A Rare and Mysterious Musical Thriller Brings Dark Fun to Houston – Inside Bayou City’s Unique World Premiere Moment

Iimagine a man haunted by a traumatic past and a lost love. Lost in a stasis of his own making, he never leaves his apartment and the world shrinks to his sight from the window and the voices he hears just beyond the walls of his apartment.

A mysterious couple moves in next door, and he finds himself lost in memories and dark reflections. And then, and then. . .

Sounds like the premise of a 1950s film noir or maybe a new contemporary take on the genre, doesn’t it? Well now imagine the same story with singing and dancing because it’s Blackthe new musical from Broadway greats Duncan Sheik (spring awakening) and Kyle Jarrow (Spongebob: The Musical). And Black had its world premiere not in New York, but in Houston at the Alley Theater. (It now runs at the driveway until July 3).

To shed light on how the black genre translates into musical theatre, I spoke to show director Darko Tresnjak. Although probably best known as the original director of the musicals A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murderfor which he won a Tony, and the Broadway hit Anastasia, Tresnjak’s range of directors spans from Shakespeare to contemporary plays to opera.

New Black

Black is that rarity of 21st century musicals that aren’t based on a beloved movie or book. So when we started our conversation, I asked Tresnjak if he could give me the basics of this story of a broken-hearted man.

“He starts looking at his neighbors through the window and listening through the wall,” says Tresnjak. “A young couple obviously in difficulty moved into the apartment next door.

“Their story in the present starts to resemble her story in the past with her lover. The two stories start to echo each other.

Christy Altomare as Scarlet, Adam Kantor as The Neighbor, Morgan Marcell as The Wife and David Guzman as The Husband. (Photo by Lynn Lane.)

This original story certainly fits the black or new black category, with one exception, its creators conceived the original idea as a musical.

A lifelong enthusiast of the noir genre, Tresnjak enthusiastically immerses himself in a discussion of the evolution and history of the film genre, from its roots in Eastern Europe to its blossoming in the United States in the 1940s until to its sci-fi subgenres – think Blade Runner — to contemporary Asian spins.

“They’re great leads,” says Tresnjak when I ask why novelists and filmmakers return to form decade after decade. It’s a great narrative that must be built. Things have to move and the best films tell stories about the human condition.

“A lot of genre fiction may entertain you, but it tells something about us as human beings. And because of the circumstances, maybe he amplifies it.

Yet the noir genre has rarely made the leap as new works for the stage and almost never as a musical. Perhaps the show that comes closest to it is City of Angels, which Tresnjak also directed. Still, he categorizes angels as more of a gender send-off.

Tresnjak says he doesn’t think Sheik and Jarrow were aware of his love for film noir when they approached him to direct, so it was a creative serendipity.

“I fell in love with it,” Tresnjak says of the show. “Sometimes something happens for me as a director and I recognize that’s very good, but I also say that I’m not the right director for it. I’m very demanding.

A black for our time

Tresnjak came on board the project before the pandemic, and Sheik and Jarrow started working on the show several years ago, but BlackThe themes of isolation and separation seem almost too current. Tresnjak says they all recognize the story will likely resonate more than ever but, with the exception of Jarrow adding a new line of dialogue, very few changes have been made to the original concept.

“It was all there before, but it’s amazing because I think it will speak to people without preaching,” says Tresnjak. “How could it be otherwise when so many people were isolated, staring out the window and wondering how to pass the time?”

Theater Alley – BLACK – Photographer Lynn Lane-166
Dance goes black in this world premiere musical with choreography by Karla Puno Garcia. (Photo by Lynn Lane)

Of all the types of performance art directed by Tresnjak, he finds musicals among the most challenging, yet “most satisfying.” Thus, a world premiere musical becomes the ultimate creative mountain to climb.

“Nothing takes longer to hit the stage than a new musical,” says Tresnjak. “It’s so many moving parts. I feel responsible for knowing that I am the right person for the project.

“If I do a Shakespeare play or a Verdi opera and something goes wrong, Shakespeare and Verdi will be fine,” laughs Tresnjak.

“But it feels very valuable to me, and I feel a great responsibility to everyone, but especially to the authors,” he adds. “It’s been years and years of work, fine-tuning and calibration.”

The cast and creative team have found a temporary home in the Alley for this world premiere, with Tresnjak saying he has “nothing but admiration for the institution”.

Making it home meant reconfiguring the Hubbard Theater’s push stage a bit, turning it into a classic proscenium model for plot purposes, but also for a possible future on Broadway where very few theatrical stages go. advanced towards the public.

“It’s done in such an elegant way,” Tresnjak says of the design. Aisle goers familiar with the Hubbard space need not fear. They will return it as they found it.

“I have to say Rob Melrose is such a splendid host and there is such humanity to this place and the level of professionalism,” says Tresnjak.

When not rehearsing, Tresnjak spent time exploring Houston’s art scene. He took a trip to the MFAH, saw the other world premiere currently on the Alley, Born with teeth, and also attended the world premiere of Trey McIntyre’s Houston Ballet pretty things. And while the Black The producers certainly have their sights set on bringing the show to Broadway, Tresnjak says the cast and creative team are staying in Houston here and now, focused on creating the best possible musical for local Bayou City audiences.

“Satisfaction and pride should be in the moment,” Tresnjak said. PaperCity. “That means Alley and Houston audiences and making sure he communicates here. Then you hand it over to the gods.

Noir runs at the Alley Theater until July 3.

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