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The Ensemble Behind 'Kansas City Choir Boy'

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(L–R) Angela Sclafani, Angel Lin, Sylver Wallace, Kate Douglas, Barrie McLain, and Molly McAdoo in "Kansas City Choir Boy" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Musical heavyweights Courtney Love and Todd Almond lead the cast of Kansas City Choir Boy, which plays at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through November 8, 2015, but this contemporary music-theatre work is very much an ensemble piece. Director Kevin Newbury gave us a glimpse into the extremely collaborative process of bringing Todd Almond’s music and lyrics to the stage.

Although Almond had been working on the piece for years, the world premiere at the PROTOTYPE Festival of new opera and musical theatre in New York City was produced very quickly. “The whole first show was thrown together in 10 days,” said Newbury. That meant making big decisions on the fly in the rehearsal room, and creating an environment where “everyone can feel free to express his or her ideas.” Luckily, Newbury had a “really different, incredible team of artists” at his disposal, all of whom were eager to work together. “The work is very seamless, so designers’ work begins to blend,” he said, noting that he “can’t remember who came up with what.” (He did, however, credit lighting designer DM Wood with coming up with the idea to add LED lights to the ceiling.)

The entire cast and crew of Kansas City Choir Boy is “a group of very fertile minds,” said Newbury. Todd Almond is a writer, performer, and musician whose works include the highly acclaimed Girlfriend, which played at the Douglas earlier this year. Singer-songwriter Courtney Love is a punk rock pioneer with decades of experience as both a rocker and actress. The Sirens are multi-faceted performers who sing, dance, and act. And the string quartet features members of Contemporaneous, a New York-based group that describes itself as “a new music ensemble that sounds like a chamber orchestra and works like a band.”

Putting these artists in a room together created a tremendous amount of serendipity, and inspired everything from the set design to the music, which features “Fleetwood Mac-level” harmonies, said Newbury. Many of the arrangements came together during the rehearsal period, he added, calling Courtney Love “an amazing collaborator.” At one point, the actresses who play the Sirens were harmonizing and playing with music for fun during some down time. Newbury and other creative team members overheard, and decided to make a new arrangement that “became an incredible group ensemble number,” said Newbury.

Moments like that are why Newbury finds himself drawn to new work. “I just think it’s so exciting to tell a story for the first time,” he said. “I love to create something new and original, to collaboratively solve challenges with living artists.”

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