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RLTP’s New Deal

Now playing: World
premiere musical production examines the Great Depression, FDR, New Deal

Tom
Naples takes history very seriously. “The Great Depression was America’s finest
hour,” says Naples, a WNY musician and historian whose work has often revolved
around the 1930s. “While the world labored through a Depression that effected
virtually every society on Earth, the United States showed an uncanny
resiliency and optimism that, along with progressive leadership, pulled us
through the thirties.” Now Naples put his passion to work as co-author and
musical director of Road Less Traveled Productions’ new world premiere musical,
American Deal.
“The music and the stories presented in American
Deal
reflect
the determination, optimism, and humor of the time.” 

american1.png

Since
2002, Road Less Traveled Productions has specialized in developing and
producing world premiere plays by local playwrights…but they’ve never
attempted a musical – until now. The second play of its ’09 -’10 season, American
Deal

is a new experiment for RLTP, in the way it fuses live musical performance with
drama and projected images (photography and video)…all to evoke the American
experience during the 1930s. Developed by Naples and award-winning WNY
playwright Jon Elston, the show portrays real tales of resiliency & hope,
set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal, as told
through folk music and testimony. Directed by Kyle LoConti, American Deal
runs
through Sunday, November 22, 2009.

American
Deal’s
book (or spoken text) was composed Elston, RLTP’s Resident
Playwright and three-time winner of Artvoice’s Best of Buffalo Best
Playwright
poll.

AMERICAN DEAL Slideshow from Jon Elston on Vimeo.

“Developing
a musical – and an unorthodox one, at that – was a novel challenge for me,”
admitted Elston, the author of six previous plays, including gritty realist
melodramas such as Interrogation Room
and dark comedies like
Triangles: The Elliptical.
“I really had to trust Tom’s knowledge of the
material and Kyle’s understanding for musical theatre convention and
theatricality… I just worried about making sure the words sounded good together
and created some emotional and ideological frisson.”

american2.png

“American
Deal

is a timely story of hope and American resilience told through music, images,
and testimony,” says Elston. “The music featured in American Deal
is a cross-section of
American folk songs from the 1930s by a variety of composers and lyricists…
including the legendary Woody Guthrie — a featured character in the musical.”
The cast, lead by Phil Knoerzer as Guthrie, chronicles the stories of regular
Americans, in Buffalo and elsewhere, as they struggle to persevere through the
Great Depression.  Diane Curley,
Mary McMahon, and Gordon Tashjian also star. “The book is adapted from hundreds
of authentic letters written during the 1930s, as well as oral histories from
Americans who survived the Great Depression,” says Elston, who admits that
some liberties were taken with the arrangement of the material, “for the sake
of clarity, pacing, and maximum drama. But all of the stories you hear in American
Deal

are true.” 

Director
LoConti underlines a third integral element of the production: iconic
photography of the Depression Era, which is projected throughout the
production, underscoring the storytelling and songs. LoConti painstakingly assembled
“these beautiful images… from sites like the Library of Congress, the National
Archives, and the FDR Library,” and created the projections with help from RPM
Productions.

AMERICAN DEAL Trailer from Jon Elston on Vimeo.

Elston
mused about similarities between the history presented in American Deal
and our own current
economic climate: “As Tom, Kyle, and I researched and developed this
production, we found inescapable parallels between former and current political
figures, between the national crisis then and conditions today, and especially
between the call for reform in the 1930s and our ongoing, halting efforts in
2009. The intention was not to make an explicitly political statement with this
show… and yet the historical resonance is hard to ignore.”

“At
the end of the 1930s,” Naples points out, “Germany had Hitler, Italy had
Mussolini, and 

american3.png

Spain had Franco. The United States had massive works projects
that touched everything from infrastructure to fine arts; plus Social
Security, child labor laws, the right to organize and negotiate labor
contracts, regulation over the banking industry and stock market, the largest
conservation movement in American history, and a population that turned its
back on the spirit of revolution that was rampant elsewhere in the world and
concentrated instead on working and surviving.”

“The
audience for American Deal
has the opportunity to reflect on our common
national history,” offers LoConti, “and then draw their own conclusions about
our current national situation.”  

About
the Playwrights

Tom
Naples is a singer/songwriter, collector, researcher, and producer. He has done
extensive work on the Great Depression at the Library of Congress, the FDR
Library, and the Smithsonian. He has conducted numerous interviews of
Depression and Dust Bowl survivors here and in Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and
California. In March of 2009, he wrote and directed the music to Buffalo
State’s production of The Grapes Of Wrath.
He has also produced
and performed in a multi-media presentation titled Whose Names Are
Unknown…,
describing life in the Depression.  He resides in Ellicottville, NY.

Jon
Elston is the co-founder of Road Less Traveled Productions where he is the
company’s Literary Manager and Resident Playwright.  He wrote RLTP’s 2008 hit play Triangles: The
Elliptical,
among others, and has been named Best Playwright in the past
three Artvoice Best of Buffalo polls. 
Elston won the Artie Award for Best New Play (Interrogation Room
) and the Source
Theater National Literary Prize.  American
Deal

is his first produced musical.

Kyle
LoConti directed the 2007 world premiere production of Bonegrinders
for RLTP. Kyle
currently serves as the Chair of the Division of Arts & Media at Niagara
County Community College, where she has been a member of the faculty for over
thirty years. She is in her second year as the Director of the Emanuel
Fried New Play Workshop at Road Less Traveled Productions. 

Road Less Traveled Productions (RLTP) is a
professional theatre company dedicated to the development and production of new
theatrical works by Western New York playwrights, as well as presentations of
esteemed modern dramas of outstanding
literary merit.  RLTP is located in the Market Arcade Film & Arts Center
in the theater district of downtown Buffalo.  For ticketing information call 716.852.5000 or visit
RLTP’s Website.  RLTP’s work is made possible through
public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. 

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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