Village Originals 9th Annual Festival of New Musicals. Reading of Anne of Green Gables (2009). Photo by Sam Freeman.

The Tenth Annual Festival of New Musicals at the Village Theatre in Issaquah opens on August 12th.  During the Festival, 78 local actors will be performing in six new musical readings over the course of four jam-packed days.  Attending the Festival is such a unique experience where you, the audience, can get a first-hand look at the creative process behind bringing a musical to life and have the opportunity to give feedback to the authors of these works through written surveys and a talk-back after each show. 

Just to set expectations accordingly, let me get this out of the way first.  The Festival of New Musicals features works that are in development, and is the highlight of the Village Originals program, which is the part of Village Theatre that is dedicated to developing new musical works. These shows are not full-blown musicals ready to be produced on Broadway the next day, although I have seen some that are very, very close to that level, such as The Gypsy King and Chasing Nicolette from the 2008 Festival of New Musicals, which were produced on the Village Theatre Mainstage last year.

You may see anything ranging from a new work getting its first reading to a show that has played around at various theaters while its creators have been editing, playing before audiences, and revising, which generally means it is more developed and polished. You will not see any costumes, no special effects, and no choreography. Does it matter? No, not if the book, music and lyrics are good. 

When a musical works, it does so because the material is great.  If the actors are good, they transport you through word and song and your imagination fills in the rest.  Conversely, if any of the book, music or lyrics is weak, no amount of window-dressing or pyrotechnics can make it better.  The actors and actresses will be reading and singing while holding black binders containing their scripts and music. They are cast about two weeks before the shows, so they have very little time to rehearse.

The Seattle area is blessed with some terrific musical actors and actresses, including some, like Louis Hobson, who have appeared in prior Festivals and then made it to Broadway. That being said, keep in mind that there are several roles to cast, and sometimes, whether due to the minimal preparation time or other factors, some players are less polished.

The Festival opens Thursday evening with It Shoulda Been You, followed by Buddy’s Tavern, Plane Crazy, In Your Eyes, Cloaked, and Lincoln in Love.  The Festival runs from August 12th through 15th.  So, will you see the beginning of the next big thing to hit Broadway at the Festival of New Musicals or something that needs to go back to the drawing board?  It’s hard to predict. I certainly have seen my fair share of shows that were not ready for the big stage, but I have also seen some of the funniest musicals ever created performed at the Village Originals, including Iron Curtain, which will be on the Village Theatre’s Mainstage this season.  Village Originals also staged the musical that became Next to Normal, which went on to Broadway and recently garnered a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt.  The duo is the creative team behind In Your Eyes, which plays on Saturday.

The Festival of New Musicals is only open to Village Originals Members.  You cannot purchase tickets to individual shows.  Memberships start at $75, with the best bargain being the Starring Membership for $100, which gives you unlimited admission for two to all six shows.  That’s less than $9 per show!  The memberships are tax deductible, so you can save on your taxes, give to a good cause, and see some terrific new musicals, all at the same time.

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