Local playwright Michael McFaden debuts new musical ‘City of Light’

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If W. S Gilbert, of Gilbert & Sullivan fame, were alive right now, he might be worried. One of the great treats of the new musical City of Light are the lyrics, set to the music of Gilbert's collaborator, Sir Arthur Sullivan. Every bit as clever and intricate as any that Mr. Gilbert ever wrote, these lyrics are by the play's author, Michael McFaden, and are without doubt one reason that City of Light took first place in last year's new musicals competition at Franklin's Boiler Room Theatre.

The prize for winning was a production at The Boiler Room, and McFaden, who also tends bar at Blue Gene's on Church Street, is getting his cast of 20 geared up to hit the stage for three performances, September 27 – 29.

­These performances are the result of McFaden’s nearly three year revealing journey with City of Light. “As to the journey from conception to stage, each step along the way has revealed something new about the piece,” McFaden shared. “And, really, I just tried to let it tell me where it wanted to go. What has continually been a pleasant surprise is how just the right music has always been there like it was waiting for me. It's sort of like Arthur Sullivan was sitting next to me saying, ‘Here, use this old number from “The Beauty Stone.” It's perfect for this moment in City of Light.’ So, the writing was a joy. Even the rewrites.”

City of Light brings together McFaden's lifelong love of Gilbert & Sullivan and his fascination with the town of Lily Dale, New York. Founded in the 1870s, Lily Dale soon became a haven for free thinkers, attracting folks such as Susan B Anthony, C. S. Lewis and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Along with the intelligentsia, Lily Dale was also known for its mystics, mediums and spiritualists. Mae West used to go to Lily Dale – and had her own personal medium. McFaden's story is built on this history, following a young widow who seeks to communicate with her deceased husband.

The cast includes Church Street staples Steve Mogck, who hosts karaoke at Blue Gene's (as well as The Stirrup) and Chris Mitchell, who DJs at Canvas. Audiences will also recognize Daniel Vincent, who recently touched audiences as the narrator in Southern Baptist Sissies, who plays Harry Houdini, the play's antagonist.

"Houdini wasn't in the original script," says McFaden. "He was added only after I had a dialogue with Broadway producer Liz Morten (Caroline, or Change), who felt that the show needed more of a villain. As Houdini used to actively expose fraudulent mediums in Lily Dale, his character seemed the perfect fit."

All of the music is by Sullivan but none of it comes from any of his collaborations with Gilbert. The 27 musical numbers draw from seven light operas, one grand opera, two religious oratorios and one part-song. Since the composer is known almost exclusively for the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, City of Light gives audiences a chance to experience and enjoy Sir Arthur's neglected contributions.

City of Light will take the stage at The Boiler Room Theatre September 27-28 at 8 p.m. and a special September 29 Sunday matinee at 2:00 p.m.. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students). Click here for more information.