Sunday, October 07, 2001

'Fishman' catches producer's eye


Musical could move to Broadway

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        It might be Broadway next, here he comes for Richard Oberacker, pride of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music ('93).

        First stop: the highly regarded Signature Theatre in January.

        In June I reported that Mr. Oberacker and writing partner Michael Lazar (also a CCM alum) were pitching new musical The Gospel According to Fishman to Clear Channel Entertainment (then SFX Theatrical).

        Fishman is about a young Jewish songwriter in 1963 who writes gospel for an up-and-coming singer and her choir and gets involved with the civil rights movement.

        Itwas selected to be one of a handful of works by young musical theater artists to be taken through the reading stage by highly regarded musical man Eric Schaeffer, the project's creative director. His most recent credits is The Witches of Eastwick in London and the Stephen Sondheim review Putting It Together on Broadway.

        At his home base, the Signature Theatre in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Va., Mr. Schaeffer has premiered shows including Broadway-bound The Rhythm Club.

        The Gospel According to Fishman debuts Jan. 8. If it dazzles audiences and critics (and backers), it could move to Broadway for 2002-03.

        Mr. Oberacker was in New York on Sept. 11 for a Fishman meeting and says “it was so much worse than TV can relate,” adding that “it seems there's a memorial with mountains of flowers and candles on every other corner. It's a wounded city right now, but in the words of Maya Angelou, "We rise.' ”

        One of Fishman's major plot points involves the infamous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in which four young girls were killed.

        “The show follows how the bombing affects the choices of the main characters,” Mr. Oberacker says, “and speaks quite a bit about rising up against such terror and reclaiming your sense of power and self-worth.

        “It raises issues of peaceful resolutions and not behaving as violently as your oppressors. I can tell you there were many moments of high emotion in the rehearsal room and many tears.”

        Among the company members who found a brief sense of healing in the material were CCM alums Michelle Pawk (fresh from Suessical), Darren Matthias and Sally Ann Tumas.

        Just how possible/likely is a move to Broadway? Clear Channel is a big theater player these days. It has investment in shows, including The Producers, and also controls an enormous number of touring Broadway series across North America, including Broadway in Cincinnati.

        Its need for product to produce (thereby making profit at both ends) was the impetus for starting a new work project, and Clear Channel will invest in the Signature production. Corporate execs don't make big-money business decisions from the heart. They have to think Fishman has legs.

        Mr. Oberacker, now back at work as music director of Cirque du Soleil's Dralion, currently in Philadelphia, reports that the sung reading was a showstopper and the leading lady's final ballad, ""You Love You” has already been performed in concert by Tony Award winner Heather Hedley.

        Fishman will mean back-to-back premieres for the Oberacker-Lazar team. Their musical Dracula will premiere in February at CCM.

        Here's Jackie: Here's one small touring show fallout from Sept. 11: The Jackie Wilson Story, whose Chicago producers were flirting with a stop at the Aronoff Center later this month, has postponed its entire tour.

        Good buzz: Women's Theatre Initiative, which got a lot of good buzz for its July debut with One Flea Spare, starts its play selection process for 2002 with its second fall series of staged readings — and what a series it is:

        Oct. 15 — Between Pancho Villa and a Naked Woman by Sabina Berman (about gender roles and romance from a Mexican perspective); Oct. 29 — Jig Saw by Dawn Powell (a glam social satire from the '30s about women of leisure); Nov. 12 — Off the Map by Joan Ackerman (a loving portrait of how a father's depression shapes the lives of his rural family); Dec. 3 — Dream of a Common Language by Heather MacDonald (a contemporary look at women as artists in late 19th-century France).

        It's a diverse lineup, but Initiative founder Kristin Dietsche sees a lot in common — “beautiful language, settings that are at the same time real and symbolic, work that sheds a new and different light on social issues important to both women and men, a wit that makes them at the same time serious, thoughtful and truly funny.”

        A big part of the company's process is that audience feedback guides the selection of the play that will go on to full production.

        One semifinalist, Fall by Bridget Carpenter, was read last month as part of the League of Cincinnati Theatres season kickoff.

        The Initiative has also scheduled a bonus reading on Feb. 4 of Fur, a provocative revision of the “Beauty and the Beast” story by Migdalia Cruz that, Ms. Dietsche says with a hint of longing, “is too expensive for our current budget, but too engaging to ignore.” Potential angels are most welcome.

        All readings are at 7 p.m. at Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, 719 Race St., downtown. Admission is free. Each play will be directed by a local woman director (to be announced). For information call the festival at 381-2288.

        Come to the readings, Ms. Dietsche says, “and help shape the future of women's theater in Cincinnati.”

        Strikes & spares: The History of Bowling is about “riding the rails, staring at the moon and cherishing all your gutter balls 'til you score the perfect strike.”

        It's also about coming out of the “disability closet.” The characters in Bowling are paralyzed, epileptic, blind, deaf and participating in an adult physical education class.

        Did I mention it's a romantic comedy?

        Know Theatre Tribe closes its season at Gabriel's Corner (Sycamore at Liberty) with The History of Bowling, which, according to Chicago playwright and disability rights activist Mike Ervin, is part of a new movement (“just starting to emerge”) that puts physically handicapped characters front and center on stage.

        The writer in Mr. Ervin enjoys “the whole collaborative process — and opening night.” The activist in him likes having an audience “see something they might not otherwise see.”

        Physically disabled playwrights don't pussyfoot around issues. “Disabilities are highly theatrical,” says Mr. Ervin, who uses a wheelchair. “There's inherent drama — and comedy.”

        The History of Bowling plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 27. Tickets $10. Thursday is pay-what-you-can night. For reservations and information, call 871-1429 or e-mail knowtribe@hotmail.com.


        Contact Jackie Demaline by phone: 768-8530; fax: 768-8330; e-mail: jdemaline@yahoo.com.
       

       



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