she and her counterparts have to work harder to create their characters from scratch. “It takes longer to get it right,” she said.

Entering its 15th season, the Town Hall Theater hosts approximately 165 events each year. The theater has just completed a production of Olivier ! Juniorperformed by 28 children aged 12 to 18. Other events this summer include the Big Apple Comics Series and the World Music & Wine Series at Lincoln Peak Vineyard in New Haven.

A defining project for Anderson, welcome to Paradise breaks new ground on the musical format, and the story of its middle-aged characters appeals to a similar cohort of viewers.

“It would be arrogant of me to say it’s a whole new kind of musical, but it really pushes the boundaries of what a musical traditionally is,” Anderson said.