Westerly: Musical’s first stop on road to Broadway

Westerly: Musical’s first stop on road to Broadway


WESTERLY — They share a first name and a love of theater and next week the two men will make history when a Broadway-bound musical, “The Road of Life,” has its first staged reading at the Granite Theatre on Tuesday.

David Jepson, the Granite’s artistic director, and David Black, the artist, writer and producer, will co-produce the reading as part of the Guest Artists Series at the Granite.

“I don’t think there are any shows that have tried out for Broadway in Westerly,” said Black, who has also produced such musicals as “George M!” with Joel Grey and Bernadette Peters, and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” with Phil Silvers. “This is kind of wonderful thing.”

Black said he hopes to have a month’s trial with the musical at a local theater before taking the musical to Broadway.

“I’d love to look at Goodspeed,” he said, “or the United Theatre.”

Jepson, who first met Black 13 years ago when he directed him in “Falling Off Broadway” — Black’s autobiographical tale of a young Broadway producer — said the two of them have enjoyed a friendship ever since.

“The Road of Life,” written by composer Jay Jacques and lyricist Mark Chimsky, is set in Leningrad during the time the city was under siege by the German army during World War II.

The story, said Jepson, focuses on a love triangle between a female Russian poet, whose radio broadcasts of her poetry help give the people of the beleaguered city the will to survive, the soldier who loves her, and the Nazi who is assigned to capture and kill her, but finds himself falling in love with her.

“It’s kind of an amazing coincidence,” said Black, “that soon after I got interested in the musical, David Brooks wrote about it in The New York Times and called the column ‘Love Story.’”

Brooks, in a May 1 column, wrote about Michael Ignatieff’s biography of Isaiah Berlin and “a night Berlin spent in Leningrad in 1945.”

Brooks describes Berlin’s visit with Anna Akhmatova, a “great pre-revolutionary poet” who was 20 years older than Berlin. They talked until daybreak about the great Russian poets, and fell in love.

“For Berlin,” he wrote, “this night was the most important event of his life. Akhmatova was stuck in the Soviet Union, living under a regime of manipulation, fear and lies. She suffered horrendously for it. The regime decided that she had cavorted with a British spy. She was expelled from the Writers’ Union. Her son was thrown into prison. She was desolated but never blamed Berlin, speaking of him fervently and writing movingly about the numinous magic of that night.”

Black, who has written two books and is finishing up a third, said that despite the backdrop, the story is “a marvelously uplifting tale.”

Chimsky, the lyricist, said that he and Jacques, the composer, are thrilled to have the staged reading of the script take place with actors from the Granite Theatre.

“We are grateful to the co-producers of this reading.... who are providing us with such a wonderful venue to hear our musical read aloud for the first time,” he said.

“To receive a staged reading at this theater is an invaluable opportunity for our musical at this stage of its development,” Chimsky said.

Jacques, whose wife, Katherine, is Russian, said he “feels a personal closeness to the material” not only because it draws on a tragic event — the deadliest blockade in human history — but because his wife’s family experienced the horror firsthand. When Katherine was a child, he said, she lived in a small apartment with her grandparents, who survived the siege, unlike her great-aunts.

The history may be grim, he added, but the musical doesn’t focus on the grim.

“We hover high over that,” he said. “This is a story about hope... hope and triumph in the worst conditions. I have to stress that. The tragedy serves as inspiration.”

“We are striving to give our musical universal appeal,” said Jacques, “to show how the human spirit can rise above all odds.”

“And the songs are beautiful,” added Black.

The reading will take place on Tuesday, July 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Granite Theatre. There will be a Q&A with the creators of the musical and Black immediately following the reading. Tickets are $10 and are available at the door or by calling 401-596-2341.

nbfusaro@thewesterlysun.com @NBFwesterlySUN

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