Michael Halberstam, Jan Tranen, Josh Schmidt and Kevin Gudal

From Page to Stage, an annual joint program between Writers’ Theatre and select North Shore libraries, officially began Tuesday, April 21st.  Gathered at the Women’s Library Club for the kick off event were Artistic Director Michael Halberstam, lyricist Jan Tranen, composer Josh Schmidt and Kevin Gudahl, who plays Rev. James Morell in A Minister’s Wife, the world premiere musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Candida.

Featuring about an hour of lively discussion and insightful questions from the audience, the creative team first discussed their history with each other and with the play, Candida.

Michael Halberstam first directed a production of Candida at Writers’ Theatre in 1998, with William Brown, Scott Parkinson, Kristine Thatcher and Karen Wodistch Janes.  Josh Schmidt first started sound designing for us in 2001.  A few years later, Michael was invited to direct Candida in New York for the Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre.  Writers’ Theatre paid to fly Josh out to New York to compose incidental music for the show in order to lay down the foundations for creating a musical out of the show.  Michael met Jan Tranen when he was invited to stage a reading of a musical called Crazy Mary that Jan had written lyrics for.  Her gift for words stuck with him and he brought her into the process.  Kevin joined the cast in the summer of 2008, having known Michael since their days at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival back in 1990.

From here the conversation exploded into a myriad of fascinating topics.  Michael talked about the three main obstacles facing a contemporary audience in understanding Candida and how adapting the play into a musical removes those barriers.  Jan and Josh explained how they set about finding where to put songs and then creating the necessary lyrics and music.  Kevin discussed his work in rehearsal coming to understand that Josh and Jan’s songs continue the narrative and are not just melodic embellishments to the dialogue.

One audience member asked a great question about the amount of reverence creators have to pay to a classical text when adapting it for a modern audience.  Michael explained that the only thing that keeps classics vital is their ability to be reinterpreted for the current climate.  Otherwise they become historical footnotes.  He cited the fact that during Shakespeare’s time, his plays were not done with period sets or costumes or accents that perfectly represented the setting he was portraying on stage; his actors wore their everyday clothes when they went on.  Why should we be purists when the Bard wasn’t?

From Page to Stage events continue through May 30th at select North Shore libraries.  For a complete list, please visit: www.writerstheatre.org/fpts