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by Anna Zak for Magazine.Art, Spring 2003
On a cold January eve, in the midst of a small New Jersey town at the Union School Theatre a literary classic came to life. The audience took their seats, the lights dimmed, the curtain opened and out came two stout ghosts beginning Act I with a hilarious song and dance, Keeping Up Appearances. There was no doubt it was to be night of comedy and laughter as Canterville Ghost—directed by Kevin Monk, with music & lyrics by Joshua Williams and book by Ryan Hamilton, based on the Oscar Wilde novella by the same name—immediately captivated its audience.
Set in the 1920s, its witty plot tells the story of an American family which moves into a medieval English manor haunted by a fine and respectable ghost of the grand tradition. The ghost’s expert performance and masterful craft has trouble piercing the modern American sensibility, which, to the ghost’s disappointment, leaves little room for such nonsense as haunting. The story maintains the clever wit and ironic humor of the Wilde original, while adding an eccentric musical score with more than twenty original songs -with sharp and amusing lyrics. The musical freely plays on American and British customs, politics, and stereotypes, wildly lampooning both countries.
This show truly made a memorable imprint of Wilde’s classic in the minds of the spectators with the perfect mix of music, great lyrics and humor! The director had plenty to work with—a wonderful score, songs and plot complimented by an enormously talented cast—which must have made his work extremely challenging yet very pleasant. From the very beginning until the very end the audience never stopped laughing, due in large part to outstanding performances given by Andrew Galuskin (Oscar) and Amanda Schroeder (Virginia Otis). But, perhaps the most remarkable scene was left for the very end, allowing the whole cast to shine while singing the gospel-style finale, Take Him Home. The performance was rewarded with a standing ovation from the much-amused audience.
This production of Canterville Ghost not only brought Wilde’s classic to life, it has the potential of becoming a Broadway classic–with more funding for elaborate costumes, stage design and, of course, a nice theatre to haunt on Broadway!!!
An American in Poland
Last spring, Dariusz Milkowski, artistic director of the Teatr Rozrywki in Chorzow, Poland was presented with an unusual project. Joshua Williams, a young playwright/composer from New York City wanted to premier his new musical, Canterville Ghost, in Poland! "While I was living in Poland, I got the chance to see the Polish premier of Evita at the Rozrywki. I was very impressed by the high performance quality and the pure energy that seemed so much a part of the production," says Joshua. A few years later, when a friend suggested that he premier his latest production in Poland, he thought immediately of the Rozrywki. "I sent the musical to Mr. Milkowski, and he seemed very receptive to the idea. Because the show had not yet been produced anywhere before, we both decided that doing a concert version of the show, with lyrics in English and dialogue in Polish, would be an interesting way of testing the water. When the U.S. Consulate agreed to support us financially, we started planning the dates."
On October 2nd, 2000 Joshua was on his way to Chorzow, a small German-styled town in Silesia. Auditions, rehearsals, and press interviews began the very next day. Just as they had hoped, the novelty of an American musical "trying out" in Poland became a hot news item. Television, radio, and newspaper reporters from all over Poland were eager to get the first scoop. "I knew Polish, but to be thrown into the middle of a press conference and to make a guest appearance on television, it was nerve wracking! It isn't the easiest language, you know." Joshua had plenty of time to hone his speaking skills as he directed a handpicked cast consisting of Teatr Rozrywki company members and students from the Katowice Music Academy. Much of the rehearsal time was spent learning the music, which was performed in English. Joseph Herter conducted the orchestra (with orchestrations by Tom Jensen) and was also on hand to coach the cast.
On October 31st, 2000 Canterville Ghost opened to a packed house. People were even willing to sit in the aisles. The show only played for three nights, but the overwhelming response was a surprise to everyone involved. Critics and audiences unanimously agreed that Canterville Ghost had the potential to become a bonafide hit. Guy Ferraton of The Warsaw Voice announced, "the ovation pouring from the full house confirmed a collective victory over adversity and expectations." Mariola Woszkowska, critic for the Trybuna Slaska, wrote that, "it was a fantastic experience--each audience member had to wield their own imagination to see how the show would be if scenery, blocking, and choreography were added…this young American's musical is perfect material for a catchy production". Joshua commented that, "the only real complaint we had was that this was a reading/concert and not a full production. I actually think people felt lost without all of the normal stage business. But for me, it was invaluable. It allowed me to see what worked and what didn't--nothing was glossed over with gadgetry and pyrotechnics."
Just this spring, Dariusz Milkowski announced the Teatr Rozrwyki's plans to do the first full production of Canterville Ghost as part of their new season. "If the Polish government doesn't cut their support for the theatre, Canterville Ghost will open at the end of November. If the budget cuts become a reality we will have to look for private funding. If that happens, then we will probably have to wait until the spring to start rehearsals", noted Mr. Milkowski. Joshua is hopeful that they will find private and corporate sponsorship anyway. "All along this has been an exciting adventure between two countries. It's an opportunity for many people to get involved both in Poland and America."
There is a lot of work ahead to make a full production of Canterville Ghost in Poland a reality, but the excitement it has created so far seems to be enough to keep the Rozrywki staff and creative team going. After all, nothing comes easy in show business! When asked what his long term goals are Joshua replied, "once Canterville Ghost is produced in Poland, I'd like to bring the cast to America--there is such a large Polish community here. And of course I'd like to eventually do an English-language production. As for future projects, well I'm working on five other shows right now. I'll just have to wait and see!"
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