Previews will begin today at Virginia's Signature Theatre for the world premiere musical Sycamore Trees written by Ricky Ian Gordon, the award-winning composer of the opera The Grapes of Wrath and the musicals Dream True and My Life with Albertine. A starry Broadway cast portrays Gordon's own family story - complete with a tough Bronx-born father and former "Borscht Belt" singer/comedian mother - in a tale of two generations' struggles and triumphs in the decades from World War II through the 1990s.
The May 18 - June 13 production is directed by Steppenwolf Theatre member and acclaimed director Tina Landau and features seven outstanding Broadway actors: Farah Alvin (Nine, The Look of Love, Kuni-Leml), Marc Kudisch (9 to 5, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Bells Are Ringing; Signature's Witches of Eastwick, The Highest Yellow), Judy Kuhn (Les Misérables, Rags, She Loves Me; Signature's The Highest Yellow), Jessica Molaskey (Parade, A Man of No Importance), Matthew Risch (Pal Joey, Legally Blonde), Diane Sutherland (She Loves Me, 1776, Cats), and Tony Yazbeck (Gypsy, A Chorus Line, Irving Berlin's White Christmas). Tony Award winner Bruce Coughlin will provide orchestrations, with musical direction by Fred Lassen of Broadway's South Pacific and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
The Tony-Award® winning Signature Theatre is nationally known for its world premiere musicals and dramas, having produced 26 new works in its twenty-year history. Sycamore Trees is the second part of Signature's "American Musical Voices Project" sponsored by The Shen Family Foundation. The American Musical Voices Project is the largest single musical theater commissioning and producing initiative of any U.S. theater.
Composer Ricky Ian Gordon says of his new work, "When my father came home from World War II in 1945, my family lived in a crowded tenement in the Bronx, poor and with bed bugs. Then my parents got the idea to move to the suburbs where the dream of life flowering in a clean and spacious environment promised to be the answer. It wasn't. This is the story of a family and what happened to them ... and music is its heartbeat and inner life." Dramaturg Nina Mankin collaborated with Gordon on the book.
Director Tina Landau stated, "In Sycamore Trees, an American family speaks directly to the audience as they tell, and re-live, their stories in the second half of the 20th century. The piece is very intimate, and deeply personal, yet it also has a historical sweep as it places these characters in the tumult of the times-the chaotic 60s, the pressurized 80s, and so on. It's exquisite-in its sense of longing and loss, and the profound ties that bind family together. Above all, the piece has a form which is completely unique-unlike any other show I can think of. It's highly inventive and idiosyncratic in its storytelling-constantly surprising, creating and breaking its own rules. The whole piece feels like a poem-some haunting combination of memory, music, and dream."
Working with Tina Landau on the creative team are Music Director/Conductor Fred Lassen, Orchestrator Bruce Coughlin, Scenic Designer James Schuette, Costume Designer Kathleen Geldard, Lighting Designer Scott Zielinski, Sound Designer Matt Rowe, and Production Stage Manager Kerry Epstein.