Confronted with the pitfalls of alcoholism, Rathskeller: A Musical Elixir is an original musical that will debut at the New Ohio Theater in New York on Friday, September 24. Several veterans of Erie’s theatrical scene are heavily involved in the production.
If I had to tell you that a Broadway-quality musical could be conceptualized, written, performed, choreographed, and produced in less than a year, you might tell me I should come home because I’m drunk. But no matter what the breathalyzer may or may not say, the point is that Rathskeller: A Musical Elixir will debut at the New Ohio Theater in New York’s West Village later this month after just nine months of development.
Don’t worry, creative producer Julian Decker and director Rachel Rudd can’t believe it either. After all, it seems like just yesterday they were both involved in Erie’s community theater scene – Decker with the Erie Playhouse (he says he “grew up” there) and Rudd with the Playhouse, the drama program Mercyhurst Prep, Footlights Summer Theater, Station Dinner Theater, and its own Triple Threat studios (among others). It was Rachel’s husband Chris – “who doesn’t think of himself as a theater guy” – who first brought up the idea of a musical at a dive bar 15 years ago.
Although there were talks to get the project started at the time, they dissolved like the head on a draft beer as family and business obligations took precedence. And then the pandemic happened, slowing down almost every system in society. Suddenly the creative well – and the will – was filled and Rathskeller was taken out of the cellar (“Rathskeller” is a German word referring to a bar or tavern in the basement). In the years that followed, the Rudds’ daughters, Grace and Sydney, grew into young adults and started their own theater company, Dame Productions, in Marietta, Georgia, near Atlanta. Grace was finally able to get a call with Decker, who currently teaches theater and runs her own studio in New York City, and things started happening really quickly – you could tell the pace was mind boggling.
Although initially conceived as a jukebox musical (i.e. borrowing songs from popular music) as a result of one man’s struggles with alcoholism, Decker felt that this approach “ this subject was going to do him a complete disservice ”. He leveraged his connections to form a team of creatives that he had worked with or whose work he had admired in the past. Her classmate and friend, Collin Kessler, was recruited to write the book, while Brianna Barnes composed the music and lyrics. Decker explains that because the book was written before music (unlike convention), a jukebox-like dynamic evolved anyway, as the songs were informed by the quirks and individual nuances of the characters such as ‘they appear in the script. The ease of this collaboration made Grace Rudd’s choreography all the more natural.
By the way, these characters are played by a diverse cast of actors from all over, including here in Erie. At the center of the story is the man, played by middle-aged singer-songwriter Erie Doug Phillips. Rudd explains that the man wanders around a dive bar that unbeknownst to him is actually a purgatory – every act is a faded, barely recognizable memory of his gradually deteriorating life. The other main characters represent in a way the seven deadly sins which engender or are engendered by alcoholism: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and laziness. Genevieve Ellis, a Buffalo native who recently appeared in the Erie Playhouse production of Into the Woods was a unanimous choice for the Lust-inspired character.
Decker repeats over and over that in show business there are only two degrees of separation – he mentions the connections between him and the Rudds and Erie, between him and Collin and Brianna (the two also knew one another from the ‘university), and between him and the Erie Playhouse and Ellis. “I saw her, I contacted a connection to connect with her, and boom, she’s on the show.” And that’s basically how a bunch of people from the Erie Theater rubbed their eyes and woke up in New York City. “I don’t know if you know a lot about the Erie theater, but everywhere I go, and to everyone I meet, I tell them how active the Erie community is in theater, and they tell me ‘Where is Erie? “and” Why is he so active? “I don’t know, but he just is. We’ve produced a ton of really cool, amazing working actors, directors and managers,” relays Rachel Rudd.
Unless you can make it to the New Ohio Theater on the weekend of September 24-26, unfortunately you won’t be able to see the highlight of this – there are no plans to broadcast the performances live or record them. for public viewing. However, the team is optimistic that the production – funded entirely by the private sector – will eventually see wider airing in high-end regional theaters, Broadway and possibly in smaller school and community theaters once the material will be licensed as a package.
For now, they are proud (arguably not a mortal sin when born from hard and honest work) that they will be able to promote a successfully executed production that has universal appeal, embraces the inclusiveness (women, BIPOC and LGBTQ + people both on stage and behind the scenes), and a book and score that fit together perfectly. We’ll drink to that – in moderation, of course.
Matt Swanseger’s dive bar choreography (mswanseger @ eriereader. Com) has always been improvised – much of what Ornette Coleman is to free jazz.