NYMF, The newly rebranded New York Musical Festival is the largest musical theatre festival in the country. Each summer the festival nurtures the creation, production, and public presentation of over 30 new musicals including 18 full productions plus concerts, readings and special events. Since its beginnings in 2004, NYMF has produced more than 400 shows that have gone on to Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theatres across the country and across the world.
This year’s roster includes two ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com writers: married writing partners Brad Alexander and Jill Abramovitz, who will be presenting their new musical Bread And Roses in a developmental reading at NYMF for two performances only on July 22nd. We asked Brad and Jill to share a bit about their show and what it’s like to prepare a show for NYMF.
Book & Lyrics by: Jill Abramovitz
Music by: Brad Alexander
The story: Maya is a young woman who illegally crosses the U.S. border from Mexico to work with her sister Rosa cleaning Office Building 646 in downtown LA. Witnessing firsthand the corruption and abusive working conditions, Maya joins Sam from Justice for Janitors in an attempt to unionize the workers. Alliances are formed, backs are stabbed, and the sisters’ relationship is brought to the brink. Inspired by true events and based on the film by Paul Laverty and Ken Loach, Bread And Roses asks: must the American dream come at the cost of human dignity?
CMT: How did the idea of your musical come about?
Jill: Brad was sitting on the couch channel surfing, back before we got rid of our cable and could still channel surf. He came upon the film Bread And Roses and knew instantly that he wanted to get the rights. This was before we even met. Years later, he said, “I’ve got this idea I wanna pursue…” and we pursued it. Then we got waylaid a million times because we had other projects, a kid, etc.
CMT: Have there been any large-scale changes to your production since your show was chosen for NYMF?
Jill: Yes. We gutted the first 20 minutes of the show. The rest are minor structural changes, but lots of them. If our show were an apartment, we would have repainted, added a bathroom, put in recessed lighting and gotten a bunch of new furniture.
CMT: What do you hope to take away from this festival experience in terms of the shape of the show?
Jill: The basic shape feels pretty right at this point but we hope to have addressed all of our own questions about each character’s arc and the overall gestalt of the show. We’re expecting to have to reorder some things, tweak dialogue, rewrite sections of songs or whole songs, and write new ones, but that’s just par for the course. Any course. Any show.
CMT: Have you rewritten/added/cut a song or songs since the beginning of your rehearsal process?
Jill: We haven’t started rehearsal yet, but we have definitely been working on the score. There’s one particular song that I DESPISED and I’m thrilled that we’re rewriting it. It literally made me have a physical reaction wherein my body would cringe and my face would warp. We’re salvaging parts of it – the good parts. 🙂 We’re also in the process of writing two other new songs and have at least one more that we haven’t even started. And we begin rehearsal in five minutes.
CMT: With limited rehearsal time, can you talk about the process of how rewrites happen?
Jill: We’ll find out when we get there! It’s gonna be tricky, because I’m in a show myself, so when the actors in our reading leave to go to their shows, I have to do that, too. Luckily I have lots of breaks in my dressing room, and a lot of writing gets done up there. And I have a light computer which I drag around with me everywhere. You’d be surprised how much work time you can rack up on a single subway round trip. Brad and I are married – which helps, as we actually live with each other and can be writing and talking while we make coffee and eat breakfast. But in truth, I’m SCARED! I don’t know what the extent of our rewrites will be.
CMT: Give a specific example of how the director, musical director or cast member has positively influenced the shape of the musical.
Jill: Beth Blickers, our agent; Melissa Crespo, our director; Rachel Sussman, our dramaturg; Jack DePalma, our friend and mentor, have contributed some sensational ideas. Like doing more to put our main character, Maya, in the driver’s seat, and making her the engine of the story. And placing her sister Rosa even more at the center of the show than we had originally imagined.
CMT: Can you talk about a specific example of how actor feedback has helped shape the show?
Jill: We haven’t started rehearsal yet, but we’re already getting great questions from people. Jon Rua (who plays Ruben) emails with questions about where is this person from, how long has he been here, what is his accent, who is his love interest – it’s awesome that he has that much enthusiasm and that he’s forcing us to think rigorously and specifically about this world.
CMT: What’s been the hardest part of working on the show? The most rewarding?
Jill: The hardest part, always, is structuring the book. And we had excellently structured underlying material to begin with. The screenplay is wonderful. But of course an adaptation requires adaptation. The most rewarding part of working on the show, in addition to writing about something we believe in so strongly, is developing personal connections to the characters. It’s as if they’ve become our family members. And also – now that we’ve got a cast put together, it’s been super exciting to picture actual actors saying the lines and singing the songs. We can start to tailor to their specifics and be inspired by their quirks.
CMT: We wish you all the best with it! We will check in with you again after the reading for some more insights into the process. For tickets to Bread And Roses visit NYMF.org. Visit the show’s webpage at breadandrosesmusical.com