By Melissa Nally
“Only Anne” (music by Will Buck, book and lyrics by John Dietrich, and orchestrated by William David Brohn) is an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel “Persuasion” with a twist – the story is propelled forward 100 years to post-World War I England. It’s the dawn of the roaring twenties, and the elitist world of the landed gentry is being threatened by the nouveau riche and a rising working class. Selections from “Only Anne” will be presented at the Musical Theatre Factory’s gala concert, “Get Yourself Some New Orchestrations,” in association with The Chelsea Symphony.
The time period that John and Will selected draws parallels with the novel’s time period, which takes place as England is coming out of the Napoleanic Wars. Instead of the Jane Austen world of “strolling and sighing,” as John put it, there is an air of modernity: faster communication, automobiles, telephones. “Everything has to happen faster,” said John. “That’s one of the things that drew us to moving the period.”
John and Will had very briefly kept the show in the original period, even writing a song called “November Walk.” In it, the protagonist finds herself in the awkward situation of going on an outing with a man she was engaged to seven years prior, and the young, progressive girl he seems to presently have an interest in. When “Only Anne” made the leap to the 1920s, the characters were confined to a car. It created a much more interesting and heightened situation, and the song was given a “flapperish feel.” ”To Lyme” is another one of the four songs that will be featured in the concert, and the one Will is most looking forward to hearing.
John came to Will with “Persuasion” as an idea for a musical, and as it turns out, it was a book that Will had previously read. It was suggested to him as source material by a professor, but he didn’t connect with it at the time. When John brought it back, Will decided to give it another chance, and was hooked. “It just resonated with me on a much deeper level, and I knew right away that this was something I had to write,” said Will. They were awarded the Rhinebeck Writers’ Retreat this past summer in order to further develop the piece and do a last round of edits, and are excited to see it presented at the concert.
The orchestrations for “Only Anne” were entrusted to the legendary William David Brohn. Bill is known for his orchestrations on such shows as “Wicked,” “The Secret Garden,” and “Ragtime,” which won him the Tony Award for Best Orchestrations. His career as an orchestrator started as musical factotum at a summer theater, and eventually led to his favorite project, Cameron Mackintosh’s original London production of “Miss Saigon.” “It was a challenging and fascinating undertaking, the likes of which I had never encountered,” said Bill.
The songs selected for the concert ranged from lush, romantic pieces to jazz to military-style music. John and Will picked songs that reflected big moments, and what would sound good fully orchestrated. Will and Bill met once to play through the score, which Bill said is the most influential part of the process for him. “A sit-down with the composer can have the effect of immediate, even intimate connection with the piece. Ideas for the orchestration come to mind instantly,” said Bill.
After the initial meeting, they’ve emailed back and forth. “It’s vital for me that there be input from the author and director, for visual imagination can lead to concrete orchestrational ideas,” said Bill. John and Will have yet to hear any of the orchestrations – not even electronic files. “The brilliant William David Brohn is very old-school, and he has done all the scores by hand,” said Will. “They look fantastic…I’m just really thrilled to be working with him, ‘The Secret Garden’ is one of my favorite scores and his orchestrations are a huge part of that. It’s a little bit surreal.”
On orchestrating for emergent composers who haven’t previously heard their work fully orchestrated, Bill said, “It is a great experience to hear one’s music set to a varied array of instruments beyond what the original sonic concept was. But the expanded orchestral setting must be a natural extension of the composer’s creation; to effect this there must be a meeting of minds, a true collaboration (a laboring together) – this is extremely vital.”
Check out selections from “Only Anne” along with four other scores to be featured at the gala concert event “Get Yourself Some New Orchestrations,” the launch of an exciting new series which pairs emergent musical theatre writers with Broadway orchestrators to commission stunning new orchestrations of their shows. Excerpts from four new musicals (and one reimagined favorite!) will be brought to life by the 35-piece Chelsea Symphony and a cast of Broadway stars.
When: Monday, November 9, at 8pm
Where: Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Music Center (129 West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023)
Tickets available here.