Supporting New Musicals – “Men With Money” at Aurora Theatre

ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com is dedicated to bringing new musical theatre writers and songs out into the world for singers, teachers, educators and institutions to discover. So we’re always super excited to learn about productions of new musicals featuring writers from our roster.

Bill Nelson has been a writer on our site since our inception (and side note, he is also the graphic designer responsible for our fabulous ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com logo!).

Bill’s show, Men With Money, co-written with Joseph Trefler, is having its world premiere at the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, Georgia beginning on March 7. We were curious to find out how this gay-themed musical set in New York City found it’s way to Gwinnett County, Georgia. Following is our interview with Bill and the staff at the Aurora.

CMT: How did Aurora Theatre decide to bring “Men With Money” to Lawrenceville, Georgia? How did you first become aware of the show?
 
Aurora Theatre: Men With Money came directly from our affiliation with the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT). Aurora Theatre Co-Founder Ann-Carol Pence has been on the selection committee for the NAMT Festival of New Musicals for the past two years. Ann-Carol adds, “After I adjudicated this musical, I was captivated by its music. Although it was not selected for last year’s festival. I loved the classic, old-style musical feel of the show.” Co-Founder and Producing Artistic Director Anthony Rodriguez along with Associate Artistic Director Justin Anderson were equally excited by the story of three men finding love. Our search for the next great American musical led us straight to Men With Money.
 
CMT: Your season is definitely quite diverse. We applaud you for selecting a gay themed musical by two writers who both identify as gay. How does the show reflect the mission of Aurora Theatre?
 
The cast of “Men With Money” [L-R] Kenny Tran, Sean Doherty, Marcello Audino & Daniel Wisniewski; photo by Chris Bartelski
Aurora Theatre: We have always been committed to producing quality professional theatre in the Southeast. That means we produce big musicals with full orchestral accompaniment. But over the years, in order to create a new generation of theatre goers, we have made a purposeful artistic shift to produce more contemporary work. Because our theatre is in Gwinnett County (an Atlanta suburb) and we are the most diverse county in the entire Southeast, we would be negligent if we didn’t honor many distinctive cultures on our stage.
 
We, naively, never considered Men with Money a gay musical because it hearkened back to the classic musicals like Guys & Dolls and  On the Town. The first time we realized we might have pushback is when we were in the middle of auditions, and we heard some of the lines that, in any other context would be considered innocent, become titillating when being said by two men. After speaking with creators Bill Nelson and Joseph Trefler, there was a great synergy toward collaboration combined with the values of equity, diversity and inclusion that the organization embraces.
 
CMT: We saw this show in development a few years ago.  What have been the biggest changes in the piece since then?

Bill Nelson

Bill Nelson: Since our blackbox workshop in Queens, our biggest changes involved making sure that we’re always showing the audience why they should root for characters and relationships rather than assuming everyone will love them as much as we do. We’ve also re-written the opening number multiple times to finally land on one that allows the audience to take in the information that the world of the show is a 1950s in which gay people and people of all stripes are treated equally—and to take it in quickly enough to keep the motor of this high-energy show running. We’ve reconfigured the order of scenes for a stronger flow and more satisfying spacing of big production numbers. In some cases, we’ve discovered what types of actors are needed to make certain roles work, and we cast appropriately. And we’ve pumped up the part of the evil landlady, in part due to the hilarious actor playing her at Aurora who revealed the character’s potential.

CMT: Aurora Theatre has brought you down to Georgia to work on the show. What has your experience been working on the show while it’s in rehearsals? 

Joseph Trefler

Bill Nelson: This is the first gay-themed show that Aurora has done. They’re taking a chance on it, believing that our joyful, positive show with a Golden Age sensibility is a great way to introduce their audiences to characters that may be uncomfortable for some of them. We definitely intend Men with Money to be for all people, not just LGBTQIA folks, and we’re grateful that our world premiere production is at a theatre for general audiences. The cast, which is mostly local, is fantastic and fully embracing what we’re going for.  Everyone at Aurora is a warm, supportive, top-notch professional. My collaborator Joseph Trefler and I feel heard and valued by everyone involved. Director Justin Anderson is fully devoted to respecting the text. He and Ann-Carol Pence (co-founder of Aurora and the show’s musical director) create a harmonious, upbeat working environment.

The show has a lot of locations, some switching quickly in a cinematic way. It’s been fun watching the set designer, director, and stage management come up with ways to create a kinetic physical world. They’re using every inch of backstage space to store set pieces, which include an airplane and a sailboat that actors split in two to get on and offstage.

We did a reading down here in October with most of the same actors. Having that “pre-production” time working with the creative team and the actors was super helpful in having a chance to learn how everyone works. And during the process, the director, choreographer and musical director learned more about what Joseph and I are going for, and what elements of the show being done a certain way are really important to us. That has made rehearsals for the production move quickly and smoothly.

CMT: This show is very much based in New York City. Have you had to make adjustments for your southern audience?

Bill Nelson: No. If anything, our buoyant, idealized version of New York City might be more how people who don’t live in New York see the city than New Yorkers who are used to drudging through dirty snow sludge or smelling summery urine-soaked garbage baking on the curb.

* * *

“Men with Money” runs at the Aurora Theatre from March 7, 2019 – April 7, 2019. For tickets and more information, go to AuroraTheatre.com.


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