A new work of theater, one might say, has a little bit in common with a lemonade stand. It starts with a handful of basic ingredients and the will and vision of a collection of earnest young people — then it results in a product well-suited for consumption on a hot summer afternoon.
Perhaps the metaphor is getting fudged a little, but this Saturday and Sunday, August 24 and 25, a new musical debuts at the West Windsor Arts Center: a workshop production of End of the World Theater’s “Lemonade!”
“Lemonade!” is the story about what happens when two children start their own lemonade stand, only to wind up on the wrong side of the law, and their entrepreneurial spirit attracts the spiteful attention of the powers that be.
There are several reasons this production might stand out from the usual offerings of community theaters. The company is formed entirely of 20-somethings, including several mainstays in area community theater companies as well as new talents making their area debuts.
The trio of writers — Dave Breidenstine, Sean Eisenhauer, and John Fischer — are high school friends from Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Their last project together was the ambitious parody “Star Wars: The Musical,” which sold out the College of New Jersey’s Kendall Hall in 2008 and attracted national attention. Additionally, a principal actor in this production, Patrick Lavery of Denville, has a Broadway pedigree.
“There’s a wonderful and energetic passion in this,” said Lavery, who, starting at age seven, performed Chip, the youthful teacup, in Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast” (from 1993 to 1996) and was in a small role in the Woody Allen film “Everyone Says I Love You.” Now a news anchor for radio station WGHT in Pompton Lakes, Lavery is thankful for a return to his roots. “I’m thrilled to see what audiences are going to think, and I’m loving every minute of the rehearsal process.”
Lavery — as with others in the production — attended the College of New Jersey, where he acted in several shows before graduating in 2009. “Lemonade!” is his return to performing after a four-year absence. “There’s a real joy to working on this and having theater back in my life,” he says.
In the production, Lavery plays A.P. Costermonger, an old-money source of misguided villainy in the play. Costermonger is the latest in a long line of lemonade factory magnates whose industry dominates the fictional Pennsylvania town where the play is set. His lawyer, Roger Tontine (the Lawrenceville-based “Lemonade!” director Andrew Timmes) manipulates his client into further wrongdoing.
“It’s definitely a parable” says Lili Daniel of Lawrenceville, the workshop’s producer, who has frequently produced for local theater troupe Shakespeare ‘70 in recent years. She’s quick to add that, despite the lessons in the script, there’s plenty of humor to be found as well. “Similar to other modern musicals such as ‘Urinetown,’ ‘Lemonade!’ uses comedy and songs to poke fun at and draw attention to what’s happening today,” Daniel says.
“There’s a goofiness to this that we hope audiences will enjoy,” says Timmes. “Within a span of three pages, there are actors who take on multiple characters in lightning-fast changes. We’ve had a lot of fun with this, and it’s our hope that this will show in the performances. If you’re a fan of ‘South Park’ or ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,’ the tone of this show will be right at home with you.”
Timmes cites an act one number from the show, “Giraffe Goes to Court,” as a key example of the show’s humor. In it, the two young protagonists go to the local library to bone up on their legal rights in facing the lemonade industrial complex in town and are greeted by a satirical cast of animals who explain the positives and negatives of the legal system. The number is a send-up of “Sesame Street” and “Schoolhouse Rock,” with tongue planted firmly in cheek. “The songs bounce around a number of genres,” Timmes said. “Part of the fun is figuring out the inspiration of each song, and what the next number might parody.”
In this reuniting of talents, Daniel, Timmes, Lavery, and the writers are keeping the current landscape of musical theater in mind and have constructed “Lemonade!” with future productions in mind. “We’re refining the show with every rehearsal, and I think it would be a great show for colleges to produce,” says Daniel.
At the same time, “Lemonade!” consciously avoids several elements that have become commonplace in musical theater, such as small cast sizes. “It’s written for a cast of 25,” said Timmes. “It’s a lot of fun to have the opportunity to work with a new script that has a larger cast.” With doubling of roles, the workshop production features 14 actors.
“It’s a blast to play multiple parts,” says Damian Gaeta of Hamilton, who has performed in productions with Shakespeare ‘70 and the regionally based James Tolin Memorial Fund (which produces theatrical events as fundraisers for AIDS, Arts Education, and anti-suicide charities). Gaeta takes on several ensemble roles, including the bulk of an angry mob. “I’m surprised at how polished and professional this script is for a new play; I was blown away from the first rehearsal.”
As expected with community theater, the team members have day jobs: Daniel is a lawyer, Timmes works in information technology for a healthcare company, Gaeta is a carpenter, Breidenstine is a high school teacher, Eisenhauer works for Apple, and Fischer is working toward his doctorate in physics at Temple University. “This is a labor of love,” says Fischer. “We’re happy for this production and whatever might come after.”
“We’re inviting professionals and educators from area companies and schools to the workshop,” says Daniel. “Community theater and college seasons would be a great home for ‘Lemonade!’” For starters, the cast recently previewed a song from the show at last week’s Kelsey Theater Awards at Mercer County Community College.
As for this weekend’s workshop, the audience will play a vital role in the future of “Lemonade!” “We’ll be listening at every performance to see what jokes work and which ones might need a little work,” says Fischer, who staged a reading of the first act of the script last year in his hometown of Lebanon. A second reading will occur there in October. “What happens in this production will inform what we do next.”
“I really hope people laugh,” says Lavery. “There is so much fun and heart in this show, and it’s really about the sheer love of theater and performing, and what’s possible when people come together to make a dream happen — both within the show and without.”
Lemonade!, West Windsor Arts Center, 952 Alexander Road, Princeton Junction. Saturday, August 24, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, August 25, 2:30 p.m. $10. www.ezevent.com/Live/LemonadeTheMusicalWorkshop/08242013/81069.