‘Spring Awakening’ team to bring fairy-tale show to La Jolla


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“Spring Awakening” collaborators Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater are dipping into the well of 19th century European literature yet again, with a musical version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Nightingale.”

The La Jolla Playhouse announced Tuesday that the work-in-progress will have a public workshop staging July 10 to Aug. 5 as part of the playhouse’s Page to Stage new play development series.


Composer Sheik and lyricist-librettist Sater will have a high-profile collaborator in director Moises Kaufman, who helped get Page to Stage off on the right foot in 2001, directing its inaugural installment, Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife.”

That show, with Kaufman as director, went on to win the 2004 Pulitzer prize for drama and 2004 Tony Awards for best play and best actor (Jefferson Mays in a solo turn playing dozens of characters). Kaufman co-wrote and directed “The Laramie Project” for his own documentary stage company, Tectonic Theater Project, and directed well-received stagings of Rajiv Joseph’s ‘Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo’ at L.A.’s Kirk Douglas Theatre and Mark Taper Forum in 2009-10, as well as its 2011 Broadway production starring Robin Williams.

Before Page to Stage debuted, the La Jolla Playhouse helped launch “Spring Awakening” with its initial in-house workshop in 2000 under former artistic director Anne Hamburger. That show, based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 drama about teen angst in sexually repressive, Victorian-era Germany, went on to win eight Tony Awards in 2007, including best musical, best book (for Sater) and best score and orchestrations (for Sheik).

“The Nightingale,” published in 1843, reflects anxieties brought on by the Industrial Revolution. It’s about a plain-looking but sweet-singing little bird who charms the Chinese emperor and his court, only to be supplanted by a shiny, bejewelled mechanical replica. In the end, the wind-up nightingale falls prey to malfunctions and a certain soullessness, and the one with feathers and a heart to sing from comes to the emperor’s rescue.

Other musicals adapted from Andersen tales include Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (with songs by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright) and “Once Upon a Mattress,” a 1959 show based on “The Princess and the Pea,” with songs by Mary Rodgers and Marshall Barer.

The Sheik-Sater team has another new musical on the boards in England, also derived from a 19th century source. “Alice by Heart,” their riff on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” is aimed at young audiences. It’s currently being performed by youth ensembles around Great Britain as part of Connections, an annual series sponsored by the National Theatre. After the regional performances, “Alice by Heart” will be staged at the National Theatre in July during a youth theater festival. RELATED:


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-- Mike Boehm