The Western Stage and The National Steinbeck Center present
Rare Musical Adaptation of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Archived for 60 Years
Premiered Off-Broadway in 1958, last heard a decade ago
Mainstage, Saturday, May 5, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
SALINAS, Calif. – The Western Stage (TWS) will culminate its SpringFEST 2018 with a staged reading ofOf Mice and Men, a musical drama by Ira Bilowit. This is in partnership with The National Steinbeck Center (NSC), which recently acquired a treasure trove of original scripts, scores, and photos from the 1958 NYC debut; The Western Stage gained permission from the Steinbeck family estate to re-introduce the public to this little-known work. This original musical treatment carried Steinbeck’s blessing throughout its creation, and the hope is that TWS will be able to present a full-scale production of this resurrected masterpiece in the near future.
The reading will be presented as a free event for the community in conjunction with the NSC’s Steinbeck Festival (May 4, 5, and 6, 2018; http://www.steinbeck.org). Just one performance will be held in Hartnell’s 500-seat Mainstage Theater on Saturday, May 5, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. at 411 Central Avenue, Salinas, CA. Special guest Waverly Scott Kaffaga, who is John Steinbeck’s step daughter, will be in attendance.
The original production boasted a top-billed cast, including Art Lund, Jo Sullivan, and Leo Penn (father of actor Sean Penn, who coincidentally is a recipient of the John Steinbeck Award). How is it possible that a production that garnered the support to premier Off-Broadway, earned a gold star from John Steinbeck, and scored such an all-star cast, disappeared into oblivion? Soon after the musical opened, a newspaper strike hit New York City, all but obliterating any chance for publicity. The few reviews it did receive were very good, but it was not enough to build up an audience. The show closed after just six weeks and has not been produced since.
The musical was conceived by Ira Bilowit, a renowned New York arts journalist over six decades, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 90. He wrote as a theater critic and editor for several arts publications. Bilowit became inspired after attending an evening of Steinbeck, where two actors presented the last scene from Of Mice and Men, bringing him to tears. He was reminded that Steinbeck’s classic was one of his favorite books. He had also recently seen a production of The Threepenny Opera and felt that there was a strong corollary between Steinbeck’s writings and the genre of folk opera.
Not only was Bilowit’s proposal approved, the creative team was in constant communication with Steinbeck during the adaptation process. Steinbeck wrote letters full of suggestions, while at the same time telling them that he didn’t want to interfere with their work. Bilowit and his team were invited to Steinbeck’s New York townhouse to present the music, and as Steinbeck listened, with eyes closed, he heard the song, “Candy’s Lament,” and wept.
Western Stage’s long history of presenting Steinbeck’s works in full-scale production, staged readings, and touring shows makes it ideal for presenting Bilowit’s long lost work. TWS’s Artistic Director Jon Selover will be directing the upcoming reading, which holds a personal significance for him, as Of Mice and Menwas performed during his very first season with The Western Stage in 1984. “To direct a production that was close to Steinbeck’s heart, to bring it back after 60 years, and to do it here in Salinas is really quite special,” Selover says. Also on the production team is Don Dally as Musical Director and Music Dramaturg, who will be interpreting and transcribing the original handwritten score.
Steinbeck’s Relevance Today
Although it is 60 years old, this musical version of Of Mice and Men is resoundingly modern, especially in the way the writers expanded the character of Curley’s Wife, which some use as argument for Steinbeck’s alleged disdain for women (due to the fact that she was never given a name). In the present #metoo age, we are given a deeper look into her character and motives as she struggles to free herself from oppression and the limited options given to women at that time. Curley’s Wife is given three arias of her own and there is a hint of a romantic entanglement with George. It can be supposed that her namelessness does not come out of a disdain for women, but rather, his method of presenting her as the only way the male characters see her: generalized, blurred, invisible. This aptly ties into the theme of this year’s Steinbeck Festival, “The Women of Steinbeck’s World.”
Steinbeck was known to have said that the reason for writing was to help people to understand one another. That sense of empathy and understanding permeates Of Mice and Men; a story about working class farm hands whose lives reflect today’s migrant workers. Little has changed for migrant workers since the book was written; they still experience a life on the move, no job security, low pay, and harsh working conditions. Steinbeck’s intimate reflection of that life and the dreams that the characters have for a better life and a better future are no different from the dreams we each hold onto. In effect, he wants us to remember we are all Dreamers.
DETAILS: The Western Stage will culminate its SpringFEST 2018 with a staged reading of Of Mice and Men, a musical drama, in partnership with The National Steinbeck Center. The work, which had Steinbeck’s heartfelt support, has been archived for 60 years since its Off-Broadway debut. This event will be a free event for the community, in conjunction with the NSC Steinbeck Festival (www.steinbeck.org).
WHAT: Of Mice and Men, a musical drama. Adapted by Ira J. Bilowit and Wilson Lehr. Music by Alfred Brooks, Lyrics by Ira J. Bilowit. Based on the Steinbeck novel.
WHEN: Saturday, May 5, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Western Stage, Hartnell College, Building K, 411 Central Ave., Salinas.
TICKETS AND INFO: This event is free to the community. General seating is on a first-come basis. This event is wheelchair accessible. Individuals requiring sign-language interpreters, real-time captioners, or other accommodations should contact Melissa Chin-Parker at (831)770-7088 or firstname.lastname@example.org a week prior to the event.