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Looking for Broadway's next big hit? Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals provides a sneak peek

FILE: In April, 2020, The Goodspeed Opera House began lighting its exterior blue as a sign of gratitude to "those who are working to keep us safe and healthy," said Michael Gennaro, Goodspeed’s Executive Director.
Mark Mirko
The Hartford Courant
The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam

Goodspeed musicals is gearing up for its 17th Festival of New Musicals this weekend at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. The three-day event is a chance for promising new works to be presented in front of an audience — a crucial step for writers.

“Writers need to have some sense of how an audience is going to respond to their material, to the story they are trying to tell,” said Donna Lynn Hilton, artistic director of Goodspeed Musicals. “Whether jokes are going to work, whether audiences are going to connect emotionally with the characters, whether you even need those characters in the first place.”

In 2013, Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam invited Canadian composers Irene Sankoff and David Hein to present their latest work, “Come From Away” in a staged reading for the theater’s Festival of New Musicals.

“The writers had a lot of questions about whether or not that piece had universality, whether it would appeal to anyone outside of Canada,” Hilton said. “They learned very quickly, in a two hour presentation on a Sunday afternoon here inside the Goodspeed Opera House, that they did have a story that the rest of the world wanted to hear.”

“Come and Away,” tells the story of the people of Gander in Newfoundland, who feed, clothe and shelter thousands of passengers whose planes were diverted there during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The musical would go on to become a Broadway smash. The musical officially closed in October 2022 after 1,640 performances at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater.

Goodspeed’s Festival of New Musicals has launched over 50 musicals into the world, including “Come From Away.” This year’s festival features three new works: “Double Helix,” by Madeline Myers, “Little Miss Perfect,” by Joriah Kwamé and “The Great Emu War,” book by Cal Silberstein, lyrics and music by Paul Hodge.

The festival is also a great opportunity for musical theater students who are cast in these new works. This year’s festival features performances by students from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, as well as Western Connecticut State University, Boston Conservatory, and Montclair State University.

Besides the staged readings, the festival also features a series of seminars that cover timely issues in musical theater.

The festival starts Friday, March 17, and runs through the afternoon of Sunday, March 19.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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