A few months ago, the National Alliance for Music Theatre (NAMT) selected The Circus in Winter as a finalist in their yearly new work competition. NAMT’s 24th Annual Festival of New Musicals is a premiere industry event that gathers theatre industry leaders to discover promising new musicals. Hundreds of scripts are considered but only eight are chosen; at the two-day festival, they give two abbreviated, 45-minute performances. Professional, age-appropriate actors are cast in the roles. Basically, it’s a major stepping-stone towards a Broadway production. Ever heard of Thoroughly Modern Millie? The Drowsy Chaperone? Well, they got their start at NAMT.
An imperfect analogy for my readers who know diddly squat about the world of musical theater (myself included until recently): a musical created by college students getting picked for NAMT would be like a high school kid getting a Breadloaf or Sewanee or Stegner fellowship.
All I can really say right now is that Circus was definitely a hit. NAMT rules stipulate a 4-6 week cooling-off period after the festival, which means I’ve got nothing specific to tell you except that many regional theaters expressed interest in Circus. If you follow the link for Millie above and check out its production history, you’ll see that that’s a possible route to Broadway: out-of-town tryouts at regional theaters.
Here are some pictures from the day I went to NAMT.
Now, at this point, I’ve seen Circus about 10 times, but this time was different. I’ve enjoyed all the wonderful performances by Ball State students, but this time, the roles were played by professionals, and their voices filled the room.
I cried a little bit during the first song. I mean, holy shit, Sutton Foster was up there playing Jennie Dixianna. Seriously, who thinks anything like that will ever happen?
I was so happy that my agent Sarah Burnes and Andrea Schulz from HMH (and whose sister went to Ball State! small world!) were able to come and see the reading.
I was also happy to meet the other cast members and thank them. I told Steel Burkhardt that his character, Wallace Porter, was named partly for the real circus owner from Peru (“Lima”) Indiana, Ben Wallace, and for my hometown’s most famous son, Cole Porter.
But I was also incredibly happy to see Emily Behny on stage, playing Catherine. She was in the class that wrote the musical, and she’s gone on to star in the national tour of Beauty and the Beast. And two other students from the class were on stage: the original Wallace Porter, Jonathan Jensen, and percussionist Nick Rapley, joined by Joe Young, who played banjo and mandolin in the BSU production. And of course Bill Jenkins was there. He’s the chair of the BSU Department of Theatre & Dance, someone who understands not only how to make things happen inside a university (which is hard) but outside it as well (which is harder).
It was strange to see Ben Clark introduce the show and then take a seat instead of grabbing his guitar. In my mind, he’s always been one of the characters. But he has another role to play now, one he still performs beautifully.
And yes, Perez Hilton really was there. I didn’t see him, but Emma Turcotte did and snapped this picture.
A few people have asked me, “So did Circus win at this festival?” Which is a fair question and certainly one that I asked myself. Even though there aren’t first, second, and third prizes or Palm d’Or’s or anything like that, trust me: things really could not have gone better at NAMT than the way they did. In a month or so, I should be able to tell you what exactly is going to happen next with the musical.
I can’t wait to find out!
I want to thank everyone for making me feel a part of this journey.