A Southeast Missouri State University original production, “An American Hero,” will be in the national spotlight when it is performed as part of the 15th season of the New York Musical Festival (NYMF) July 23-29 in the Acorn Theatre in New York City.
Performances will offer theatre lovers the opportunity to immerse themselves in a powerful, jazz-inspired musical that tells the story of an Irish immigrant during World War II offering a human perspective never before told.
“There are countless stories of love and loss during World War II, but this story is unique, culturally diverse, in its perspective of the war through the eyes of an Irish immigrant who chooses to go against the will of his homeland, fighting for his new country, suffering great loss, and in the process becoming a reluctant American hero,” said Dr. Kenn Stilson, co-author of “An American Hero” and chair of The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance at Southeast Missouri State University.
Produced by Southeast Missouri State University, “An American Hero” is an official selection of the 2018 New York Musical Festival. Thirty Southeast Missouri State University students and faculty will travel to New York City to perform “An American Hero” on 42nd Street, just off Times Square and the Broadway district. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. July 23, 9 p.m. July 26, 1 and 5 p.m. July 27, and 1 p.m. July 29 at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd Street. For tickets, visit www.nymf.org or call the Box Office at (212) 352-3101.
A Southeast alumni “Mix ‘n Mingle in the Big Apple” is planned for 6-8 p.m. July 25 at Foley’s New York Pub & Restaurant, 18 W. 33rd Street, in New York City. Appetizers will be provided, and a cash bar will be available. Tickets are $10. To register, visit here. For more information contact Jay Wolz, director of Alumni Relations, at (573) 651-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s a traditional, warm story about an unconventional topic — immigration and PTSD during World War II,” says Director Michael McIntosh, assistant professor of musical theatre, directing and acting at Southeast Missouri State.
Many people are unaware Ireland was neutral during World War II, Stilson said. Between the wars, they gained their independence from England after centuries of oppression.
“They were not pro-Nazi and pro-Fascism, but they hated the British,” Stilson said. “In fact, they hated them so much that Irish men and women who did choose to fight in the war were considered traitors. After the war, they and their families were outcasts. Their countrymen wouldn’t hire them, and their families were discriminated against throughout society. Their children were bullied in schools—even by their teachers. It was only in 2013 that the Irish government officially pardoned soldiers who left to fight the Nazis.”
Stilson says this tragic, intense drama will tug at heartstrings as the leads, “Thomas” and “Mary,” portray love and humanity that transcend all.
McIntosh calls the production “emotional,” saying audiences will get to follow the Irish immigrant as he decides to join the U.S. Army during World War II, a controversial decision with Irish immigrants at the time.
“We get to watch him fall in love, storm the beach at Normandy and ultimately suffer from PTSD (then called ‘battle fatigue’) when he comes home,” McIntosh said. “It’s an important and powerful story, especially in light of the current immigration issues facing our country.”
The dramatic musical centers on the optimistic Irish immigrant, who joins the United States Army, falls in love with and marries a spirited American woman, before being sent to fight in World War II, where he becomes the reluctant recipient of the Medal of Honor. Along the way, he learns the depths of his love of family, the sacrifices of heroes and the true meaning of becoming an American.
Complementing the story line is the music, which is different than that typically associated with musical theatre and with all the hallmarks of Ireland.
“It has a lot of Irish elements, especially through the use of the fiddle,” says Music Director and Conductor Jenna Lee Moore, assistant professor of musical theatre at Southeast. “There are a lot of different harmonies and vocal textures throughout the show that almost give the ensemble numbers a choral feel. The music is meant to take you back in time to the 1940s, while still having modern influences.”
Accompaniment, orchestrated by Steve Sensenig, is provided by a five-piece New York-based orchestra; Moore is featured on keyboard. Other musical elements include a violin, woodwinds, French horn and percussion. Performances will feature ensemble pieces as well as solos and duets throughout the musical.
“This is very exciting for all of us,” Moore said.
“An American Hero,” including the script and music, was co-written by Southeast Missouri State University 2017 graduate Cody Cole of O’Fallon, Missouri, and Stilson.
“As part of the NYMF, we are given the opportunity to put the show in front of the top industry professionals,” Cole said. “It puts us a step closer to getting the show fully produced in New York’s finest theaters and ultimately published and produced across the country.”
Cole started developing the songs and story as a student at Southeast. He approached Stilson to collaborate on the script and story. After more than two years, 75 drafts and two readings, the musical was selected by the Gallery Players, an Off-Off Broadway company, to participate in their “Overtures” Staged Reading Series in Brooklyn, New York, in December 2016.
The staged reading helped Cole and Stilson fine tune the story, songs and characters. It also gave the Southeast students involved with the production opportunities to work with professionals and add New York and Off-Off Broadway credits to their resumes.
“An American Hero” had its academic premiere on Southeast’s River Campus in the fall of 2017. Around that same time, Stilson began the process of submitting the musical to the NYMF for consideration.
The company consists of current Southeast Conservatory students and professional alumni, faculty and staff. Stilson said he’s not aware of other undergraduate programs performing in the NYMF, adding this offers the students valuable experience.
“Our students will have a New York credit on their resumes. It gives them street credentials. Also, they will get exposure on the New York scene. Casting directors, producers, agents and many other professionals attend the Festival,” he said.
McIntosh said the invitation for “An American Hero” to be performed at the NYMF “proves, once again, that our incredibly talented and well-trained students can hold their own with current New York City professionals. Around 500 professional actors auditioned for An American Hero in NYC. The competition is intense, and our students shine.
“It’s an incredibly amazing opportunity for our students and another reason why the Conservatory is such a great place to learn,” McIntosh said. “Our students will graduate with a solid, impressive New York credit that will give them a head start on their careers.
Stilson said Southeast’s Conservatory of Theatre and Dance is thrilled and honored to be part of the NYMF.
“There are a lot of musical festivals around the world, but this is the top one for us,” he said.
The New York Musical Festival nurtures the creation, production, and public presentation of stylistically, thematically, and culturally diverse new musicals to ensure the future vitality of musical theater.
Now in its 15th year, the Festival is the premier musical theater event in the world. The preeminent site for launching new musicals and discovering new talent, the Festival provides an affordable platform for artists to mount professional productions that reach their peers, industry leaders, and musical theater fans. More than 90 Festival shows have gone on to productions on and Off-Broadway, in regional theaters in all 50 states, and in more than 24 countries worldwide. Festival alumni have received a wide array of awards including the Tony Award® and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2013, NYMF received a special Drama Desk Award in recognition of its work “creating and nurturing new musical theater, ensuring the future of this essential art form.”
NYMF is the flagship program of National Music Theater Network, Inc., a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization. 2018 NYMF is sponsored by The City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, PRG, TheaterMania, Clear Channel Outdoor, Tinc Productions and Fox Stage Productions and is supported, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
The NYMF PASS is a great way to experience The New York Musical Festival. With a NYMF PASS, you can get into the theater before individual ticket holders. Passes also offer the exclusive ability to book tickets before they go on sale to the public. Individual tickets on sale now.
The 2018 New York Musical Festival will take place July 9-Aug. 5. For more information, please visit: www.nymf.org
*Full List of Company:
Kenneth L. Stilson (Book and Producer), chair of The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance
Cody Cole (Music and Lyrics), 2017 musical theatre graduate of St Louis Missouri
Steve Sensenig (Orchestrations), professional orchestrator and musician
Michael McIntosh (Director), assistant professor of musical theatre, directing and acting
Jenna Lee Moore, (Musical Director/Conductor), assistant professor of musical theatre
Amber Marisa Cook (Scenic Designer), assistant professor of theatre – costume design
Phil Nacy (Sound Designer), associate professor of theatre history and sound design
James M. Miller (Costume Designer), assistant professor of costume design and a freelance designer
Deana Luetkenhaus (Costume Designer), costume shop supervisor for The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance
Christopher Haug (Technical Director), technical director and lighting designer for The Conservatory of Theatre and Dance
Thomas Gilman (Stage Manager), senior theatre major of Lee’s Summit, Missouri
Bart Williams (Fight Director), assistant professor of theatre
Tonya Wells (Southeast Marketing/Graphics), director of University Marketing
Krista Mayfield (Southeast Marketing/Graphics), graphic arts specialist with University Marketing
The Conservatory of Theatre & Dance (Executive Producer)
Southeast Missouri State University (Executive Producer)
Southeast Missouri University Foundation (Executive Producer)
The Holland School of Visual & Performing Arts (Executive Producer)
Kathy Mangels (Producer), vice president for finance and administration
Rhonda Weller-Stilson (General Manager and Producer), director of the Earl and Margie Holland School of Visual and Performing Arts and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts
Angela Wilson (Producer), director of development with the Southeast Missouri University Foundation
Tamara Howell (Producer’s Representative), Conservatory staff
Corie Williams (Production Assistant), sophomore musical theatre major of Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Emma Weller-Stilson (Production Assistant), high school junior of Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Adeline Howell (Production Assistant), sophomore of Dallas, Texas
Adam Schween (Thomas), junior musical theatre major of Germantown, Tennessee
Jose Alpizar (Paddy), 2018 musical theatre graduate of Collierville, Tennessee
Josslyn Shaw (Mary), sophomore musical theatre major of Mount Carmel, Illinois
Julia Slomski (Rosie), junior musical theatre major of Woodstock, Illinois
Ellen Carr (Nancy/Dorlores), 2018 acting graduate of Collierville, Tennessee
Kamron Underwood (Finn/Newman), sophomore musical theatre major of Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Rowan Van Horn (Baker), sophomore theatre major with an acting option of Webster Groves, Missouri
Ries Lundstrom (McGarity), sophomore musical theatre major of Granite City, Illinois
Andrew Freeland (Basilone), sophomore musical theatre major of Pikeville, Kentucky
Mason Ramsey (Jacob/Knappenberger), junior musical theatre major of Festus, Missouri
Nick Kuchem (Peters), junior musical theatre major of Washington, Missouri
Joe Schimsa (Mr. Park/Anderson), senior musical theatre major of Pacific, Missouri
Phillip Meinecke (Krauss), sophomore musical theatre major of Marengo, Illinois
April Bassett (Betty), junior musical theatre and theatre design/technology of Rockaway Beach, Missouri
Abigail Becker (Peggy), junior musical theatre major of Independence, Missouri
Hollynn St. Clair (Phyllis), sophomore musical theatre major of Wentzville, Missouri
Madison Jackson (Charlie), sophomore musical theatre major of O’Fallon, Missouri
MacKenzie Hamilton (Ensemble), junior musical theatre major of Valley Springs, California
Andrew Feigenbaum (Ensemble), sophomore musical theatre major of O’Fallon, Missouri
John Pletka (Ensemble), 2016 musical theatre graduate of Yorkville, Illinois
Bart Williams (Ensemble), assistant professor of theatre