MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And those of you who are regular listeners to the show know that we usually devote an entire hour to one theme, you know, one through line, one topic. Well, every now and again, there comes a week where we get a little bit crazy and bust right through that thematic approach. And this, my friends, is one of those weeks. So today, we're bringing you one of our "Wild Cards" shows.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We'll take a behind the scenes peek at a long shuttered part of the Maryland Zoo.
MS. JANE BALLENTINE
The last thing I recall being exhibited in here were hyenas.
And we'll check out the latest in the state's fight over fracking.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1
Why should this county become a sacrifice zone for a company, Dominion Resources, that's based in Virginia, to make a lot of money selling Appalachian frac gas to India and Japan?
Plus, we'll conduct our first ever interview with a guy wearing nothing but tighty whities. And we'll find out why he wants you to strip down, too.
MR. MICHAEL MOON
We're reaching out to big people, small people, old people, young people.
Underwear knows no boundaries.
Underwear knows no boundaries. Exactly.
But we'll kick off today's show with a little music.
This is Broadway star Idina Menzel singing, "Here I Go," one of the songs from a brand new musical having its world premiere at D.C.'s National Theater before heading to Broadway next year. It's called, "If/Then."
MR. BRIAN YORKEY
The story is about a woman in her late 30's who leaves a loveless marriage out west and moves back to New York City.
Brian Yorkey wrote the musical's book and lyrics.
And the show takes off from her first day in New York City. She makes one of those seemingly small choices that ends up having enormous ramifications. And we follow two of the different paths her life might have taken from that choice.
MR. TOM KITT
I had been really drawn to a musical idea that was based on the sort of choices and chance of your life and the question of whether we're destined to find certain things, whether it's our career or our true loves.
This is composer Tom Kitt, and he and Brian Yorkey actually seemed kind of destined to find their career together, in a way. Kitt was a senior at Columbia University in New York, and Yorkey was a recent graduate when they came together to write the school's annual musical send up of all things Columbia. It's called "The Varsity Show," and in the interest of full disclosure...
It would be good for your listeners to know that we did a show with you back in college.
I should probably tell you that I was in that show.
They should know that we wrote songs for Rebecca, and she was fantastic in the show.
It's true. And we're both very impressed that you ended up in a much more responsible profession than we did. You used your Columbia education to good ends.
Okay, okay. The guys are definitely selling themselves short here. Their first big time post college collaboration, "Next to Normal," wound up winning them three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. And like, "If/Then" it too was on D.C. stage before taking Broadway by storm. "Next to Normal" first premiered at Second Stage, an off-Broadway theater in New York.
But the show was clearly not fully ready for, you know, human consumption at that point. And David Stone, who was our producer, met Molly Smith, who runs Arena Stage. And they hatched a plan to bring the show down here to Washington, D.C. and work on it some more.
The rest is history, and pretty fantastic history at that. And speaking of history, composer Tom Kitt says he's thrilled to try out another musical in Washington, and at the National Theater, of all places. I mean, that place is just brimming with stories. For instance, on April 14th, 1865, Tad Lincoln was attending a show there when his father, President Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated. But the National also has a rich history of serving as a hot spot for pre-Broadway runs of plays and musicals since it was founded in 1835.
It hasn't had as many new shows trying out over the past few years, and to now be a part of a new tradition of taking shows to this beautiful theater and being here, I just feel very lucky.
That's where "West Side Story" tried out.
And I believe "A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum," as well.
Oh, that's right, which is a legendary tryout, because it wasn't, right, it wasn't working, and Jerome Robbins came down to see it and said, change the opening number. So Sondheim "Comedy Tonight," right?
"Forum" wasn’t the only legendary pre-Broadway tryout at the National. Take "Showboat," which opened here in 1927. John Loomis, the National's corporate administrator, knew someone who attended the show's very first performance.
MR. JOHN LOOMIS
And it ran over into one o'clock in the morning. And so they did cut the show significantly from that point.
Loomis has a printed list of many of the shows that pre-Broadwayed here, and let me tell you...
Can you read some more from your list?
It goes on...
"Philadelphia Story," with Katherine Hepburn and Shirley Booth.
"Hotel Paradiso," which Angela Lansbury made her actual, legitimate American stage debut here at the National Theater with Bert Lahr.
"Little Moon of Alban," which Julie Harris and Robert Redford pre-Broadwayed here.
This list goes on for pages and pages, and you're only in the 1960's.
Yeah. It's amazing. Oh, and "Hello Dolly" pre-Broadwayed here. You could fill books here.
As composer Tom Kitt mentioned, the National Theater's stream of pre-Broadway tryouts hasn't been as strong over the past few years. The 2000's have only seen a handful. One of the shows flopped on Broadway, and another closed before it even got there. John Loomis blames the slow down on what he calls the ballooning economics of shows.
The shows became bigger and bigger and more highly specialized technically, which made it more difficult to travel and move all that equipment. Think of the helicopter in "Miss Saigon." It was easier just to keep it in New York and stay there. And the product also started tapering off a bit, as well.
But Loomis and his colleagues hope "If/Then" represents a brand new beginning for the National Theater. Not unlike the show's protagonist, when she moves back to New York to start her life over. Of course, though, as cast member Anthony Rapp points out, even after you make that fresh start, you never know where you'll wind up.
MR. ANTHONY RAPP
There's the old clichés and the adages, like the best laid plans, you know, God laughs. And this show, I think, takes all those themes and questions and really finds a way to dramatize it. But I think, more than that, it's just the truth is no one alive ever knows what's going to happen. Anything can happen at any moment.
And right now, what Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt hope will happen is that they have a big hit on their hands. But they know only time will tell. I mean, that's what "If/Then" is all about, after all.
It also is about learning to trust your instincts and live in the moment, and not be caught up in all the potential implications of each choice. Because if you really ever stop to think about how much could hinge on one seemingly random choice, you could be paralyzed. I think we've all been there, too.
"If/Then" makes its pre-Broadway world premiere at the National Theater from November 5th through December 8th. For more information on the show, and to check out a video from the company's very first rehearsal, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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