by John Dempsey & Dana Rowe
directed by Eric Schaeffer
originally produced at Signature Theatre ,
Arlington, VA .
March 6, 2012
through April 15, 2012
Brother Russia, a new musical commissioned by Signature Theatre, is the latest creation by musical theater team Dana P. Rowe (music) and John Dempsey (book and lyrics). Set in present day in a desolate potato field north of Omsk, a comically fourth-rate theater troupe sets up its tents and wows the local farmers with rock-fueled adaptations of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Tonight, however, the company tosses classic literature aside to showcase the life story of their impresario and star, the seemingly immortal Brother Russia – more commonly known as Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. Yes, that Rasputin: the hypnotic mystic who seduced and ruled the Tsar and Tsarina in the waning days of Imperial Russia.
“Dempsey’s Lyrics are exceptionally witty, and Rowe’s music jaunty and tuneful, yet with the sophisticated sweep of a Sondheim”
– Time Magazine.
Since its founding, Signature Theatre has made a deep commitment to producing new work. It’s my goal to secure Signature’s position as America’s leading producer of new musical theater works and Signature Theatre currently houses the single-largest musical theater commissioning program in the United States. To date, the Theatre has produced thirty-four world premiere works including fourteen musical commissions. Many more will follow!
Brother Russia is an exciting project. I have known Dana and John for many years. In 1998, I directed the U.S. premiere of their musical The Fix in Signature’s former 156-seat “Garage” space. Then in 2007, I directed the U.S. premiere of The Witches of Eastwick. John and Dana complement each other beautifully and I wanted them to create something special for Signature. The musical’s structure, rock-and-roll style music, and colorful characters will translate exceptionally well to the stage—and to the environmental staging I envision for the piece.
Creating new work like Brother Russia is particularly gratifying, but it also an incredibly difficult process. I am grateful that, thanks to the Edgerton Foundation, the musical will receive additional rehearsal time—especially since the score features 29 original songs, a significantly higher number than most musicals, and won’t receive as much pre-rehearsal workshop time as other Signature commissions have had.
Signature has a great track record for furthering the production of new work and many of Signature’s world premieres have gone on to be performed in regional theaters across the United States and on Broadway. Producing new musicals is extremely rewarding, but is also very expensive – particularly when you are committed to a large cast and full orchestra. Having the flexibility to make adjustments to Brother Russia during previews by adding an additional week of rehearsal with the production’s design team is a luxury that Signature could not normally afford. The Edgerton Foundation Award for New American Plays will have a significant, positive impact on the production and will ensure that the world premiere of Brother Russia will receive the best production possible. Future productions can depend largely on critical response to the work and having funds for an additional week to rehearse prior to the press opening will add to the likelihood of a positive reception and greater visibility for the musical, its creators, and for Signature.
Director: Eric Schaeffer
Set Design: Misha Kachman
Lighting Design: Colin K. Nills
Sound Design: Matt Rowe
Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard
Choreographer: Karma Camp