Sneak previews | August 6, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - August 6, 2010

Sneak previews

New Works Festival spotlights plays, musicals that are still in progress

by Rebecca Wallace

The scripts and scores are new, but some of the faces will be familiar when TheatreWorks opens its ninth annual New Works Festival this Sunday. Actors Francis Jue and C. Kelly Wright, who have earned acclaim in past TheatreWorks shows, are returning to Palo Alto to appear in staged readings of new musicals.

The 15-day festival features staged readings of two musicals and two plays, and a developmental production of the indie-rock musical "Fly By Night" — the show is fully staged, but changes based on audience feedback. Also planned are a concert and panel talk.

It's all part of TheatreWorks' New Works Initiative, which seeks new creations, holds writers' retreats and pairs up writers and composers. At the festival, the writers are in residence, and audiences get to comment on shows that just might make it to Broadway. "Memphis," which won the Tony for Best Musical this year, was developed at New Works in 2002.

Jue's show starts the festival at 7 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Lucie Stern Theatre. "Great Wall," with book by Kevin Merritt and music and lyrics by Kevin So, is a pop musical about Asian-American R&B artist Victor Woo.

Jue plays the musician's father, and Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang served as story consultant for the show, which is said to be loosely based on So's experiences as a recording artist. Last year, Jue starred in TheatreWorks' production of Hwang's play "Yellow Face."

"Great Wall" has additional performances at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11 and 8 p.m. Aug. 14.

C. Kelly Wright, who starred in TheatreWorks' "Caroline, Or Change" in 2008, returns for the staged reading of "Red Clay." The jazz-gospel musical is about Rosa Parks' bus ride and the Civil Rights movement.

With book and lyrics by Jeff Hughes and music by Scott Ethier, "Red Clay" has readings on Aug. 14 at noon, Aug. 17 at 7:30 p.m., and Aug. 22 at 7 p.m.

The first of the two plays to take the stage at New Works is "How to Write a New Book for the Bible," an autobiographical tale about a caregiver grappling with issues of family and faith. Playwright Bill Cain also wrote "Equivocation," which he workshopped at the 2006 New Works Festival before its run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The current play will be read Aug. 12 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 15 at 4 p.m.

The second play, Anna Ziegler's "Variations on a Theme," follows a young couple who married early and then part. It's billed as a "story of love found, lost, repaired, repressed, rekindled and rediscovered." Staged readings are set for Aug. 15 at noon, Aug. 19 at 8 p.m., and Aug. 21 at 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, audiences can also give input on "Fly By Night." Unlike the other festival performances, these will be fully staged shows, with no scripts in hand. Kim Rosenstock conceived the indie-rock musical, and wrote it with playwright/filmmaker Michael Mitnick and musician Will Connolly; all will be on hand to continue to refine the piece.

TheatreWorks describes the show as the tale of "a hapless sandwich maker who must call upon a well of courage" when the lights go out — that is, during the 1965 blackout in New York City. Performances are Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m., Aug. 13 at 8 p.m., Aug. 14 at 4 p.m., Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m., Aug. 21 at 8 p.m., and Aug. 22 at 2 p.m.

Other festival events include "Unplugged," a cabaret concert featuring New Works composers, performers and guests performing new and classic songs, at 8 p.m. Aug. 20.

A "Meet the Festival Artists Panel" is also planned for Aug. 15 at 7:30 p.m., hosted by Meredith McDonough, the festival's director.

What: TheatreWorks' New Works Festival, with staged readings of plays and musicals

Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

When: Aug. 8-22

Cost: All-festival passes are $75; tickets for individual staged readings and the meet-the-artists panel are $15; and tickets for "Fly By Night" performances and the "Unplugged" concert are $25.

Info: Go to or call 650-463-1960.


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