4th Wall Theatre, Inc.
Theatre on the Edge
Bloomfield, New Jersey
Try It, You'll Like It!
by Kate Swan, Artistic Director on September 14th, 2015

Hi and welcome to 4th Wall's new blog!

Our intention with these articles is to talk about under-produced musicals and plays, why they should be seen, and some of the challenges and pay-offs of producing them. A big part of 4th Wall’s mission is to bring lesser-known works to our audiences, and while we love-love-love doing it, we sometimes struggle with getting an audience to come see shows with titles that are less than familiar. It seems that if a show didn’t run for a long time and/or win awards on Broadway or isn’t based on a well-known movie, a growing number of people would rather stay home and interact with their screens than experiment with the unknown theatre piece. We hope this blog will introduce you to shows that you should make an effort to go see when you have the opportunity!

We’ll start with a wacky 5-person show called The Road to Qatar - A New TRUE Musical Comedy. 

First, the all-important backstory. In February of 2005, book writer and lyricist Stephen Cole received an email from Dubai that said, “We want you to write new much?” Thinking it was spam, but curious, he gave them his phone number, and he received a call immediately. Having found Cole through his website, an artistic director in Dubai and a producer in Egypt wanted him to write a new musical for the opening of an enormous, brand-new stadium venue in Qatar. After finding a New York composer, David Krane, and several weeks of negotiations and heavily (and questionably) translated meetings, everything was in place for a six-week writing period to commence. The writing team was given certain bare bones to flesh out: the show must be about a Sultan’s son being taken on a series of three jouneys by a celestial star; he must learn courage, compassion, and wisdom; it must be about the desert and the sea; it must be about Pharaonic Egypt, ancient Greece, and the Stone Age; it must be 90 minutes. 

Cole and Krane wrote Aspire, an Arabian Nights-inspired show - complete with live camels, flying carpets, King Tut, part of Homer’s Odyssey, soaring Bette Midler-like stars, break-dancing soccer celebrities, and singing Sultans (everything but the Stone Age) - in just five weeks and presented it in London to the producers. It was tweaked and then approved. Within weeks, the score was orchestrated by Larry Blank and recorded with a 70-piece orchestra in Bratislava. The show was cast with British actors, Russian dancers, Croatian fire-twirling acrobats, and Middle Eastern supernumeraries. The Italian opera director designed the sets and costumes, too. Lights were rented from a local disco.

When Cole and Krane, who had been left out of the process completely after handing over the script and score, arrived that fall in Doha, Qatar, shortly before opening night, the show was wildly under-rehearsed, and the production team was a disorganized mess. The giant LED backdrop didn’t work, the teams pushing the sets around were getting into fistfights backstage, the huge flying sequences were dangerous, and the messy choreography had been done by a Florida kindergarten teacher. But on opening night, the show ran beginning to end without stopping (whew!), and the Emir gave it a standing ovation! The producers were ecstatic and talked of taking the show to London, New York, Cairo, and beyond. 

After Cole and Krane got home, however, there was no more communication from the producers. No evidence of any other productions. They never received their final payment. That was it.

Which brings us to The Road to Qatar. Having been a bit through the wringer, Krane and Cole decided to write a buddy musical about their unbelievable, completely true experience writing Aspire. The musical features “two short Jews” as Cole and Krane and three other actors (making a zillion quick and hilarious costume changes) as EVERYONE else in the story. Imagine how many crazy elements of the above story (and so many more) can be packed into 100 minutes, and you can imagine Road. The score is catchy and kitschy in equal parts. The show is highly dependent on snappy but sensitive direction and strong comic actors with great timing and instincts for (heavily accented) improvisation. The musical was first produced at Lyric Stage in Dallas, Texas, in 2009 and was done off-Broadway at the York in 2011. 

It was an absolute dream for these two writers to get this commission, to hear their score come to life, and to get their standing ovation from the Emir. The whole thing was ridiculously thrilling and magical...just like so many experiences in the theatre. I would have to say that seeing a good production of a new, unknown show can create the same kind of thrill. 

Try it. You’ll like it!

Kate Swan
Artistic Director
4th Wall Theatre

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