Two musicals — including one by alumni duo — to take shape in intensive, campus summer lab

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Sam Chanse, Bob Kelly, Mark Sonnenblick ’12 and Ben Wexler ’12 will develop their works at the Yale Institute for Musical Theatre in June.

The Yale Institute for Musical Theatre has selected two original book musicals — “gilgamesh & the mosquito” and “Horizons” — to be developed in an intensive lab setting on campus June 13-28. The institute will culminate with open rehearsal readings of each project, presented as a part of the annual International Festival of Arts & Ideas, on June 26 and 27.

Sam Chanse, a writer and theater artist based in New York and California, wrote the book and lyrics for “gilgamesh & the mosquito,” which features music by New York-based composer, pianist, and music director Bob Kelly. It tells the story of Paolo, a very special mosquito created by bioengineer Toni and her classics professor husband, Kamil, who lose themselves in work to avoid a conversation that will change their lives. With the help of Paolo and the legendary Gilgamesh, they confront destiny.

Kelly is from the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and is a graduate of St. Olaf College and the New York University (NYU) Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. “gilgamesh & the mosquito” is his thesis musical, and will also be developed this summer at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts as part of the Collaborative Development and Productions Series. His other works include “lobsters live forever,” a one-act musical also written with Chanse, commissioned by Leviathan Lab in 2014; “A Most Average Musical,” a short film written with Jonathan Keebler and Talia Berger; and “Waiting…,” a song cycle written with Kelly Pomeroy and produced at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 2013 by the World’s Stage Theatre Company of Milwaukee. His songs have been performed at 54 Below, Joe’s Pub, Barrington Stage Company, Ars Nova, and the Duplex Cabaret Theatre. He is active as an accompanist and music director, currently serving as the associate conductor of “A Chorus Line” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. Kelly was the 2013 recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Max Dreyfus Scholarship, and is a member of ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild.

Chanse is a 2015 Sundance Ucross Playwright Fellow, a 2014 nominee to The Kilroys List, and a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab. Her work has also been supported by the Lark Play Development Center, Labyrinth Theater Company, Leviathan Lab, the Actor’s Studio Playwrights/ Directors Unit, Second Generation, Ars Nova, Bindlestiff Studio, Asian American Theater Company, and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Her plays, musicals, and theatre work include “Fruiting Bodies,” “lobsters live forever” “Correctional” (with collaborator/composer Sean Havrilla), “Marian Jean,” “About That Whole Dying Thing,” “Back to the Graveyard,” and “Lydia’s Funeral Video” (published in 2015 by Kaya Press). Chanse received her M.F.A. in playwriting from Columbia University, and in musical theatre writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. 

“Horizons”was written by Mark Sonnenblick ’12, with music by Ben Wexler ’12. It tells the story ofTom and Susanna, whose marriage is, quite literally, a sinking ship. The waters get even choppier when Tom’s last-ditch effort to win back his wife’s affection leaves them stranded in the middle of nowhere on a luxury liner with a crew and passengers whose dreams have been capsized — with a smuggled baby white tiger loose on deck.

Wexler is a composer, arranger, and teaching artist. His recent projects include composition and arrangements for Lucy Thurber’s “The Insurgents” and Bob Glaudini’s “Boiling Point” (both at Labyrinth Theater Company). He was the associate conductor for Jeanine Tesori’s “Fun Home” (The Public Theater), and composed the music for “Irene” by Sarah Ruhl (New Dramatists). He was the music director and orchestrator for “Independents” (Soho Playhouse), which won “Best Overall Production” at FringeNYC in 2012. With Sonnenblick, he received a Manhattan Association of Cabaret Award nomination for Best Song for “All I Saw Was You.” He was commissioned to compose an original song honoring Cynthia Nixon for her 2013 Artist for Equality Award, and is resident composer for A Broader Way, an arts-immersion program for girls from underserved communities founded by Idina Menzel and Jeanine Tesori. He is the recipient of the 2013 Jerry Harrington Award for Creative Excellence (through BMI), trained through the New Dramatists’ Composer-Librettist studio, and is now a Dramatists Guild Fellow. He earned a B.A. in music with a focus in composition from Yale.

Sonnenblick is a Dramatists Guild Fellow and a librettist for Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative. He has developed work with the Duffy Institute at the Virginia Arts Festival, the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project, and Prospect’s Music Theatre Lab. He was the lyricist for “Independents” (Soho Playhouse), which won “Best Overall Production” at FringeNYC in 2012. Other credits include “Wheel of Misfortune” (Denver Center for the Performing Arts), “Stompcat in Lawndale” (Ars Nova’s Ant Fest), “The Dinosaur Hunters” (a touring children’s musical), and “Bunkerville,” which was the first student-written musical to be performed by Yale Dramat in more than 30 years. He was a Jonathan Larson Grant Finalist in 2014. He holds a B.A. in American studies from Yale College.

Additional creative team and casting information, as well as the schedule for the open rehearsal readings, will be announced.

Established in 2009, the Yale Institute for Music is a program of Yale’s Binger Center for New Theatre that bridges the gap between training and the professional world for emerging composers, book writers, and lyricists. The institute seeks distinctive and original music theatre works to be developed in an intensive two-week summer lab at Yale School of Drama. The institute matches the authors of the selected works with collaborators, including professional directors and music directors, as well as a company of actors and singers that includes professionals and current Yale students.

The Binger Center for New Theatre has distinguished itself as one of the nation’s most robust and innovative new play programs. Since 2008, the Binger Center has supported the work of more than 40 commissioned artists and underwritten the world premieres and subsequent productions of 21 new American plays and musicals at Yale Rep and theatres across the country. The Binger Center also facilitates residencies of playwrights and composers at Yale School of Drama, including those who are selected to participate in the Yale Institute for Music Theatre.

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