Tony Award winner Idina Menzel, Taboo’s Jeffrey Carlson and Spring Awakening veteran Lea Michele will headline the Powerhouse Theatre reading of Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s musical Nero.
A partnership between New York Stage and Film and Vassar College, the Powerhouse Theatre season runs June 27-Aug. 3 in Poughkeepsie, NY, and will also include new works by Eric Bogosian and Eve Ensler.
Carlson stars in the title role of the aborning chamber musical penned by the Tony Award-winning team behind Spring Awakening. Music is by Sheik, and book (including scenes in verse) and lyrics are by Sater. Joining Carlson are Michele as Nero’s mute wife and step-sister Octavia and Menzel as his lover Poppea.
Also set for the cast are stage and screen actress Laila Robbins (Heartbreak House) as Nero’s mother Agrippina, Michael Arden (The Times They Are A-Changin’) as Nero’s step-brother Britannicus, David Patrick Kelly (Festen) as Nero’s advisor Seneca and Paolo Montalban (Pacific Overtures) as Praetorian Guard member Tigellinus.
Daniel Kramer (Bent) helms the public Powerhouse reading at Vassar’s Martel Theater July 11-13. Kramer also staged the 2007 reading of Nero at the Public Theater that featured Euan Morton, Jan Maxwell and Bobby Steggert.
Since its debut at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco in 2006, “we’ve transformed this piece dramatically,” Sater told Playbill.com on June 20.
“Nero was the first political star,” Sater continued. “[The musical is] about the birth of politics as theatre. It makes sense that characters of his life, which he was always staging as a kind of show, should be stars in their own right.”
Sater has turned to historical accounts of the Roman leader to inform the script for what he calls a chamber musical comprised of 19 songs incorporated into dramatic verse scenes. Nero “is not a rock musical,” Sater explained. The piece will be backed by percussion, harp, violin and keyboard.
Following the Powerhouse staging, Nero will likely see a fully staged workshop in spring 2009, according to Sater. [No word on Idina’s potential involvement in that.]
Tickets for the Powerhouse staging of Nero are currently available by visiting Vassar.edu or by calling (845) 437-7235 or (845) 437-5599.
Note: While not officially announced yet by Idina’s staff, I’ve been told that her management has indeed confirmed this privately.