Bay Street Theater’s New Works Festival, embarking on its third annual readings of plays and musicals in the development stage, showcases the creativity of emerging authors. And in a sense, Jules Feiffer, 87, and living full time in East Hampton, is still emerging. “This is my first experience in active collaboration on a musical,” he says.
Based on Feiffer’s illustrated novel of the same title, “The Man in the Ceiling” is the story of a boy cartoonist who’s a flop at everything he touches. Is it autobiographical, we asked the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist? (He’s also won awards for writing, including the play “Little Murders” — later a movie.) “The musical is based on my sensibilities but not the facts of my life,” he says.
Feiffer was approached by Andrew Lippa, who wanted to option the book. “I went to see his musical, ‘Wild Party,’ with much trepidation. I usually hate what I see in the theater,” Feiffer says, “but I loved it.” Lippa, Tony-nominated for “The Addams Family” music and lyrics, persuaded Disney to take on the project. “They demanded so many changes I was grateful it died a natural death,” Feiffer says. But then producer Jeffrey Seller — two of his shows, “Rent” and “Hamilton,” won Pulitzers for drama — came forward. Seller is directing Sunday’s “Man in the Ceiling” reading at Bay Street.
Aside from the boy cartoonist, the show is about the creation of art being its own reward. “That’s been my experience working with my collaborators — it’s become almost a living organism,” Feiffer says of the musical. Does he hope to take it to Broadway? “You bet. I want it to become my annuity.”
The festival opens Friday night with “The Roommate” by Jen Silverman, the story of a recent divorcee seeking someone to share the rent. She finds a woman who needs a place to hide. As with all New Works entries, this dark comedy is followed by a Q&A with the author, director and some of the players.
Saturday’s matinee, “Community,” is a wicked comedy by Stephen Kaplan about race and our not-quite-color-blindness in talking about it. At a theater putting on a production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” the actor cast as George invites the black actor playing Nick out for drinks. And then, well, we never knew community theater could be so dangerous.
“From Ship to Shape” by Hamptons radio personality Walker Vreeland plays prime-time Saturday. It’s the funny and wrenching account of Vreeland’s personal struggle with mental illness in which sanity surfaces in unlikely places.
Sunday’s musical will be accompanied by a pianist.
Two of the six plays from the festival’s first two years have already been produced — “A Delicate Ship” by Anna Ziegler, Off-Broadway, and “The May Queen” by Molly Smith Metzler, in Westchester. A third is under consideration for Bay Street’s 2017 summer season “and we have our eye on one from this year’s festival,” says Bay Street artistic director Scott Schwartz.