Theater to stage Benedict Arnold play starting Sept. 11
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Tue., Sep. 3, 2013
Plans are going forward for staged readings of a new musical play based on the life of Norwich’s most notorious native son, Benedict Arnold. Open call auditions were held Aug. 31 at the Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich, but the theater’s artistic director, Brett Bernardini, said that the production will rely on many of the theater’s past performers to fill out the cast. Rehearsals got underway on Labor Day for a Sept. 11 opening night.
The play, with book by Pulitzer Prize nominee Richard Vetere, music by Jeffrey Lodi and lyrics by William Squier, was commissioned for the Spirit of Broadway Theater. The commission fee was raised through an online KickStarter campaign.
Among the local performers in the cast are Elizabeth Swan, of Woodstock, as Peggy Shippen Arnold and Nicole Fazio, of Waterford, as one of three witches.
The play focuses on Arnold’s relationship with his second wife, Peggy Shippen, who came from a Loyalist family and who is widely thought to have been the moving force behind Arnold’s turning coat. Bernardini said that the cast includes three witches, akin to the witches in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” who offer commentary on the action throughout the play. “They’re the hardest parts of all to cast,” he said. The performers in those roles sing in “tight, dissonant harmonies.”
Dan Brandl, the play’s musical director, said the play’s rock-music score is orchestrated for piano, bass, two guitars and percussion. “I thought that it would be 1776 with a little twist. I was totally unprepared” for the rock sound, he said.
Bernardini said that the theater will offer several staged readings of the musical over two weeks in September, and another set of readings, with revisions, in February. A one-night fully-staged performance in New York will take place for professional input, and the Norwich theater will host the world premiere in early July 2014. “It coincides with July 4, and yes, that was intentional,” he said.
The intent is to make the show an annual event and turn the historic legacy of Benedict Arnold, American history’s consummate traitor, into a local tourism asset.
Arnold, who was born on Washington Street in Norwich, had a stellar career as a commanding officer in the Continental Army early in the American Revolution, earning praise as the “hero of Saratoga,” where he was injured in battle. But chronic lack of funding for the army, coupled with thwarted ambitions of promotion, led him to switch his allegiance to the British crown.
His plot to betray the fort at West Point to the British was discovered before it could succeed, and he fled to offer his military service to King George. He eventually took command of a British force that stormed Fort Griswold in Groton and burned the port of New London. At that news, angry locals ripped out his parents’ tombstones from their places in Norwichtown’s Ancient Burying Ground. Local animosity against Arnold, whose very name is synonymous with “traitor,” continues to seethe 232 years later.
“You wouldn’t believe the names I’ve been called” for planning this production, Bernardini said.
Performances are Sept. 11 – 21, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, at 7 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, at 2 p.m. All tickets are $32 and reservations can be made by calling the SBT Box Office at 860-886-2378.
The Norwich Community Development Corporation is jumping on the Arnold bandwagon by offering walking tours of sites from his lifetime, such as Meetinghouse Rocks and the Leffingwell House Museum. Bernardini said he would also like to see a historical re-enactment staged in the city as a tie-in to the world premiere.