Barrymore Award-winning composer-lyricist-librettist Michael Ogborn, the Philadelphia native whose musical fantasia Baby Case has been seen regionally and in the New York Musical Theatre Festival, is currently back in his hometown working with the resident 11th Hour Theatre Company on a new musical called Field Hockey Hot, about a girls sports team in a private school in the 1980s. He shares some background about the sweat, grit and sound of the dawning show.
Field Hockey Hot is getting an 11th Hour developmental workshop Jan. 18-Feb. 2 at the University of the Arts in Philly in anticipation of a full 11th Hour staging in spring 2015. 11th Hour bills itself as a company “committed to producing high quality musical theatre that favors intimate, story-driven musicals over flashy, budget-busting spectacles.”
New Yorker Ogborn’s Baby Case, Café Puttanesca and Tulipomania were premiered by Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia. Baby Case, a wildly theatrical, genre-busting musical about the hype surrounding the Depression-era kidnapping of the Charles Lindbergh baby, earned 11 Philadelphia Barrymore nominations and netted four Barrymore Awards including Outstanding Music and Best Musical of the Year. A revised staging in New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) in 2012 snagged four festival awards including Best Music & Lyrics and “Best of the Festival.” The title is starting to get picked up by regional theatres and university troupes.
The cast of the current two-week exploration of Field Hockey Hot is made up of current U of Arts students under the direction of 11th Hour co-founder Megan Nicole O’Brien. The process culminates with three private presentations in staged-reading form Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at The Arts Bank Theatre on South Broad Street. Musical direction is by Dan Kazemi. Choreography is by Kat Borrelli.
Set in 1986, Field Hockey Hot, Ogborn explains, is about “Coach Shipley Barnes, women’s field hockey alumna and coach at Applebee Academy. In an effort to undo her past shame when she served as the goalie for Applebee Appaloosas in 1969, she goes to extremely selfish and questionably ethical means to ensure that the North American title is finally reclaimed, thus breaking the ‘great curse of ’69’ and ending a life of personal torment. Along the way she discovers the meaning true meaning of family, friendship and teamwork.”
He adds, “The stakes have never been higher for Applebee Academy. The melodrama never ends for these characters. Accidents happen. Deals are made. Secrets, mysteries, romance and miracles transpire — all to a synthesized drum beat. In the end, it’s just a game, but, oh, what a game.”
The production is expected to include a hybrid of dance and — yes! — field hockey.
Of the period setting, the songwriter-librettist says to expect “everything that goes along with the infamous year of 1986. The musical conceit is that all songs will be early MTV-inspired. Musicians, dancers, random fans blowing, and stuff like that. All the characters are fictional — except for maybe Elton John and Martina Navratilova. The cast size is about 12. For the workshop we have 16. We’re counting on the band to be part of the action so it made sense to expand the cast for the workshop. It’s also a chance for more students to take part in the process of workshopping a new piece.”
What’s the genesis of Field Hockey Hot?
Michael Ogborn: Way back in 1998, During the first round of auditions for Baby Case at the Arden Theatre Company, there were several tall, confident, athletic women who auditioned. I mentioned that some of them reminded me of the girls field hockey players from my high school. [They were] Mary-Louise Parker/Sigourney Weaver types. I said that I thought they were all “field hockey hot.” I took about 10 pages of notes and put it away until I realized that it could work for 11th hour. Setting it in 1986 gave me lots of history to include. Once I had the people and the context, the show came together rather quickly.
Is the setting a private girls school in Philly? Are we taking about rich kids?
Michael Ogborn: It’s set at Applebee Academy, a fictional girls prep school, Anywhere USA. There is a decidedly “WASPy” element in terms of tradition and legacy and the history of the sport itself, but it’s a diverse group of players geographically and economically.
In the era of such films as “Mean Girls” and “Heathers” — titles that are being developed into stage musicals, incidentally — does Field Hockey Hot traffic in characters who are competitive, cruel, aspirational and vulnerable?
Michael Ogborn: No mean girls in my musical. They are tough, confident, competitive athletes who love field hockey and enjoy being the best. They all have a good sense of humor. The individual characters are motivated by different things but not in opposition to each other.
Would you call it an ensemble show? Or does it spin around principals?
Michael Ogborn: Right now it seems like [coach] Shipley Barnes is at the center, surrounded by a featured ensemble of actors, athletes and rock musicians.
Your past shows have played deliciously fast and loose with drag and multiple casting. Any of that here?
Michael Ogborn: Yes. Creative casting is explored and exploited when and wherever it makes sense. I’d like some basses in the ensemble.
How did your relationship with 11th Hour come about?
Michael Ogborn: Several seasons ago I saw their production of Reefer Madness. It was a mind-blowing night. Here was a new, young musical theatre company with a surprisingly old-school sensibility when it came to American musical comedy. We met about a year later. I offered to write them a show tailored to the strengths of their company members. I soon remembered the notes I had taken in 1998 for a musical about a girls field hockey team. It was the right time and the right group of people.
What makes their mission or vibe a match for you?
Michael Ogborn: Primarily, it’s a shared love and respect for creating music. Music is at the center of who they are and what they love to do. I can relate to that. Secondly, they excel in that classic style of musical comedy performance that demands the entertainer/character/human to be at home in all three skins at once. I like that kind of theatre.
What else are you working on?
Michael Ogborn: This year I am also happily moving into the reading phase of a new musical six years in the making, The Three Maries (A Philadelphia Phable). It’s a Cinderella-meets-Pygmalion tale inspired by the historic visit of Queen Marie of Romania to Philadelphia in October of 1926. The show is set in a Mummer’s Clubhouse and features [traditional Mummers’] string band music when appropriate and sometimes when it’s not. I was given the opportunity to present the first act for John Kander and Craig Carnelia at the BMI Master Class two years ago to positive and constructive feedback. There will most likely be a reading in the late spring.
Ogborn’s musical pantos have been popular holiday attractions of People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern, PA. In 2008, Cinderella: A Musical Panto (written by Kathryn Petersen, with songs by Ogborn) received seven Barrymore nominations and four awards including Outstanding Original Music and Best Musical of the Year. It was revived by PLTC in November 2013. He’s currently working on a panto suggested by the legend of King Arthur for 2014 (with book by his Aladdin panto collaborators Samantha Bellomo and Pete Pryor). His Treasure Island panto was recently published by Playscripts Inc.
Ogborn’s revue about the life theatrical, Box Office of the Damned, has been seen regionally. Its 1993 Off-Broadway staging featured a then-unknown Kristin Chenoweth.
The cast of the developmental 11th Hour workshop of Field Hockey Hot includes Analisa Wall as Shipley Barnes, Nick Schwasman as Gavin Barnes, Maggie Johnson as Maureen Gonzales, Sam Nagel as Dr. Benson, Mariah Richard as Nurse Hedges, Tyler Houchins as Sister George Michael, Sean White as Kennedy Cox, Katie Markey as Victoria Hyde-Pierce, Chloe Mollis-McBride as Sidney Banks, Alina John as Whitney Morgan/Wanda/Disco Diva, Jenna Sachs as DoDo Van Dyke, Jennifer Amentt as Carneila (Corny) Worth, Ash Henning as Ivana B. Strokanov, Zach Kononov as Katia Strokanov, with Jeremy Konopka and DevinRe Adams.