A new musical co-written by a lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein will be screened for a live audience at Barrington Stage Company next month, with a cast and creative team that includes notable names like Susan Stroman, Diane Warren and Tony Yazbeck.
Louisette Geiss, a former screenwriter who has said that her career ended in 2008 after Weinstein sexually harassed her , co-wrote the book for “The Right Girl” with Howard Kagan, who was a producer on the 2016 Broadway production of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.” (A spokesperson for Weinstein has denied that he engaged in nonconsensual acts.)
Warren, an 11-time Academy Award-nominated songwriter, wrote the music and collaborated with Geiss and Kagan on the lyrics. The actors filmed and recorded themselves at their homes in July, and the tracks were then edited together and synced with those recorded by musicians into an approximately two-hour film.
Stroman, a five-time Tony Award winner, directed and choreographed the performance, which will be screened for a socially distanced audience of 160 people in Pittsfield, Mass., at 2 p.m. on Nov. 1.
“The Right Girl,” follows Eleanor Stark, a recently promoted movie studio executive who learns that one of the men she works with has been abusing women for years. The fictionalized story is based on the creative team’s interviews with more than 20 women who had been sexually assaulted or harassed by a dozen different prominent men in the entertainment industry. Kagan said the survivors who contributed to the musical’s development will get a share of the royalties when tickets go on sale.
Kagan met Geiss around two years ago when he was part of a group looking to buy the Weinstein Company’s film and television assets, and they discussed how to help the women share their stories. “Ronan Farrow was writing a book, and there was lots of talk on cable news shows,” he said in an interview on Sunday. “So instead of talking, I suggested we create a musical.”
But the show, he said, does not focus on harassment by any one man in particular, or even one industry. “The show is not about a specific person walking into an office and getting harassed or abused,” he said. “It’s about what that means for women who speak up and how it impacts our culture.”
Nineteen actors workshopped the musical over Zoom and recorded their parts over two weeks in July. They included Alysha Umphress, who starred with Yazbeck in “On the Town” at Barrington Stage, and then Broadway; and Robyn Hurder, who received her first Tony nomination last week for her role as Nini in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”
“No one has seen the full show except Susan Stroman and me,” Kagan, a lead producer of “On the Town,” said in the interview. “It’s truly a premiere, and we hope to get real audience reaction in the same way you would if you went to a new musical reading.”
Though it is a screening, Julianne Boyd, Barrington Stage’s artistic director, described “The Right Girl” as the first new American musical to be presented in front of a live, indoor audience since March. (The number of reported coronavirus cases in western Massachusetts has remained low, and though the state still does not permit singing in indoor theaters, audiences are allowed to gather indoors in limited numbers.)
The company has removed every other row in the theater, which normally seats 520, to allow audience members to remain socially distanced when moving to and from their seats. Masks will be required for everyone in attendance, and the entire theater, including seats and arm rests, will be sanitized using electrostatic sprayers, disinfectant sprays and wipes.
The premiere will be followed by an in-person talkback with Hurder, Stroman, Umphress, Yazbeck and a survivor who contributed to the story (the speakers will remain at least 12 feet from any audience member at all times). Tickets for the free screening are limited, but the company is accepting requests on a first-come, first-served basis by email at [email protected]
Kagan said that, before the pandemic, the team had planned to premiere the show at an Off Broadway or regional theater this fall. They plan to hold another screening on the West Coast before the end of the year and are looking into filming a live-capture performance, with actors quarantining together and then performing the show in a closed theater. A concept album is also in the works.
Kagan said the show is a dance-heavy musical, though the actors did not attempt any of the choreography, which is still in the works. “We haven’t really cracked the code yet on what the dance will be, though Susan has it in her head already,” he said. “We’re excited to get in the room and let the actors jump and leap and sweat.”
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