“Caps for Sale,” a new musical debuting at Adventure Theatre MTC in September, may soon be a top ticket seller in Washington and New York. Adventure announced last week that the musical had been booked for a 2016 run at the New Victory Theater, one of Manhattan’s leading venues for children’s shows.
“There were so many things that were coming together, and this is just serendipitous,” said Michael J. Bobbitt, Adventure Theatre’s producing artistic director.
The premiere coincides with the 75th anniversary of the classic children’s book “Caps for Sale,” which was written and illustrated by the late Esphyr Slobodkina, a Russian emigrant who became not only a celebrated illustrator, but a pioneer in American abstract art.
The musical has been in development for five years, Bobbitt said, ever since local playwright Renee Calarco suggested that the 1940 book about a hat peddler and some thieving monkeys could be adapted for the stage. Calarco had planned to work on the show herself, but Bobbitt ended up collaborating with local composer William Yanesh and Ann Marie Mulhearn Sayer, executive director of the Slobodkina Foundation.
Sayer, who preserves and promoted Slobodkina’s art, had reservations, Bobbitt said, but she was impressed with the show as a work in progress and contributed to the musical.
“Theater is a different medium than a children’s book,” Bobbitt said. “The texts and the language can be more elevated, because kids can understand more than they can read. When [Sayer] came down for a workshop, all her fears were put aside. She was a theater major in college, and it really was a wonderful collaboration.”
Even with Sayer on board, however, negotiating rights to the story took time. Bobbitt didn’t want the musical to be simply a one-time fling at Adventure Theatre; he wanted to publish “Caps for Sale” and license it to other theaters. “There were I’s to dot and T’s to cross,” he said.
But the ink is nearly dry, and rehearsals for “Caps for Sale” begin next month. Performances run at Adventure Theatre’s Glen Echo venue from Sept. 11-27. A 17-city national tour follows in the fall, and in February, the cast and crew move north for a nine-day run in New York. Helen Hayes winner Alan Naylor will star as the peddler, supported by Danny Pushkin, Sean Elias, Bibi Mama and Rebecca Tucker.
After six months of public and private discussions, Theatre Washington has decided to postpone a new set of pay standards for local theaters.
The news was greeted enthusiastically by some of the area’s smaller companies, which argue that they do “professional” work even if the cast and creative staff are paid less than minimum wage or work for free. Also, if the new standards are passed, theaters that fail to comply would be ineligible for the Helen Hayes Awards.
Myra Peabody Gossens, vice chair of the Theatre Washington board, said that the decision was made at a meeting June 22 and that a letter was sent to local companies.
“We thought it was best to put it on hold for now. Right now is not the right time to continue to push on that set of changes,” Peabody Gossens said. “This has been quite a year for us.”
The 2015 ceremony was the first time the awards were split into two divisions — “Helen” for non-Equity productions or shows in which less than half of the cast belongs to the actors union, and “Hayes” for the largely or entirely Equity productions. The change nearly doubled the number of awards, and the unwieldy ceremony was relocated to the Lincoln Theatre and then to the Howard Theatre for the after-party.
In the aftermath, it was generally agreed that the Helen Hayes ceremony and process still needed tweaking and that those changes should be implemented by whoever replaced Linda Levy as Theatre Washington’s chief executive. Levy retired in April, and a national search is underway.
The proposed standards, which Levy had pushed for, would require that actors be paid a minimum of $12.50 a day for rehearsals and $18.75 per performance. Directors would command $750 per production and other creative staff, $500. Playwrights would be guaranteed at least 6 percent of each theater’s gross.
No changes will be implemented until 2017 at the earliest, Peabody Gossens said. This doesn’t mean, however, that the discussion is over.
“This is a lengthy conversation,” she said. “It’s not about professionalism. It is about defining professional theater.”
There may be no character in the English comedic canon who better defines good taste in decorating than Algernon Moncrieff in “The Importance of Being Earnest.” His London flat displays exceedingly fine wares, from his cigarette case to his cucumber sandwich trays. Which is why fans of English fashion and furniture should head to Capitol Hill on Saturday morning for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s bazaar.
In addition to props and large furniture from last year’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” and other plays, the bazaar will feature costumes from “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Government Inspector” and “Measure for Measure.” Prices begin at $1. The sale is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 507 Eighth St. SE.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.