Polyphone Festival Returns For Third Year

February 14, 2017

The University of the Arts’ Ira Brind School of Theater Arts announces the lineup for year three of Polyphone, a “festival of the emerging musical” at UArts in Philadelphia. The 2017 Polyphone festival, March 28-April 1, will continue to challenge audiences with the question “What is a musical?” Each new work presented at Polyphone is stripped down to an off-book, staged concert with a full band, inviting audiences into the evolution of how musicals are made. The festival brings together artists-in-training, emerging composers, librettists, choreographers, and directors developing new works to present four musicals over five days.

“Polyphone is an opportunity to convene emerging and professional artists, UArts students, and the general public in a radical exploration of contemporary musical theater,” said César Alvarez, a UArts visiting associate professor, composer, lyricist, performer and the festival’s artistic director. “Polyphone lifts up musicals and artistic voices that are under-supported and under-developed by the musical theater establishment and seeks to be a home for young musicals and young artists.  In doing this, both are pushed further because of their encounter with each other.”

Now in its third year, Polyphone will feature performances of four new works includingFolk Wandering” conceived by Jaclyn Backhaus and Andrew Neisler, book and lyrics by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Andrew Neisler; “Normativity” with book, music and lyrics by Jaime Jarrett, directed by Rebecca Wright; “The Real Whisper” with music and lyrics by Greta Gertler Gold, book and lyrics by Akin Salawu, directed by Nell Bang-Jensen, and choreography by Amy Smith; and “The Best Songs in the World Show,” a new musical by Red 40 and The Last Groovement, with music, book and lyrics by Martha Stuckey in collaboration with The Last Groovement, and directed by Anisa George. Alvarez has served as Polyphone’s artistic director since its founding in 2015.

On Saturday, April 1, Shakina Nayfack, actor, writer and artistic director of the Musical Theater Factory in New York, will deliver the Polyphone keynote address on the topics of community, identity and activism in musical theater at 10 a.m. at the Arts Bank. April 1 will also feature a marathon day in which audiences can view all four works beginning at 12 p.m.

All performances will take place at the Merriam Theatre (250 S. Broad Street) and the Arts Bank (601 S. Broad Street) which are located in the heart of Philadelphia on the Avenue of the Arts.


Folk Wandering
(March 28 & 31 at 8 p.m.; April 1 at 12 p.m.; Merriam Theater)

Conceived by Jaclyn Backhaus and Andrew Neisler
Book and Lyrics by Jaclyn Backhaus 
Music and Additional Lyrics by Blake Allen, Mike Brun, Andrew R. Butler, Joel Esher, Alex Fast, Jo Lampert, and Annie Tippe
Arrangements by Mike Brun and Joel Esher
Orchestrations by Mike Brun
Additional Orchestrations by Blake Allen
Directed by Andrew Neisler

Description: Tales from tenement Manhattan, Depression-era Utah, and rural 1950s Indiana are woven together in this new folk musical. With a book by critically acclaimed playwright Jaclyn Backhaus and a score developed by a group of New York’s emerging singer/songwriters, Folk Wandering is an American celebration of the untold grief that moves us forward.

(March 28 & 31 at 8 p.m.; April 1 at 9 p.m.; Arts Bank)

Book, Music and Lyrics by Jaime Jarrett
Director: Rebecca Wright
Music Directors: Jaime Jarrett and Ellen Winter
Choreographer: Eppchez

Description: Taylor is sick of the stereotypical portrayal of queer characters in the media.  When she meets Emily, a lesbian book character who has come to life, together they fight to rewrite her story and redefine “normal.”  Through an exhilarating pop rock score and radical queerness, Normativity explores love, identity, and what it means to be out right now.

The Real Whisper
(March 29 & 30 at 8 p.m.; April 1 at 6 p.m.; Merriam Theater)

Music and Lyrics by Greta Gertler Gold
Book and Lyrics by Akin Salawu
Director: Nell Bang-Jensen
Music Director: Amanda Morton
Choreographer: Amy Smith

Description: When Whisper, a teen runaway, breaks into a haunted Massachusetts Manor that hosts ghost tours, she finds herself entangled in a hidden killer's murderous rampage. As the body count rises with the Manor's supernatural thirst for blood, Whisper realizes she must team up with the 100-year-old ghost of a Black American slave if she is ever going to make it out alive.

The Best Songs in the World Show
A New Musical by Red 40 & The Last Groovement
(March 29 & 30 at 8 p.m.; April 1 at 3 p.m.; Arts Bank)

Music, Book and Lyrics: Martha Stuckey in collaboration with The Last Groovement
Director: Anisa George
Music Director: Martha Stuckey
Choreographer: Melanie Cotton
The Last Groovement includes Martha Stuckey, Jess Conda, Caitlin Antram, Alice Yorke, Ben Diamond, Matteo Scammell, Jon Colvson, Ben Grinberg, Devin Coleman and a cast of University of the Arts students

Description: After her band is kidnapped and conscripted to Proxis' polka-playing army, Red 40 ventures out with her team of femme fatales and the audience to retrieve the abducted. In this world of googly-eyed soldiers and idiot spies, characters wear multiple identities in an effort to access each other and our own inner Star Stuff.

Marathon Day on Saturday, April 1
(12 p.m. – 11 p.m. at the Merriam Theater and Arts Bank)

Four new works in succession: Folk Wandering, The Best Songs in the World Show, The Real Whisper, Normativity

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About the University of the Arts

Currently celebrating its 140th anniversary year, the University of the Arts is one of the nation’s only universities dedicated solely to educating students in the visual and performing arts, design and writing. UArts is a leader in educating creative individuals through an innovative, flexible, rigorous and well-rounded curriculum that prepares students to be the creative leaders of tomorrow, whether in a specific artistic discipline or by applying their arts education to virtually any career. The alumni of the University are leading some of the Philadelphia region’s most important cultural institutions and positively impacting the creative economy nationally. With nearly 1,900 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs on its campus in the heart of Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts, UArts students collaborate across disciplines and benefit from being in one of the nation’s most culturally vibrant cities.