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ExtraOrdinary Things

NOV 12, 2018

A.R.T. Director of Artistic Programs & Dramaturg Ryan McKittrick reflects on the legacy, and the power, of musical theater

Over the past ten seasons, the American Repertory Theater has produced more than thirty musicals and music theater pieces. ExtraOrdinary marks not only the range of this work, but also the A.R.T.’s ongoing commitment to staging boundary-breaking, total theater experiences that combine story, song, spectacle, and dance. A.R.T. musicals have pushed the form in new directions, from fostering collaborations with leading artists in the pop and rock music worlds to creating immersive experiences in our club-theater environment at OBERON and at the Loeb Drama Center, which underwent a radical transformation into a Russian supper club for Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.

Denée Benton in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.
Jessie Mueller in the 2015 A.R.T. production of Waitress

Music has played an integral role in Western theater for millennia. From the choruses of ancient Greek amphitheaters, to religious drama in medieval churches and town squares, to Italian Renaissance opera, to Broadway in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, music has enhanced audiences’ experiences of stories, settings, characters, and conflicts. Song can take us places where words alone cannot. When Jessie Mueller sang Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to Be Mine” in Waitress and when Lauren Patten performed Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” in Jagged Little Pill, the soaring emotion of the songs gave audiences access to the thoughts and complex inner lives of the characters. Patten’s expression of her character’s feelings was so intense that—from the first preview through the entire rest of the run—it literally stopped the show. Performance after performance, the audience’s applause at the end of this scene grew into a standing ovation—a communal act of appreciation, validation, and compassion.

A mid-show standing ovation for ”You Oughta Know” in Jagged Little Pill.
Celina Carvajal and Uzo Aduba.

When musicals explore challenging subjects, they have the potential to reach and move audiences in profound ways. Productions at the A.R.T. have grappled with some of the most pressing questions of our times, inviting audiences and the theater’s community of scholars at Harvard University to participate in discussions on topics ranging from dictatorship and the brute forces of tyranny, to the history of race and Major League Baseball, to the complexities of volunteer aid work in Africa, to the opioid epidemic in our country today. During the run of Prometheus Bound, an alternative rock musical that imagined Prometheus as one of the Western world’s first prisoners of conscience, the A.R.T. partnered with Amnesty International to dedicate every performance to a person who had been unjustly imprisoned. Inviting the audience to write letters that urged governments around the world to free these prisoners, Prometheus Bound launched the A.R.T.’s “Act II” series—an initiative that extends the theatrical experience to include dialogue with the audience as an integral part of the show.

Mj Rodriguez (Oona) and the ensemble burn all night in Burn All Night.
The students in class.

Directed by Diane Paulus and Music Directed by Lance Horne (Prometheus Bound, Cabaret), ExtraOrdinary brings together an outstanding company that includes Melody Betts (Witness Uganda/Invisible Thread), Kathryn Gallagher (Jagged Little Pill), Terrence Mann (Pippin), Brandon Michael Nase (The Black Clown), Bryonha Marie Parham (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess), Mj Rodriguez (Burn All Night and Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women) and Matthew James Thomas (Pippin), who will be joined by special guests from past A.R.T. musicals and a five-person onstage band.

As the company members reflect on their own experiences and on the transcendent and transformative power of music in the theater, ExtraOrdinary will take audiences on a sweeping journey from classics including The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and Pippin to new musicals that premiered at the A.R.T. including The Blue Flower, Witness Uganda, Waitress, and Jagged Little Pill.

Teal Wicks and Daniel Jenkins.
Audra McDonald and the cast of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess at A.R.T.

Ryan McKittrick is A.R.T. Director of Artistic Programs & Dramaturg.

Ten Years of Musical Theater

ExtraOrdinary celebrates the American Repertory Theater’s growing legacy of boundary-breaking musical theater. In addition to presenting an extensive array of work by artists and other companies, the A.R.T. has produced the following musicals and music-theater pieces over the past ten seasons.

The fans.
Butterflies fall over the crowd at The Donkey Show.
In center Andrea Martin and Matthew James Thomas.
Believe!
Todd Almond and Courtney Love in Kansas City Choir Boy.
Mandy Patinkin and Taylor Mac in The Last Two People on Earth.

 

Image Credits
Denée Benton in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
Jessie Mueller in Waitress. Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
Jagged Little Pill. Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Lena Hall, Uzo Aduba, and Jo Lampert in Prometheus Bound. Photo: Marcus Stern
Burn All Night. Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
Witness Uganda. Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography
Teal Wicks and Daniel Jenkins in The Blue Flower. Photo: Marcus Stern
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Photo: Michael J. Lutch
Cabaret. Photo: Marcus Stern
Johnny Baseball. Photo: Marcus Stern
The Donkey Show. Photo: Marcus Stern
Andrea Martin and Matthew James Thomas in Pippin. Photo: Michael J. Lutch
Finding Neverland. Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
Todd Almond and Courtney Love in Kansas City Choir Boy. Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva
Taylor Mac and Mandy Patinkin in The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville. Photo: Gretjen Helene Photography

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