New Line opened its 26th season with the freakiest New Year's Eve party you'll ever attend.
With words by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt (The Fantasticks, I Do! I Do!, 110 in the Shade), CELEBRATION tells a wild, adult fable set on New Year’s Eve, centered on Orphan, an idealistic and cheerfully optimistic young man, who reminds the wealthy and jaded old man William Rosebud Rich of his younger self; Angel, a sweet but not so angelic erotic dancer who longs to be Somebody; and the cynical Potemkin, who serves as narrator, commentator, and instigator.
The cast of New Line’s CELEBRATION included Kent Coffel as Potemkin, Zachary Allen Farmer as Rich, Sean Michael as Orphan, Larissa White as Angel, with Colin Dowd, Sarah Dowling. Christopher Lee, Todd Micali, Nellie Mitchell, Michelle Sauer, and Kimi Short. The show was directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Sarah Nelson, choreography by Michelle Sauer, scenic design by Rob Lippert, costume design by Sarah Porter, sound design by Benjamin Rosemann, mask design by Scott L. Schoonover, and lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl.
Back in 1968, with the profits from their hits The Fantasticks and I Do! I Do!, Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones opened the Portfolio Studio in New York, where they could experiment with the modern musical as an art form, away from the economic pressures of Broadway and off Broadway.
Their first experiment there was the ritual-based musical Celebration, based on an ancient Sumerian ritual play (no kidding), with a villain based on the widely despised Broadway producer David Merrick. The team had been working on the idea, off and on, since The Fantasticks had opened in 1960, but kept putting it aside for other projects. Earlier attempts were called Ratfink and The Bone Room. Full of masks and symbolic props, the show was inspired by legendary director Peter Brook’s work in England, combining ritual or “holy” theatre with street theatre and populist theatre.
At the end of his introduction to the published script, Jones wrote, in 1973, "We did Celebration first at our Portfolio Studio. It felt good there. It belonged. When we moved it into the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway, it didn't feel as good. It seemed somewhat silly up there, not because it was less effective than a Broadway musical, but because it wasn't a Broadway musical. Who knows? Perhaps we will do it again someday. With revisions. And in a proper place."
Tom Jones gave New Line the honor of finally premiering that revised Celebration he envisioned all those years ago, right here in St. Louis.
Jones also wrote about the show itself. "Celebration is different from The Fantasticks. For one thing, it is mostly in prose. For another, it requires a bit more explanation. It is 'different' from other musicals. In fact, I'm not even sure it is a 'musical' at all. Not in the usual sense of the word. It is a fable. It has ritual overtones. It is based upon ancient ceremonies depicting the battle between Winter and Summer. It was suggested by an editorial in the New York Times about the meaning of the Winter Solstice. It annoyed the hell out of some people. It delighted others. It ran for only 109 performances on Broadway. But it is done often around the country and the world. And it has been phenomenally successful in Scandinavia (where the Winter Solstice is something to be reckoned with.)"
Celebration opened on Broadway in January 1969, and Clive Barnes wrote in the New York Times, “Once upon a time – for this is a fable – a man called Tom Jones and a man called Harvey Schmidt sat down and pondered. They pondered and they pondered. They pondered on what was wrong with the Broadway musical, and they decided (at least this would be my guess) that it lacked simplicity, magic and uplift. Last night the curtain rose on their Celebration, which might be thought of as unpretentiously pretentious fairy tale for adults.”
CELEBRATION contains adult language and content, and some partial nudity.
The original cast album, the script, and the piano-vocal score
An interview with the writers, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
Writer Tom Jones' explanation of Celebration
Tom Jones' essay about the Portfolio Studio, where Celebration premiered
A great interview about the show with director Scott Miller on RAF-STL
Making Musicals: An Informal Introduction to the World of Musical Theater, by Celebration bookwriter-lyricist Tom Jones
The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate, by Peter Brook, one of the inspirations for Celebration
An article, "From Ritual Drama to Ancient Theater"