Article by Peter Ekstrom
Source: Breaking Character Magazine, Samuel French, Inc.
Moscow? Moscow, Russia? You’ve got to be kidding!
That was my reaction when Samuel French called in the spring of 2014 for author’s approval to a foreign production of my musical, An. O. Henry Christmas at The Moscow State Theater Pushkin.
Now you must consider that I wrote this holiday musical for Actors Theatre of Louisville 35 years ago. Licensing was brisk for the first ten years, sporadic after that. A CD was made which helped some, but basically my musical took on a sort of middle-aged life.
Then this phone call. “Yes,” I said. “Russia! Go ahead! Yes! Da!”
I heard nothing more for eight months, and when I didn’t receive a royalty check I figured the whole thing had fallen through. (Ah, the theatre!) I forgot about it until the spring of last year when I received a call from a Russian/American producer who was toying with the idea of bringing the Russian production to NYC. (So the production happened after all – and I did get my royalty!)
The transfer didn’t materialize, but through this producer I was introduced virtually (by Skype) to Alexey Frandetti, the young man who directed the production at Moscow State Theater Pushkin. He emailed me photos – stunning shots – and a video of their final dress rehearsal. I was blown away.
I’ve seen plenty of productions of my musical, but none have matched the level of imagination and ingenuity I saw here. Alexey’s direction and concept were brilliant on all fronts (as were the cast and designers), and all of it translated by Alexey into Russian including the rhymes in my lyrics, even the
internal ones! (of course with me knowing no Russian except da and nyet, he might be saying, “These Americans think they’re so hot with their O. Henry. Ha! We’ve got Chekov!”) The show was a great success for the theater.
Alexey and I have become friends and collaborators. We are now working on another project, this time for The Moscow Art Theater Chekov, and while Skyping with him I found out The Moscow State Theater
Pushkin had a two-year license and had produced O. Henry again this past Christmas.
What a surprise to me!
The first half of of the musical, The Gift of the Magi, is heartwarming, but the second half, based on The Last Leaf, is heartbreaking. Alexey tells me Russians love to cry in the theatre, and cry they did, said he, at
the end of the play. (Always a good sign!) My show, or rather our show now that Alexey has worked his magic, was successful once again.
Wait! There’s more: It turns out that An O. Henry Christmas was been nominated for six Golden Mask Awards, which I’ve been told are the equivalent to our Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Director. Way cool, nyet?
The ceremony was televised on April 16 in Russia, and the production won Best Director for Alexey and Best Desisgner for Timofei Ryabushinsky. This whole thing has been very much like a fantasy to me, unreal, with only jpegs, video files, emails and Skype, but this past January I finally met Alexey
in person as he passed through NYC.
I asked him how he had found An O. Henry Christmas in the first place? Answer: The Internet! He was looking for a small Christmas musical to direct, went online, found mine, streamed the CD, loved the songs and contacted Samuel French. Ah, the gifts of the digital age! My musical can be found with a few mouse clicks even after 20 years of semi-retirement and come to life once again! I am one lucky fellow.