Throughout New York and the rest of the country, non-profit theatres are hard at work. Whether putting their own takes on adventurous modern musicals or nurturing the latest generation of bookwriters, lyricists, and composers, non-profit theatres have proven themselves to be essential incubators for shows that question and redefine the limits of musical theatre. This series will look at a few non-profit theatres and the MTI shows they’ve produced and supported.
Lincoln Center Theater
A 16.3 acre complex of buildings in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Lincoln Center is the first centralized gathering of major cultural institutions in an American city. Twelve arts organizations call Lincoln Center home: Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Julliard School, The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, New York City Ballet, The New York Philharmonic, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, School of American Ballet, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and Lincoln Center Theater.
Lincoln Center Theater is one of the leading non-profit theatres and the largest. Its current two theatres are the Vivian Beaumont Theater, LCT’s Broadway space, and the intimate, off-Broadway Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. As part of its commitment to encouraging new voices in theatre, LCT has plans to construct the Claire Tow Theater, which will house LCT3, LCT’s imitative to produce works by new artists and to nurture new audiences.
Lincoln Center Theater has produced a wide range of MTI shows, many of which have challenging material that might not have received the same kind of support in a commercial setting. The Tony Award-winning PARADE, written by Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown (THE LAST FIVE YEARS, 13), is an excellent example. The sweeping, pop-rock and blues-infused musical recounts the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish New Yorker living in 1913 Georgia accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl who worked in his factory. The anti-Semitism surrounding the trial and pressure for a conviction results in only his wife, Lucille, demanding justice. At its core, PARADE is about what it means to be Southern – as well as Jewish – but it is also a love story between two people who manage to reconnect under the most desperate of circumstances.
Tony Award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (RAGTIME) have found their work particularly welcome at Lincoln Center Theater. Four of their shows were produced at Lincoln Center; MY FAVORITE YEAR at the Vivian Beaumont, and A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE, DESSA ROSE, and THE GLORIOUS ONES at the Mitizi Newhouse. Each of these shows provides a personal take on fascinating subject matter:
MY FAVORITE YEAR, adapted from the movie of the same name by bookwriter Joseph Dougherty, tells the story of a freshman writer on a 1950s comedy show as he realizes that working in television isn’t as glamorous as he thought.
Bookwriter/playwright Terrence McNally joins Ahrens and Flaherty (with whom he wrote RAGTIME) to write the book for A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE). The delicate, quietly moving adaptation of the film by the same name centers on unassuming Alfie Byrne, a bus conduction in 1960s Dublin with a passion for his theatre troupe and an inability to embrace a part of himself he’s long kept hidden.
In DESSA ROSE, Ahrens and Flaherty tell the intertwined story of Dessa Rose, an escaped slave with a newborn child, and Ruth Sutton, a wealthy plantation owner’s daughter whose husband has abandoned her to care for their isolated and bankrupt farm – and their slaves – on her own. As the women learn to trust each other, they’re able to overcome their hardships and be the women they truly are.
Lynn Ahrens again writes book and lyrics in THE GLORIOUS ONES, the team’s most recent piece. The show traces the transformation of the slapstick, skit-based commedia dell’arte into the more story-driven art form that laid the groundwork for modern comedy, from Charlie Chaplin to Lucille Ball. Through Flaminio Scala, a commedia dell’arte troupe’s leader, we understand the importance theatre has for him…and, consequently, his inability to adapt to the changes his two younger actors put into place.
Lincoln Center Theater continues to champion groundbreaking musical theatre with its 2008 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s SOUTH PACIFIC, which won 5 Tony Awards.
Stay tuned for the next installment in our Non-Profit Spotlight series, featuring leading off-Broadway theatre Playwrights Horizons.