By GSJ Staff
Now in its 10th year, The New York Musical Theatre Festival highlights the best and brightest upcoming stars of musical theatre. This year the festival welcomes back Anthony Rapp to the festival as he stars along with Tony nominee J. Robert Spencer in the staged reading of Shawn Cody’s epic fantasy THE WATER DREAM directed by Jim True-Frost which also Stars J. Robert Spencer, Karmine Alers, Brian Dykstra, Dee Roscioli. The Water Dream will take place on July 10 & 11 at The Pershing Square Signature Center, The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (480 West 42nd St.). Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by visiting www.nymf.org. This event is being produced by Royal Family Productions.
Shawn Cody describes The Water Dream as a musical set in Boston, when his brilliant and beautiful girlfriend (Karmine Alers) dumps him, Colin Burns (Anthony Rapp) an unimaginative writer, is haunted by a dragon, a terrifying illusion from his tragic childhood. Colin's sci-fi-fantasy-loving uncle (J. Robert Spencer) convinces him to write a fantasy novel (that features swimming, walking and flying whales), wherein he can defeat this demon. But can Colin confront tragedy, embrace imagination, and defeat the dragon, all in time to save his real life? It's Generation X with a Hero Complex.
Cody was inspired to write this piece a decade ago, when he was sitting on the rocky shore of Marblehead, Massachusetts, when a friend asked me what was next for him, he looked out over the panorama of the sea, and responded “This. I want to see this on stage. I want to see an epic seascape.” Something had stirred his imagination. There had always been an epic landscape in the favorite books and movies of his childhood. It had always been the backdrop to a hero on a journey, and it had always been inhabited by fantastical creatures. “I want to see giant whale puppets!”
“That night I sat down and let my imagination run wild onto paper with writings and drawings. Then for the next few years, I read and researched my favorite stories by J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Jim Henson, Julie Taymor, George Lucas, and then the works of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.” That research generated a giant portfolio of Cody’s own imaginary world resulting in The Water Dream, an epic fantasy that featured a hero on a journey, a giant glass aquarium of real water, and giant whale puppets. “It was a mix of Broadway, Circus and a trip to the Aquarium.”
Chapman adds about his description of the show saying, “We’ve been working on it for years, refining the story and finding the heart of the music. But what has always remained constant is that the musical embodies both the real and fantasy worlds. The story flows seamlessly in and out of the main character’s actual life and his imagination, the trouble he has with his family and the adventure he finds in his dreams.”
When asked about their very impressive cast, Cody, Kern, and Chapman described how this dream cast came together. Cody answered, “Some of my close friends were in the cast of RENT. They've been working on The Water Dream for a few years now. After they came on board, I found that the Broadway community was surprisingly accessible, supportive, and close knit. For the most part, someone we were working with knew someone we wanted to work with. I feel very fortunate that the Broadway community has so warmly embraced this show, even though it hasn't been on Broadway... yet.” Kern said, “Like Shawn said, many of us knew someone who knew someone. Ryan Link, who played Colin in the first reading in 2009, and is now in the band and has contributed to the development of the music, he and I both know Karmine, who in turn brought us Anthony. A few years ago we did a concert, and one of our actresses lost her voice two days prior, and the night before I had seen Dee Roscioli perform in the 24 hour musicals, so we contacted her, and she graciously came aboard. Brian Dykstra worked with Shawn while he was still at A.R.T., and we all loved Next to Normal, so when the role of Brian/Seabird became free, Shawn contacted J. Robert Spencer. But the Broadway community has been very supportive in lending us their talents.”
Chapman states that his most surprising aspect of the process was, “playing a number of different roles in the development of The Water Dream. Band musician, producer, creative collaborator, actor. It’s been an education and a pleasure. The most surprising and beautiful thing to witness over the years is the generosity of the artists involved. These folks give their heart and soul because they believe the project has something important to say and says it with powerful music.”
Cody, Kern, and Chapman talked of surprising aspects of making the musical. Cody stared, “Music works in surprising and powerful ways. Writing music to tell the story changed me. It opened something in me. It connected me with something both personal and universal.”
Kern adds, “The story - As many changes that have gone into creating this musical and the journey the characters take through it, Shawn continuously finds a way of keeping the heart of the story, its intention, and playfulness fully available to the audience. A lot of that is solid writing on Shawn's part, but also his openness to collaboration.”
The two talk of their hopes for The Water Dream in the NYMF this year. Cody said, “The Water Dream has been in development for the better part of a decade. At this point, I'd hope that we'd pique the interest of the right people who would partner with us to achieve a Broadway or Off-Broadway run. And I'd just like all of my friends who have worked so hard for so long to see their belief in this story and their sticktoitiveness rewarded.” Kern hopes are not too far off as he answers, “We've put in a lot of hard work on this show - not because we want to be famous or go to Broadway, though those things would be nice, but to fulfill Shawn's dream and vision, because it's something we've all fallen for. The world of The Water Dream is unlike anything you can see, and yet vastly familiar to the heart, with a completely original story, and one that I believe Broadway audiences deserve to hear.”
The two hope audiences with take away a sense of love and hope. Kern further hopes for, “Rekindled imagination - to look at something for a second third, fourth, hundredth time, but with fresh eyes, without prior expectations weighing them down. A chance to breathe new air.”
Cody says, “I’ve learned from telling this epic story through so many staged readings, as opposed to fully fledged productions, is that it’s not just about giant whale puppets. It’s about returning to the potential I had as a kid. It’s about what got hidden away from the world because of loss. It’s about allowing love. It’s about being brave. And it truly is about the power of imagination. I mean, I’d still love to see those giant whale puppets, but then again, maybe I already do.”
Kern gives some words of advice to those who haven’t seen The Water Dream, saying, “I think you should buy your tickets now and not wait to hear from your friends. I think you should actually preemptively buy tickets for two performances so you can see it twice.”
THE WATER DREAM cast includes: Anthony Rapp (Rent), J. Robert Spencer (Tony Nom.Next To Normal), Karmine Alers (Rent), Alexis Hightower (Rent), Dee Roscioli (Wicked),Brian Dykstra (Lucky Guy with Tom Hanks), Josh Lamon (Hair), Shawn Cody (Book, Music, Lyrics), Doug Chapman (Romance, A.R.T.), Adam Kern (LA Philharmonic, Old Vic),Cheo Bourne (Passing Strange, First Regional), Alisa Ledyard (Amercan Shakespeare Center, Alana Rader (Looking Glass Theatre). Band includes: Jodie Moore (MD/Piano – American Idiot, Spring Awakening), Ryan Link (Guitar – Rent, Hair) Kris Rogers (Bass – Avenue Q), Justin Hines (Percussion – In The Heights).
THE WATER DREAM features Book, Music, and Lyrics by the shows co-star Shawn Cody, Additional Lyrics, Associate Music Direction, and Dramaturgy by Emily Otto, and is Associate Produced by cast members Adam Kern and Doug Chapman. All four are graduates of The A.R.T. Institute at Harvard. THE WATER DREAM features Additional Book by Rob O'Hare (Peter & the Starcatcher, Disney Theatrical Workship,Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Williamstown), Additional lyrics by Ryan Link (Broadway,Rent, Hair, Aida, Wonderland), Additional Contributions by Anthony Rapp (Rent, Without You), and Musical Arrangements by Bill Barclay (Music Director, Shakespeare’s Globe, London).