Chasing their 'Dream'

Local music man claims victory for NYC reading of new musical.

Local music man claims victory for NYC reading of new musical.

July 14, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

"Abbey Victoria: A Musical Daydream" is a two-act musical comedy about five young people who move to New York to attempt to forge careers in the arts. The play had a "showcase reading" at the Lark Theatre in New York City June 28 to 30 with an Actors' Equity cast.

Don't be misled by the word "reading." This is a big deal.

"It was great," says Andrew Sussman of Smithsburg, who composed the show's music.

Art imitates life in "Abbey Victoria."

The New York production takes Sussman a step closer to the fulfillment of his own musical daydream.

"Abbey Victoria" is the result of his online collaboration with playwright and lyricist Donald Loftus of New York City. They met in cyberspace in a theater chatroom in 1998 and previously co-wrote "Pollyanna," a 22-song musical based on the novel by Eleanor H. Porter. Both shows had professional staged readings in New York as well as non-equity productions at the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Pa.


"I can't remember not having music be important in my life," says Sussman, who worked in publishing before becoming executive director of the Cumberland Valley School of Music in Chambersburg in 1994.

The position enabled him to get back to what had been his "true dream - to make music."

How does a dream come to life on a New York stage?

Not easily, all involved would agree.

Union rules restricted rehearsal time to a total of 20 hours. Actors were paid only a travel stipend.

"You really have to love it," says Loftus of the theater, who also writes a lot in his "day job" as president of a cosmetics company.

"It's a really, really hard business," says Gary Slavin, who directed the recent production at the Lark on Eighth Avenue. Although he has what he calls "an interesting survival job," Slavin has been involved in theater for more than 20 years as a dancer, actor, choreographer and director.

Some 170 actors auditioned for 14 parts. "We got all our first choices," Slavin says.

Carey Anderson's audition for the title role in "Abbey Victoria" was her first try-out in New York. She had been in the city just three days, Slavin says.

Life also imitates art.

"She was the part," says Kevin Duda, the 25-year-old actor who played Jesse in the showcase. Duda arrived in New York three and a half years ago and admits that his choice of musical theater as a career is not easy.

But he's had some success. He spent 18 months as a member of the cast of the national touring company of "Cinderella" as understudy for the role of the prince. And he was one of the mice - a crowd-pleasing part, he says. The production starred Eartha Kitt as the fairy godmother.

Kitt came to the Lark Theatre to see "Abbey Victoria." Famous during her long and legendary career for her holiday hit "Santa Baby" and her role as Catwoman in the 1960s television series "Batman," Kitt, 75, said she'd like to play DeeDee Bean when the show is produced, Loftus says.

The 80-seat theater was full for each of the three performances. There were six producers in the audience and response was good. "They all stayed for both acts," Loftus says.

Loftus, who says he sees everything in New York, believes "Abbey Victoria" really has merit.

So what's next?

Composer, playwright, director and cast are hoping that a workshop production - also in New York - is possible in the fall.

Of course, that depends on getting the money to produce the show. Again the actors' union has restrictions. The total price tag cannot exceed $18,000, Sussman says.

"The theater, as much as we love it, is an expensive business," says Slavin.

Loftus says theater is his first love. Sussman calls making music his true dream.

Like the characters in their two-act musical comedy, they'll keep trying to make their dream come true.

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