Tomlinson Theater had the tables turned on performing arts students, and the general public, in the audience, as four Broadway professionals treated them to a concert-staged reading.
On Sunday, Oct. 21, “Mr. Gershwin Goes to Washington” kicked off the Broadway to Broad Street performance series at Temple, presented by the George and Joy Abbott Center for Musical Theater.
The Philadelphia leg of the three-city, three-night show was preceded by a New York City performance on Oct. 20 and followed by a final performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 22.
The show featured three-time Tony nominee Marc Kudisch as presidential hopeful John P. Wintergreen, who seeks to win the election and, on the way, falls in love with Mary Turner, played by Anne-Carolyn Bird. Lauren Worsham plays Diana Devereaux, a woman that causes a Clinton-like scandal for Wintergreen and David Garrison is featured in six comedic roles including the vice president and two of Wintergreen’s opponents.
Local WHYY reporter and alumna Tracey Matisak played the role of narrator.
Matisak said she had only rehearsed two hours before the show opened, to familiarize herself with her lines and get musical cues for some of her lines. The rehearsal also served as a chance to make minor script changes.
“We made a few last-minute changes to the script, which was kind of like the news world where you make your last-minute changes and just roll with it,” Matisak said.
The dialogue of the 1930s-era show was made more topical with allusions to the current presidential election, with references to the Occupy movement, binders full of women, “the 47 percent” and the campaign slogan of “change.”
“Most of the dialogue was new, but the basic story is from the 1930s and we sort of mushed some scenes around and tried to come up with a new sort of ‘[The Daily Show with Jon Stewart],’” said writer and director Laurence Maslon of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
The election satire was made of songs chosen from brothers George and Ira Gershwin’s three political musicals: “Strike up the Band,” “Let ‘Em Eat Cake,” and “Of Thee I Sing” — the latter of the three was the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize.
“The timing of it was great because the election is just a few weeks away and I think this particular show was a moment of comic relief in the midst of the stress and tension around the election,” Matisak said.
“Gershwin” is only the first of the planned Broadway to Broad Street events.
“The idea is to have a regular series of events where people from the professional world of musical theater — which in our case means Broadway — come down to [Main] Campus periodically throughout the school year to perform and do professional workshops with students,” said Doug Wager, theater department chair. “Primarily musical theater students and students in voice and opera, but open to everyone.”
The series comes from the George and Joy Abbott Center for Musical Theater, which in itself is part of the Abbott bequest — a gift from the Abbott family to Temple in 2007.
“It’s part of what Joy Abbott was envisioning when we developed the George and Joy Abbott Center for Musical Theater as a way of creating a professional mentoring mechanism to provide our students with a sense of what the art form demands on a professional level in terms of craft, skill and talent,” Wager said. “It’s focused as a way to give our students exposure to working professionals.”
The next series of events will be workshops and master classes, and then lead to a concert-staged reading of George Abbott’s “Boys From Syracuse” in late-April, featuring students and a full orchestra in Tomlinson Theater.
Luis Fernando Rodriguez can be reached at email@example.com.