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September 4, 2007

A Madison musical hit journeys to NYC

Jennifer A. Smith

One of the misconceptions one sometimes encounters about the arts in the "Outback" is that there is little original work being created here, or that people in smaller communities are in "trickle down" mode, waiting for touring shows or performers from bigger cities to make it here.

Of course, it's not news to those in smaller and mid-size cities that there is quite a lot of original work being created, much of it of high quality. In that spirit, I wanted to share a story in today's Wisconsin State Journal about the Off-Broadway debut in New York of the Madison-made musical "Walmartopia," a zany yet pointed spoof of the mass retailer and global economic force that enjoyed a successful run at Madison's Bartell Community Theatre in 2005 (under the auspices of Mercury Players Theatre). It was one of my favorite local shows of that year.

After a brief extra run locally at the Barrymore Theatre, "Walmartopia" moved on to New York's Fringe Festival and is now Off-Broadway.

While the whole story by Katjusa Cisar is well worth reading, this part seemed most germane to our concerns here on Flyover:

[Co-creators Catherine] Capellaro and [Andrew] Rohn stress that it was the enthusiasm of people in Madison, not money, that got them to Off-Broadway.

"It bounced us to the Fringe Festival (in New York) and then bounced us here," says Capellaro.

Rohn adds, "I keep wanting to convey to people who do art in Madison and other small places that I don't think there's a qualitative difference between here and there. The soul and spirit of performers is the same."

For any New Yorkers who happen to be reading Flyover, I highly recommend checking out this show--and feel free to post your thoughts about it in the comments (I'm curious about changes from the Madison version). And in the meantime, we Madisonians will have to await Rohn and Capellaro's musical about intelligent design and creationism--if their previous work is any indication, it should be a hoot.

Update: Here's some additional coverage of the New York version of "Walmartopia" from Madison's alternative weekly, Isthmus, the Guardian, the New York Times (which gave a quite negative review) and MSNBC.

Posted by Jennifer A. Smith at September 4, 2007 6:00 AM


Posted by: TDP at September 4, 2007 9:19 AM

One surefire way to get a gripe session going among actors in Lexington is for an arts administrator in town to suggest bringing in outside actors or directors for locally produced productions. (Our lead theater aspires to be Equity, but it is probably a few years away, though it has imported a few actors under guest artist contracts.)

Anyway, that flared up again a few weeks ago, and what struck me as funny was we have all sorts of Central Kentucky artists working in New York and other major cities. The last time I did a week in New York, I did not have time to look up all of the Kentuckians doing significant work in Gotham. And somewhere in almost every interview was a quote along the lines of, "everyone here is from some little town in Oklahoma or Nebraska or another place like Kentucky." I can't recall reading the stories with New Yorkers complaining about all of the interlopers from the Heartland though. (Maybe being here instead of there, I just missed it.)

Anyway, I think Jennifer's story, this, and examples probably all outback arts journalists could cite attest the fact that while major works and talents usually get their brightest spotlights in the major metropolises, they are products of the nation as a whole.

Posted by: Rich Copley at September 5, 2007 9:58 AM

Hi Rich, Thanks for commenting. I loved your closing thought: "[W]hile major works and talents usually get their brightest spotlights in the major metropolises, they are products of the nation as a whole."

I thought also of my cousin, who grew up on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin, yet went on to Harvard and now lives in NYC. The "outback" and the coasts are less distinct than many think.

Posted by: Jennifer Smith at September 5, 2007 10:46 AM