Composer and lyricist Lawrence Rush spoke with Illinois Wesleyan students in January before they began work on his musical drama Winter of the Fall.
April 28, 2009
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – It was a chance theater students do not have when they perform Shakespeare – to hear what the playwright thinks of their performance, and to offer suggestions of their own.
On Saturday, April 25, successful composer, lyricist and librettist Lawrence Rush attended the Illinois Wesleyan University performance of Winter in the Fall, his musical drama. The next day, Rush spoke with students of the Music Theatre 483 class, who performed in the show under the direction of their instructor, Assistant Professor of the Theatre Arts Scott Susong.
“You did an incredible job. It was thrilling to sit in the audience and watch how you interpreted the show,” said Rush, speaking to students in the E. Melba Johnson Kirkpatrick Laboratory Theatre. “You are helping to bring the show to a whole new place.”
Rush has created the music and lyrics for such productions as the musical Pride and Prejudice and The Way to Your Heart … the Words and Music of Lawrence Rush. Along with composing since he was in his early teens, Rush has been performing for more than two decades, bringing to life characters such as Basillo in the opera La Nozze di Figaro, Frederick in The Pirates of Penzance and George in Sunday in the Park with George.
The production Winter of the Fall is one that Rush created in the 1990s about the execution of Romanian dictators Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu in 1989. The musical book was a finalist for the Richard Rogers Award, but Rush never pursued making it a production. The show came to mind when Susong contacted Rush and asked him to work with the students.
“This is a show I put on the back burner,” said Rush. “I thought it would be perfect for Scott, because he wanted something that had not been produced, that his students could rework.”
Students of Scott Susong’s Music Theatre 483 class perform Winter of the Fall.
Throughout the semester, students made suggestions about the show, which Susong would send along to Rush. The students even requested Rush write three new songs for the show, which he did. “I was impressed with the ideas Scott was sending me,” said Rush. “Asking me to change those songs was the best thing that could have happened.”
On Sunday, the discussion with Rush allowed students to relay their impression of the musical and hear what Rush discovered from their performance. Topics ranged from the use of Romanian accents to the interpretation of songs. When one student said he was confused about a tune nicknamed the “carrot song,” Rush smiled. “That one I decided to cut,” he said, sparking groans and cheers from the audience. “We had some debate about that, too,” said Susong with a laugh.
Rush said the inspiration for the show came from a newscast he watched about the execution of the Ceauşescu. “I heard about them getting booed off the stage of their last speech, escaping the mob, hijacking a car to flee, getting caught and their mock trial, and I thought, ‘My God, this is theater!,” he said. “The more I researched them, and what horrible people they were, the more interested I was.” Rush said he took license to add a fictitious young couple to the story. “The main characters were so awful that no one would root for them, which does not work with musical theater,” said Rush. “So it’s a bit of historical fiction.”
Rush said he enjoyed how the students infused a realistic youthful attitude to the younger characters. “I think that was one of the reasons I put this piece away. I felt I could not capture that young voice,” said Rush, who told the students, “You have given me a great feel for what I can do.”
When Rush returns to New York, Susong said he will have a new arsenal of information to help refresh the musical. Susong is giving Rush all the research his students conducted for their characters. “I was amazed at the amount of information the students found on the topic,” said Susong. “It gave their performances a side we might not have seen otherwise.”
Susong said his goal for the performance was to inspire both the students and Rush. “This musical is one that should not be sitting in a box,” said Susong. “We have shown him all the colors he could play with and create. The original musical is almost non-existent in theater these days. People are afraid to put something on stage that is not a guaranteed commercial success. I know we all hope to see what comes next.”
Rush said Susong achieved his goal. He plans another reading of the musical in New York, with hopes of it evolving into a stage production.
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960