By Melissa Nally
“Radioactive” (music by Will Reynolds, book and lyrics by Eric Price, and orchestrated by Doug Besterman) tells the story of Marie and Pierre Curie and their discovery of radium, the most mysterious element on the Periodic Table. It’s also a love story between two revolutionary scientists. “It’s a musical about two people who live inside their heads and must learn to unlock their hearts, simultaneously uncovering two powerful and life-changing forces: radioactivity and love,” said Eric.
Excerpts from “Radioactive” will be presented at Musical Theatre Factory’s gala concert “Get Yourself Some New Orchestrations,” in association with The Chelsea Symphony. Marie Curie will be brought to life by Beth Malone, Tony nominee from “Fun Home,” and Hugh Panaro, one of Broadway’s longest-running Phantoms, will take on Pierre Curie.
Songs featured include “Stir,” a tour de force in which Marie Curie simultaneously cultivates radium and cooks gooseberry jam – something she actually did in real life. Other selections include “A Lifetime,” the song that, as Will puts it, is “the beating heart at the center of the score.” A third number, “Tiny Candles,” is the finale, led by Marie and making use of the large chorus that will be featured at the concert.
The team also created the “Radioactive Suite,” an orchestral piece that will open their portion of the evening, showcasing the Chelsea Symphony and featuring themes from the entire score.
Will and Eric started writing together ten years ago, so their collaboration comes naturally. However, it doesn’t make the writing process any easier. “The page always starts very, very white,” Eric remarked. The writers have been working on “Radioactive” for three years and have developed it as part of the Dramatists Guild Fellowship, at the Goodspeed Writers Colony, and at the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat.
To Will and Eric, it was the theatrical quality of radium itself that initially drew them to the story of the Curies. Radium spontaneously emits light and, within that glow, is something both beautiful and frightening, with the power to kill and the power to heal.
Marie Curie used to sleep with a vial of radium under her pillow and would wear it on a chain around her neck. Her dedication to her work served as an inspiration for Will and Eric as they worked on “Radioactive.” Eric said, “It reminded us that if you work hard enough and apply everything you know and everything you are to a project, you have the chance to uncover something incredible.”
Will and Eric selected orchestrator Doug Besterman for the concert. Doug has done orchestrations for Broadway shows, films, and recordings. His projects include “The Producers,” the films “Chicago” and “Nine,” and he has collaborated with such legends as Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, and Beyonce. He also composes his own music, and relishes the notion of having someone else orchestrate it. His work has earned him 3 Tony Awards, 2 Drama Desk Awards, and a Grammy Award Nomination.
When Doug begins to work on a project, he first tries to understand the tone of the music, to identify the musical style, and whether the score evokes a particular period. He then plans how to use the musicians available. “In adapting piano music, the orchestrator must try to understand the composer’s musical intention as it appears on the page, and then find the appropriate orchestral color to match,” said Doug.
His advice for aspiring orchestrators? “Learn to listen analytically. Study scores if possible – and try to understand the transformation that took place between the piano score and the finished orchestrations. And finally…be prepared to spend a lot of time alone!”
On working on “Radioactive,” Doug said, “’Radioactive’ is a lovely piece of theatre with a gorgeous score – so it was a real pleasure not only spending time with the music, but getting to know the writers as well – talented guys, those two!”
Eric and Will know that hearing Doug Besterman’s orchestrations played by a 35-piece symphony will be a very special moment. “A 35-piece orchestration is a very rare thing, for all writers of musicals, no matter what stage the writers are in their careers,” Will said.
Doug added, “Getting to hear your music fully orchestrated is like going from black-and-white to Technicolor – what could be more fun than that!”
Check out selections from “Radioactive” 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.