New musical comedy spoofs on-line gamers

“Legendale,” a new musical, will be at The Human Race Theatre Company from Sept. 7 through Oct. 1. Pictured, (left to right) Travis Mitchell, Rachel Flynn, Max Crumm and Abby Church. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY HEATHER N. POWELL

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“Legendale,” a new musical, will be at The Human Race Theatre Company from Sept. 7 through Oct. 1. Pictured, (left to right) Travis Mitchell, Rachel Flynn, Max Crumm and Abby Church. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY HEATHER N. POWELL

“Legendale” will have its American premiere at The Human Race

Jeff Bienstock always heard that writers should write what they know. So he did. It paid off.

You’ll see the results when the Human Race Theatre Company launches its 2017-2018 Eichelberger Loft Season with the American premiere of Bienstock’s musical comedy, “Legendale.” The play, billed as a blend of romance, adventure and virtual reality, runs from Sept. 7 through Oct. 1 at the Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton.

Although on-line gamers will appreciate the inspiration for the play, everyone connected with the show makes it clear that a knowledge of action role-playing video games isn’t required. “The story’s true theme is about the power of fantasy,” says Kevin Moore, artistic director of The Human Race. “It speaks clearly to anyone who has ever dared to dream.”

Bienstock, who lives in New York, says the basic plot comes from personal experiences. “It was written during a period of my life when not much was going on,” he admits. “I was temping, worrying a lot about my future and I bought the game, Skyrim.”

That game introduced Bienstock to a new world of monsters and magic and wizards and warriors. At first he thought it was all pretty ridiculous. "But a few weeks later it had taken over my life!" Bienstock admits. "An on-line game allows you to play as an elf or a wizard or go to a far-off land and battle monsters and have adventures. I wanted to make sure before I went to bed at night that I got my character — my avatar — safely in his bed at night!"

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The new fantasy musical focuses on Andy, a 30-year-old IT manager. “Like many people his age, his life isn’t fulfilling,” Bienstock explains. “He’s in a dead-end job, doesn’t have much of a social life, has no real relationships. He finds excitement in a game called ‘Legendale.’ When a big tournament is announced with the opportunity to win a lot of money and become the most powerful character, ‘The Lord of Legendale,’ Andy gets excited.”

Bienstock says that although his show uses a contemporary medium — gaming — it could be about anything that transports us to a world beyond, such as art. “The point is that we all have something like this that allows us to get through our daily routine and helps us discover things about ourselves,” he says. ” There’s one character in the show that thinks gaming is a waste of time but he’s addicted to fantasy football.”

Background on Bienstock

Bienstock had many opportunities to be “transported to a world beyond” when he was growing up in Santa Monica, Calif. He lived just a few blocks from a community theater; his mother reported on the local theater scene and had also been an actor and worked in film.

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“I bought into the reality I was seeing on stage right away,” Bienstock remembers. “The idea that we were dropping in on another world and another time really appealed to me.”

His focus in high school and college was always on music — clarinet, sax, flute, guitar and piano — and coming from L.A., he’d always assumed he would write music for films. “As an undergraduate, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would and I discovered that I wasn’t that good at it,” he admits. “Musical theater really gives a writer the opportunity to tell the story yourself. And since I’d always been interested in telling stories and doing that through music, it’s a better fit for me.”

The adventure begins

At first, Bienstock assumed he’d do everything for his musicals himself — write the lyrics, music, and story. “Lyn-Manuel Miranda makes it look easy to do it all,” he says now. “But I soon realized I needed someone else to bounce ideas off.”

For “Legendale,” that “someone” turned out to be Andrea Daly, who penned the music and co-wrote the story. The two met in 2012 when both were invited to Northwestern University’s Johnny Mercer Foundation Songwriters Project, a weeklong intensive workshop.

“I came with some original songs and Andrea came as a singer-songwriter,” Bienstock recalls. “We developed a friendship.” Later, when the two had a mini-reunion at a New York concert, Bienstock revealed his pie-in-the-sky idea for a fantasy musical about gaming and asked if Daly might be interested in writing it with him. She immediately said yes.

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Daly, who comes from a dual background of classical music composition and pop songwriting, says she wanted to use both of those influences in ‘Legendale’ to create an interesting contemporary theatre score with pop-inflected vocals.

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“I always planned to use electronic music and sound design for the game world, and an acoustic band to represent the real world,” she explains. “I knew the contrast between the two would be interesting, and could help the audience know where they were in each scene. “

Developing a musical

In 2013, the two writers began developing a basic outline, storyboard and songs for their show. “Part of the process was figuring out how to teach our audiences the basics about playing video games without filling the show with lingo and insider knowledge,” Bienstock says. “You move your character through a fictional reality and are responsible for living or dying.”

After Bienstock and Daly attended a two-week residency at Goodspeed Musicals’ Writers Colony in East Haddam, Connecticut the play had an informal reading there of the first act in 2014. A first full-length reading was presented in New York City that same year.

The collaborators got their big break in October of 2015 when “Legendale” was accepted at one of the most prestigious competitions in the nation. Hosted by the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, the Festival of New Musicals presents 45-minute cuts of eight new musicals to 600 industry professionals. The selected shows are chosen from hundreds of submissions.

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That’s where Dayton enters the picture. Seated in the festival audience was Kevin Moore, who was immediately “engaged and entranced” by what he’d seen and asked how and what he could do to help develop it. “It was subject matter I hadn’t really seen before,” Moore remembers. “It was traditional musical theater but new. I loved the music, the plot, the characters. I thought it was really something special.”

Another theater organization — Denmark’s Fredericia Teater — was also intrigued. The Danish producers were convinced that despite the fact that the musical would have to be translated into Danish for their audiences, their sophisticated technical expertise could greatly enhance a show about gaming. In December of 2016, after 29-hour workshops in New York and Los Angeles and another presentation at the 2016 NAMT Fall Conference, Human Race hosted an extended two-week workshop in Dayton. The staged reading was designed to help writers prepare for their world premiere in Denmark in March, 2017.

Denmark, then Dayton

In Denmark, a film company was hired to create an animated world on stage. In Dayton, rear-projected video screens will take audiences inside the game and will also provide real world locations —the offices and Andy’s apartment. Some of the costumes and weaponry created for the Danish production will also be used here.

The musical is directed by John Simpkins, head of Musical Theatre at Penn State University, who directed and choreographed the show in Denmark. Scot Woolley, resident artist and music director at Wright State University’s department of theater, dance and motion pictures, is the production’s music director and conducts it seven-member band. The eight-member cast — many of whom are from New York — features Max Crumm in the role of Andy. TV viewers may recognize Crumm as a contestant on the NBC competition series “Grease: You’re the One That I Want!” He eventually won the role of “Danny Zuko” for the 2007 Broadway revival of “Grease.” Other cast members will portray both real people and avatars.


WANT TO GO?

What: The American Premiere of "Legendale," a new musical. Presented by the Human Race Theatre Company

Where: The Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton

When: Sept. 7- Oct 1. showtimes are 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Performances on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings begin at 7 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.

Tickets: Tickets and performance information on Legendale are available online at www.humanracetheatre.org or by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630, and at the Schuster Center box office. Tickets for the preview performance on September 7 start at $35 for adults, $32 for seniors and $17.50 for students. For all performances September 8 through October 1, single ticket prices start at $40 for adults, $37 for seniors and $20 for students. Prices vary depending on the day of the week and seating location.

A pay-what-you-can night is slated for 8 p.m. on Sept. 6 For admission, bring a cash donation for the Ronald McDonald House or a canned good for The Foodbank.

Group discounts are available for parties of 10 or more. The Human Race is offering a pair of discount ticket opportunities. A limited number of $12 and $25 side-area seats are available in advance for all performances. The 7 p.m. show on Sunday, September 10 is “Sawbuck Sunday,” when any available seat can be purchased in person for $10 at the Loft Theatre box office two hours prior to the show.

RELATED PROGRAMMING: In connection with "Legendale," The Human Race is hosting a Cosplay Costume Contest, hosted by Through the Ages Fabric, on Monday, Sept. 11 at the Loft Theatre. Cosplay enthusiasts of all ages are invited to dress up and enter to win a variety of prizes. Registration begins at 6:15 p.m. at the Loft. Pre-judging starts at 7 p.m., prior to the 8 p.m. costume parade. Admission is $10 for participants and $5 for audience members at the door. All participants will receive a ticket voucher good for any production on HRTC's 2017-2018 Eichelberger Loft Season.

At 5 p.m. on Saturday, September 16, The Human Race will host a Young Professionals Board Game Night on the second floor of the Metropolitan Art Center, 126 N. Main St. Individuals are welcome to play a wide variety of board games on hand as they enjoy margaritas, beer and a taco bar. Admission is $35 and includes food, drinks and a ticket to the 8 p.m. performance of Legendale. Tickets are limited to 50 persons and must be purchased by calling Ticket Center Stage and using the promotion code "YPGAME" before Sept. 9.

More information on the Cosplay Costume Contest and Young Professionals Board Game Night can be found on The Human Race’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/humanracetheatre/

Thanks to the folks at DK Effects in Dayton, video games will be available in the Loft Theater lobby before each show and at intermission.

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