Musical ‘The Last Supper’ premieres at South Orange’s SOPAC

Charlotte d’Amboise, right, rehearses for the South Orange Performing Arts Center’s production of “The Last Supper.”

In 1995 – after starring in ‘The Mask’ but before his breakthrough role in ‘There’s Something About Mary’ – Cameron Diaz co-starred with Jason Alexander, Nora Dunn, Ron Perlman and others in ‘The Last Supper’. “. The dark comedy didn’t have much of an impact. But it’s been reimagined, improbably, as a musical, written by Jeremy Desmon and Jeff Thomson, and that musical premiered at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on July 27 and will run through November. August 7.

“Jeff is someone I’ve talked to over the years, trying to find a project to work on together,” said two-time Tony-winning producer Howard Kagan (for ‘Pippin’ and ‘The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess”. ”). “He’s a composer and he was offering me something that I wasn’t particularly interested in. And he was like, ‘Well, is there anything you’re interested in? Maybe we’ll see if we write something.

“I said, ‘I really want to look at a way to get this whole story about what’s going on in American politics and how crazy it is, what’s going on in the world, and make it a political satire. A satirical musical, like “Book of Mormon” does for religion. And he said, “I got one.”

“Turns out he and Jeremy were big fans of that movie. And during the pandemic, they had written a musical based on that movie. I hung up the phone and he sent me the script and the score over email and the next day I called them and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ Because it was hilarious. You know, it was really awesome.

The show, Kagan said, pits liberals against conservatives, but not in a way that takes sides.

“The purpose of this show, and it is also the subject of the film, is to caution against – through satire – the idea that we should simply continue to outdo ourselves in terms of accomplishing our political goals. Because ultimately that leads to political violence. And once you get to physical violence, you now have fascism. And democracy can’t survive that.

“So the point of the show is not to lacerate conservatives or liberals in particular, but to illustrate the folly of going down a path where we outdo each other on how ruthless we can be. .”

Tony nominee Sheryl Kaller (“Next Fall” and Broadway’s “Mother’s and Sons”) is directing this production, and Lorin Latarro (“Into the Woods” and Broadway’s “Waitress”) is choreographing.

“Howard called me and asked if I would come over for a reading of this musical, ‘The Last Supper,’ and I was sold on the third page,” Kaller said. “I think the music is extraordinary. I think the lyrics are smart and clever, and it’s very individual in that, through the times we live in, it gives a lot of opportunities to laugh and heart and listen.

By “listen,” she says, she means “listen to other points of view than mine, and just listen to humanity: really break it down and say, ‘We’re all human beings.’ Let’s clean the whiteboard. Let’s listen to each other. I may not agree with you, but I want to be able to see you as a human being. I could fight you and I could march against you and I could vote in a completely different way than you. But I want to find humanity again. ”

From left, Megan Kane, Allan K. Washington, Wes Zurick and Alex Newell rehearse for “The Last Supper.”

Two-time Tony Tony nominee Charlotte d’Amboise (“Pippin,” “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway”) co-stars, along with other actors including Broadway’s Mark Evans (“Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Waitress”) ) and Alex Newell (Broadway TV show “Glee,” “Once on This Island”). Steve Schnall, an old friend of Kagan’s who was a co-producer of “Pippin” and a SOPAC board member, is the one of the co-producers.

Kagan and Schnall say they hope to bring “The Last Supper” to Broadway at some point, and SOPAC is a great place to prep it.

“You need a very engaged audience, because there’s two-way communication,” Schall said. “The cast and creative team thrive on the energy provided by the audience, and there’s no better place I’ve seen than SOPAC to provide that.”

SOPAC has never been used this way before: for an out-of-town trial to prepare a new Broadway play or musical.

“There are certain theaters today that are known to provide a hospitable environment for that, in terms of audiences: that they’re interested in new theater and they like going to Broadway, and that the building has the right gear, etc. .etc,” Kagan said. “But because of the pandemic, most of those are backed up. Like, they have shows that they were supposed to do in 2020 and ’21 — shows that they were originally, pre-pandemic, prepping for ’22, ’23, so those shows have to find their way into those venues, into their normal schedule.

“I had told Steve that I wanted to find a place (for ‘The Last Supper’) and he had suggested that I go see SOPAC. Even if they had never done it, it has all these attributes. It’s a big building. He has the audience that knows Broadway. If I understand correctly, there are even a lot of Broadway actors who live nearby, and the crew and the musicians all live there. So, I went to see a show with Steve and I just couldn’t wait to get in there. It’s such a beautiful setup.

Other larger theaters in New Jersey, such as the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn and the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, were used in this way. But “The Last Supper,” Kagan said, “only has a cast of seven and a band of five. This show has the kind of physical production attributes that would be gobbled up in a place like Paper Mill. may be good (there), but there’s no reason in my head to risk putting on a show like this in a big venue like that. intimate.

Major changes are expected, during the SOPAC race.

“It’s actually normal and healthy,” Kagan said. “It is impossible to know, when you write something or when you repeat it, what the reaction of the public will be. So you always use the opportunity to make changes, repeat the changes during the day based on the things you learned the day before, and then put on a slightly different show for the audience. And that, over the course of two weeks, can make for a very different sight.

“The core bones of the series will remain the same. But sometimes a song is added or a song is cut. Sometimes there will be a few jokes that won’t land. It’s like when comedians try out stand-up bits: sometimes the jokes don’t work, so you write a different joke.

“The whole team is there every night sitting in the back, watching: Honestly, watching the public. This means that we know what is happening on stage, because we have been in rehearsal for four weeks. But now we take notes on, for example, where the laughter is and where it quiets down. In the musical, there are often breaks in the comedy where you do something a little romantic or touching. So there has to be clarity in the storytelling. And you get that by listening to the audience and watching the audience. Not just how much they’re clapping, but whether they’re quiet, whether they’re restless, whether they’re laughing. It’s definitely an interactive process.

The South Orange Performing Arts Center presents “The Last Supper,” July 28-30 and August 3-6 at 7:30 p.m., and July 31 and August 6-7 at 3 p.m.

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