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OCPAC to present 'developmental production' of a new musical

February 20, 2009 | 12:01 am

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It's not a workshop, not a full production, but something in between.

In a move that Orange County Performing Arts Center hopes will be a first step in drawing O.C. audiences into the process of new theater development, the center is expected to announce today that it will present its first "completely staged developmental production" of the "Broadway-hopeful" musical "The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown," by Kait Kerrigan (right) and Brian Lowdermilk (below).

The show, the first of its kind for the center, will run April 21 to May 3 at the Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. "Samantha Brown" will be produced by Broadway Across America and the creative team of Laurel Oztemel and Beth Williams. Daniel Goldstein will direct. OCPAC is not a co-producer but will receive box-office proceeds for the Orange County production. For any subsequent productions, the center will receive only program billing as the place where the show originated.

Bl_headshots_00045_2 Tickets for the stripped-down show -- produced for about $250,000 -- will go for $30, a price OCPAC President Terrence W. Dwyer says is less than half of what the center in Costa Mesa might charge for a fully realized Broadway touring production. The theater, which allows for several seating configurations, will seat  226 for this production.

"This will definitely be produced at workshop level; it's not anything like a Broadway production, not by any stretch," Dwyer says. "It's not about the finished product; it's not about the Broadway hit. It's about being part of an exciting developmental production."

The show will be fully staged and costumed but at a lower budget than a touring Broadway show. Live music will be provided by a handful of musicians rather than a full orchestra.

The plan, Dwyer says, was launched before the steep economic downturn. "I think that in challenging economic times there's all the more reason to have innovative projects like this. It's a smart time to be doing it," he says. "I don't think it's to the exclusion of of the larger-scale Broadway show. This adds to our arsenal, adds to the eclecticism of what we have to offer the community."

"Samantha Brown" tells the story of an 18-year-old high school valedictorian who, despite her seemingly perfect life, still faces the problems of adulthood. Williams says she heard Kerrigan and Lowdermilk perform one of the songs from the musical-in-development at a musical theater workshop  a couple of years ago and "fell in love with these writers. Kate and Brian really are the kind of young writers who give me faith that there's a future in this business."

Kerrigan and Lowdermilk have been writing musicals together since 2002.  Their works include an off-Broadway adaptation of the book series "Henry & Mudge"; "The Woman Upstairs" and "Wrong Number," both performed at the New York Musical Theatre Festival; and "The Freshman Experiment,"  a musical created on the Internet based on the lives of two bloggers sharing the story of their freshman year at college.

Broadway Across America's long relationship with OCPAC as a presenter led producers of "Samantha Brown" to approach center officials with the idea about 10 months ago, says Williams, Broadway Across America's chief operating officer. "This is the first time this show will be put on its feet," Williams says. "We've only heard it read around a table a couple of times."

Williams says she prefers presenting the show before a paying audience, rather than in a workshop setting, because " if you have an audience member who pays for the ticket, you are going to get a much more real response to a show."

While acknowledging that she has Broadway aspirations for "Samantha Brown," Williams says the idea of starting the show in a developmental production is to "decide the next step." "We're committed to not only Costa Mesa but to giving it future life," she says.

--Diane Haithman

Photo credits: Jennifer Woodward

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