New2NY is one of those rare theater brands that is accurate – these are musicals that have not yet been produced in New York. The Artistic Director of the York Theatre Company, James Morgan, who introduced the Friday night staged concert performance of JACK: A Musical Drama on the Life of John F. Kennedy, told a packed house of interested friendlies, that some people have started calling New2NY “New Tunies!”
Morgan entertained a house full of theater people – subscribers, producers, actors and even one dog – in the intimate space the York inhabits at St.Peterʼs Church at the base of the Citicorp monolith. He noted that given the federal courtʼs decision to stay any changes to NYʼs “stop and frisk” policy, the York Company had reinstated its policy, so the audience should be prepared.
He introduced the “orchestra,” gifted pianist Matt Castle, who must have 5 to 6 hands and enormous stamina as he played flawlessly and energetically through the two hour score.
After assuring the audience that, should we need the emergency exits, they were “there and there” and that “everything would be all right” Morgan gave the stage to JACK.
He noted that Castle and the twelve member cast had enjoyed a leisurely five-day rehearsal period on what is essentially an opera. Playing to the old hands in the crowd, many of whom clearly had sweated through similarly demanding schedules, he pointed out that while the material was new to most of the actors, “five of them have been working on it for more than 20 years…(wait for it)…and theyʼre still on book! Just saying.”
The lights came down and then they came up on a lovely young woman, Jessica Grove, who begins to tell us, as Jackie Kennedy, she thinks itʼs important we know right now about last Friday in Dallas. And, weʼre off.
JACK held this committed theatre crowd captive. Sometimes the music soars. The book is as clean as John Fordʼs The Searchers as an American mythic tale. JACK has been around since 1991 when authors Tom Sawyer and Will Holt gave it itʼs first “developmental reading.” That it is still offered as a staged reading after twenty-two years tells you something about just how hard it is to get something wonderful produced. (JACK has been fully produced at Goodspeed and in Dublin and more. But, not here.)
There was a lovely reception after the opera in a nicely appointed room, set up with wine and food and a banner under which producers and actors and everyone else who should be photographed, could be photographed.
I talked with a handful of people – Stevie Holland who will play Linda Porter in the York Theatre production of LOVE, LINDA: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter and Hollandʼs husband, versatile composer Gary Friedman whoʼs doing the book and arrangements and additional music. They knew everyone in the room, and by extension, everyone who does this work. The practiced hand who lit the production in Dublin was enjoying the guacamole. A sturdy man in a baseball cap who worked with JFK when he was a senator and now informs the script was there. And while Friedman took hearty congratulations on another of his properties going to Broadway, we can only wonder how many years and readings, and pitches, and compromises, and plastic-glass receptions that took.
When you spend your theatre time in the seats enjoying a night out in one of Manhattanʼs scores of small, amazing venues you donʼt give it a thought. You donʼt think about what it takes to get a production onto that stage, much less to Broadway.
So, Tom Sawyer and Stevie Holland and Jim Morgan and all the other people who do this work? Well, thank you.