Passajj Productions Presents ‘Moses, My Love’ By Paul Dick on October 14

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“Moses, My Love,” a romantic musical of the Exodus story by veteran composer/playwright Paul Dick, will be presented October 14 to 30, 2011 by Passajj Productions at Roy Arias Theatres, 300 W 43rd Street, Manhattan, directed by Marlene Thorn Taber. Paul Dick has penned over 15 Off-off Broadway tuners between the 60’s and now; his last production was an operatic “Wuthering Heights, a Romantic Musical” at the Mint Theatre Space in 2010.

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Moses prevents an Egyptian Guard from beating a Hebrew Slave. Top: Moses (Kirk Bangstad); Center: Eygptian Guard (David Kaverman); Bottom: Hebrew Slave (Paul Aguirre). Photo by Eva Ostrowska.

“Moses, My Love” arises from a deeply Jewish soul. Its overall tone is not like a “biblical epic,” but up close and personal, to make the characters as human as possible. It’s meant to make the audience comfortable with the story in a way that they feel, “OK, that happened.” As a sign of the deep affection with which Jews of all ages have held Moses, the great man is called “Moses, my love” by his mother, Yocheved; his Midian wife, Tsiporah; and even by God when bestowing the Ten Commandments. The piece follows the book of Exodus pretty straightforwardly, although it is punctuated by light, comedic sequences.

The story, of course, is about reward and punishment: God’s rules. If you do what your are supposed to do, you get rewarded. If you don’t, you get punished. Director Marlene Thorn Taber says, ” If you do things that are harmful to the human race, you pay for it.” She is interested in the character of Moses as a person who is forced to endure the burden of great responsibility. “The Jews get freed, but if there is any freedom that Moses attains, it’s death. He never wants to undertake this feat, he just got tapped. Death was his reward to get off the hot seat.” She sees her own responsibility in the show as directing it so audiences can relate to these people as in everyday life.

The musical was never written with young audiences in mind, but the story of Moses overcoming his speech impediment has the power to inspire a wide range of people today, including the Bar- and Bat-Mitzvah set and those battling physical and learning disabilities. So this musical is recommended for middle school and high school audiences as well as standard adult audiences.

The production, an AEA Showcase, is not an opera by definition but some of its roles require well-trained singers with operatic “chops.” The music is very fluid, modulating from ballads to more “angst driven” songs of conflict. It’s operatic in the sense that most of it is sung through: a lot of the show is underscored. The score is overall very fluid in its tone and texture. There is recitative, set into pieces in which the characters reveal what they are going through. Often there is an onomatopoetic gimmick, for example, a number about it being hot hot hot hot is set to “spicy” music. The songs of the plagues are dramatic and action-filled. There are also mellow, quiet ballads, notably one in which Moses sings about being on the wings of eagles. Musical director Michael Sheetz observes, “The score is, overall, beautiful and well written. Paul has a knack for writing good tunes. The aria elements are lyrical and beautiful. There’s a beautiful trio at Moses’ wedding to Tsiporah.” Harmonically, the score is similar to Mr. Dick’s other shows, even to his “Wuthering Heights,” which was seen at the Mint Theater in 2010. There is a distinctive musical style that informs most of Paul Dick’s writings. It’s his own voice: lyrical, chromatic and unexpected.

The character parts and comic sequences adopt vaudevillian styles. When composer Paul Dick introduces more modern character types, for comic effect he uses vaudeville styles or swing. This work incorporates creative methods of illustrating the story’s vast settings, such as dance sequences to symbolize the parting of the Red Sea and special effects and props to depict the various types of plagues that God imposes on Egypt in defiance of their refusal to free the Hebrews.

Paul Dick is author of over 15 musicals; many are based on classic sources, including “Madame Bovary” (directed by Elizabeth Falk, 2007), “A for Adultery” (based on The Scarlet Letter), “I Knock at the Door” (based on the Sean O’Casey novel) and “Once/Twice” (the first half based on “A Sunny Morning” by the Quintero brothers; the second half was based on Chekhov’s “The Bear”). Others are based on more contemporary sources, such as “Tania” (based on newspaper accounts of the Patty Hearst affair, presented by NY Theatre Workshop), “White Widow” (based on the play “Mafia” by Mario Fratti) and “Anytime, Anywhere” (a story of gay soldiers in Vietnam).

His last production was a revival of his “Wuthering Heights, a Romantic Musical” at the Mint Theatre Space in June, 2010. Deirdre Donovan (TheatreScene.net) wrote, “it demolishes the myth that musicals with a literary source always dilute their origins….A lot of musicals run out of steam. But not this one. Abetted by the solid acting of its large cast (including 3 children), the show has no dull spots.” The review concluded, “Bronte brought to her novel a moral anger at injustice, a compassion for the dispossessed, and an acute awareness of the inflexibility of social classes circa 1790. The highest compliment I can pay to this production is that I don’t think Emily Bronte herself would have felt that her material had been tarnished or betrayed.”

Mr. Dick is an Off-off Broadway original; his earliest works were presented by the WPA Theater when it was located on 333 Bowery. He participated in Lehman Engel’s BMI Workshop and his musicals were championed by Alan Schneider. He currently resides in Long Valley, NJ.

Mr. Dick’s body of work represents an unusual abundance of shows and reflects an unusual variety of creative interests. “Quiet Cry: A Musical Murder Mystery” (2005) was about babies born to drug-addicted mothers. “Soar Like an Eagle” was about the Berlin Airlift. “Cybele, a Love Story” was based on the Academy Award-winning French film, “Sundays and Cybele.” Some were referred to as “piano operas.” At least three are still unproduced. One of these, “Inferno,” is about the founding of a labor union. They are mostly antithetical to the dissonance of modern operas and straightforward compared to the thumb-in-the-eye alternative theater that has often surrounded them in “Downtown” theaters.

Marlene Thorn Taber is a director and choreographer of international theater who lived, worked and taught in China, Ukraine, and Moscow from 1998 to 2008. She has taught Jazz and Musical Theatre at La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts from 2009-2011. She directed shows for the US Air Force Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Division in CA and was honored for her work in “Tops in Blues.” She further directed/choreographed two musical revues funded by the US Peace Corps in Ukraine. She was an assistant to Director Alan Schneider for “The American Dream” and “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse Tung” by Edward Albee at the Phoenix Theatre. As a result, she became Executive Coordinator to Edward Albee for over five years early in her career. Her pre-Broadway credits include “In the Name of the Awesome, the Seed, and the Blinding Light” by Fred Gordon (St. Clement’s). She is a member of SDC.

Musical Director Michael Sheetz is a collaborative pianist, vocal coach, and conductor. He has performed at Alice Tully Hall, the Kennedy Center (Terrace Theatre), the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the Middlebury Opera Company, and the Atlantic Wind Symphony as a concerto soloist. In 2010, Sheetz was Assistant Chorus Master for the Lincoln Center Festival’s “Varese: (R)evolution, The complete works of Edgard Varese,” in which he collaborated with Maestros Kent Tritle, Alan Gilbert, and Steven Schick. As a choral accompanist he has collaborated with Musica Sacra, Oratorio Society of New York, Greenwich Choral Society, and the Make Music New York Festival. He conducted “Wuthering Heights” by Paul Dick in 2010. He has also conducted a production of “Into the Woods” and worked on the music staffs of the Aspen Opera Theatre Center and the College Light Opera Company. He is Music Coordinator for La Lingua Della Lirica, a summer training program for singers in Novafeltria, Italy. Recently he performed live broadcasts on WQXR and Vermont Public Radio. He is an Associate Musician for the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola and Director of Youth Music Ministries at St. Francis Catholic Church. He holds Masters and Professional Studies degrees from Manhattan School of Music in accompanying and conducting and is a graduate of Vassar College. Sheetz received particular commendation for his work in”Wuthering Heights” last season from Deirdre Donovan in TheatreScene.net, who wrote, “Michael Sheetz…performs wonders on a single piano. Sheetz succeeds by his sheer virtuosity and impeccable timing. He also proves that you don’t need a large orchestra to pull off a romantic musical.”

Set design is by Floyd Gumble. Costume design is by Jessa Raye Court. Lighting Designer is Scott Needham. Stage Manager is Jason Heely.

The cast, incomplete as of this writing, includes Kirk Bangstad as Moses with the ensemble of Paul Aguirre, Cedric Cannon, David Kaverman, Angela Kodicek, Laura Pugliese, Steven Stein-Grainger, Amy Toporek, Nellesa Walthour and Melissa Zimmerman.

Passajj Productions presents “Moses, My Love” October 14 to 30, 2011 at Roy Arias Theatres, 300 W 43rd St, Ste 506, Manhattan. The production schedule is Wednesdays through Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 pm; Sundays at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $18 general admission and $10 students with ID. TDF is accepted. To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or visit www.ticketcentral.com.