Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Rough Cuts" at Nautilus Music-Theater: "Bold in Their Breeches" and "The Lady with a Lapdog"

Have you ever been to "Rough Cuts," Nautilus Music-Theater's monthly series in which they present readings of new works of music-theater? Even though they've presented 170 "Rough Cuts" over 23 years, you're forgiven if you've never been, or even if you've never heard of it. Their website is uninformative (but it appears they're working on improving it) and while they are on Facebook and Twitter, they're not very active on either. Maybe they like it that way, because even with this lack of publicity there was a standing room only crowd at their small studio space in St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood last night. But that's why I'm here, to let you know about delicious well-kept secrets in the local theater world such as "Rough Cuts."

Last night Nautilus presented excerpts from two works-in-progress, and also provided some exciting information about their upcoming production. In early April they will be re-imagining the classic musical The Fantasticks, which opened Off-Broadway in 1960 starring Jerry Orbach (with whom you may be familiar if you've ever watched Law and Order or a little movie called Dirty Dancing). It has been playing continually ever since, except for a four-year break, making it the longest-running musical in the world. In Nautilus' production, the young lovers will be played by young-at-heart married couple Wendy Lehr and Gary Briggle, with their fathers being played by the fabulous Baldwin sisters. The show will be performed in Nautilus' studio space with just 50 audience members around a three-sided thrust stage, which makes for a lovely and intimate experience, and high demand for tickets. If that's not enough to convince you this is a show not to be missed, note that their last production in their studio space won an Ivey and was one of my favorites of the year. Be sure to like their Facebook page, or better yet, join their mailing list (send an email staff@nautilusmusictheater.org) to stay up to date on the great work Nautilus is doing.

This month's "Rough Cuts" (which will be performed again tonight at Augsburg College in Minneapolis) includes excerpts of two new works, both of which made me want to see more! As per usual, Nautilus has gathered some of the best music-theater talent in the Twin Cities to breathe beautiful life into what the playwrights and composers have written. Both readings are followed by a brief discussion in which the creators elicit feedback from the audience to help them continue to develop the work, an important part of the process.

Bold in Their Breeches, book and lyrics by Elizabeth Dickenson, music by Kurt Metzger, musical direction and piano accompaniment by Greg Theisen, performed by Laurel Armstrong, Kym Chambers Otto, Laurie Flanigan Hegge, Joel Liestman, Ann Michels, and Eric Morris
Based on the fascinating true story of women pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, Bold in Their Breeches has a complex plot and many characters, which makes an excerpt read by a small cast a little hard to follow. But the story of these women trying to find their place in the man's world of piracy is extremely compelling, and the seven songs (plus a reprise) that are presented are great and display a nice variety, from poignant ballads to funny songs to anthems of female empowerment. I look forward to seeing a fully fleshed out production.

The Lady with A Lapdog, book and lyrics by Daniel Pinkerton, music by Robert Elhai, musical direction and piano accompaniment by Jill Dawe, performed by Andrea Leap and Joel Leistman
In contrast to the larger scale Bold in Their Breeches, The Lady with A Lapdog, based on a Checkhov short story, is a quiet, lovely, intimate musical. About the first 20 minutes of the planned 70-minute piece are presented with a two-person cast, which may be all they need. The music feels organic to the characters, story, and setting (late 19th century Russia), and I didn't want it to end! Hopefully the cliffhanger ending won't leave me hanging too long.

There's still a chance to see these two promising new works of music-theater tonight at Augsburg College. And remember to like their Facebook page and/or join their mailing list to get the full scoop on future "Rough Cuts" (the next one is on March 21-22) and the exciting re-imagining of The Fantasticks in April.