The Millennium Musical
(abridged to the 21st century)

The Reduced Shakespeare Company started out by performing at Renaissance Faires in California in the early 1980s. Since then, they have appeared in many countries, providing their "condensed" view of such large subjects as The Complete Works of Williams Shakespeare (abridged), The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), and The Complete History of America (abridged). Additional reductions have been presented on American and British television and radio.

The newest project, The Millennium Musical (abridged to the 21st century), played a tryout run at the American Stage Festival in Nashusa, New Hampshire, the University of Alaska at Anchorage, and Pier One Theatre in Homer Alaska.

The Millennium Musical has now made its World Premier at the Public Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, running through December 20. Starring Reed Martin, Dee Ryan, and Austin Tichenor, the show depicts the last 1,000 years of history in a little over 100 minutes. Martin and Tichenor also wrote the book and the lyrics, with music written by Nick Graham.

Reed Martin kindly spoke with me for awhile after during the Pittsburgh run.

AM: After seeing the show, the first thing that struck me was, why haven't you done a musical before?

RM: Well, we started out at the Renaissance Faires in California as a "pass the hat" act. The entertainment slot were half an hour long and it needed to be something vaguely Renaissance or Elizabethan, so we started out doing Shakespeare. It was outdoors and it was passing-the-hat ... buskers ... so a musical wasn't really an option at that point. That show led to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare and then our 2nd show, The Complete history of America (abridged), which we played two summers at The Kennedy Center, had a couple of songs in it, but more like ditties. Then, in The Bible we had maybe one or two more songs, but ... not really proper music. Also, this is the first show that ... we've brought in a composer, so we were writing it ourselves, the previous shows, and I think that's probably part of the reason, too, is we knew we didn't write music.

AM: He's your keyboard man, too?

RM: Nick Graham wrote all the music and, yes, is also the accompanist in Pittsburgh.

AM: He's not doing the whole tour?

RM: Some of it he will, and some of it he won't.

AM: Knowing that the company's previous works were not so musical, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable your singing voices are. Do you all have musical backgrounds?

RM: All three of us do. Before we joined the company, we had all done a number of musicals, in stock and regional theatre and in school and that kind of thing.

AM: The three of you work great together. I guess it's been you and Austin for a while with a couple of "third players"?

RM: There are three partners in the company: Austin, myself, and then Adam Long, who heads up our company in London. Austin, Adam and I had written the last two shows together, but Adam has an English wife and an English baby so he hasn't toured America for a long time.

AM: And you have the American wife and the American baby? [Reed's wife, Jane Martin, is the company's General Manager]

RM: The Irish wife and the American baby ...

AM: Well, you're flexible.

RM: We're International.

AM: Dee is new with this show?

RM: We started working with her in April.

AM: She's very comedic ... a little like Andrea Martin. You all complement each other well. I like having the woman in the group, even though she doesn't often play a woman.

RM: Well, that's part of our joke, "Cross dressing is always funny."

AM: Does this tour have an end?

RM: From here we have a national tour from April through May, a bunch of one nighters from coast to coast. I think the last week of May we go to Tokyo for a week. Then we go to The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. for eight weeks in June and July.

AM: That must be a favorite venue.

RM: Right, it's very exciting. It will be our third time there, so people know us.

AM: Is the work still in progress?

RM: This is early in the life of the play. Even last night we were making some changes and we're having a meeting in a couple hours to discuss some more. We've got another song written that we need to find the time and energy to put in. And there are two more songs that we're in the process of sort of thinking about, so we think we're probably at least three songs away from being finished. Maybe another skit or two. As we get new stuff and we put it in, then maybe something that seemed perfectly fine previously, maybe it feels weak. [The process continues] up until the last time we do it. The big evolution comes in the first six to twelve months. And then it kind of settles, though we find little things all the time.

AM: Might you end up in New York or London with this one?

RM: Yes, in fact I think one of our London producers is going to be here in the next three weeks to take a look. The other shows have played London, so we hope this one does. It would be great if this were the show that got us to New York. We'd love to do that.

AM: Is there a chance there might be a cast recording?

RM: Yes, in fact our plan is to record it while we're here in Pittsburgh. And then mix it in January, February, and March, so that maybe we'd have it in time for when we open at the Kennedy Center.

AM: You researched your vast source material and chose the people and places you wanted to use. Did some automatically lend themselves to songs and some to skits?

RM: There's always way, way too much material. So, it's sort of like, well here are probably are forty things that we should cover. And then it's, do we have ideas for them? So we probably then get ideas for thirty of those things. So some of them end up not being in there, or we mention them somewhere else. Austin and I wrote the book and the lyrics, so we get together, "well, do you have an idea for this or this or this, for a scene or a song?" And so we go through it. Some of the tunes have gone through three or four sets of lyrics.

AM: Lyrics first, then music?

RM: Yes, lyrics go first, generally. Then [Nick] will write the music and then we adjust the lyrics to the music and then we put it in front of the audience and find out what's funny, then tweak the lyrics.

AM: A lot of different genres of music are represented.

RM: Eclectic, and that's also our style of comedy as well.

AM: It's an easy way to take history.

RM: That way you don't get tired of any one style.

AM: Do you have other projects in the works?

RM: This will mostly consume us for the next six months.

AM: I've read about a possible television project.

RM: There are a few things on the burners. There's been a television show [project], a "condensed encyclopedia" for London Weekend Television that's been in development for a couple of years. Those years turn slowly. It looks like Austin and I are going to be writing a prose book, nothing to do with theater, but sort of a comic ... another take on the Bible, but separate from the play. We'll probably be working on that in January, February and March because we don't have any shows then. And we're also beginning talks of doing a sort of a "pops" concert of Wagner. We did a TV version.

AM: Sounds like there's always plenty to do.

RM: We're also putting the final touches on The Complete History of America script which is being published.

AM: One of your shows has already been published, hasn't it?

RM: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare has been published and performed by hundreds of theaters around the country. The America one is just now being released because we just finished performing it about two months ago.

AM: How was the crowd in Alaska?

RM: Cold! (laughing) Actually, the caribou liked it, the moose ... well ...
It's the fifth time I've been there and the first without snow. We did it for two weeks at The American Stage Festival in New Hampshire and then for two weeks in Alaska.

AM: Not your basic tryout town, is it?

RM: No, if it's a little rough in Alaska, who's any the wiser? Actually, they were great, they really enjoyed it, and during those four weeks of performances [in New Hampshire and Alaska], we often would invite the audience to stay and talk afterwards. See what they liked and didn't like. That was very positive and helpful.

AM: They liked the Super Soakers?

RM: They loved the Super Soakers.

AM: You missed me, but the woman next to me said it was pretty cold.

RM: It's a running theme, I think, in all the shows.

The Millennium Musical continues to Super Soak Pittsburgh audiences through December 20 at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. For ticket information, please call (412)321-9800. Ticket prices range from $15 - $30. However, as always, the Public Theatre encourages young people to join the theatre experience by offering $10 tickets (not rush - these are available in advance) to anyone under 25 or with a student ID. Senior Citizen prices also available.

The 1999 schedule for The Millennium Musical:

4/6-7University of California, Davis
4/9-10University of California, Santa Cruz
4/12-13Reston Community Center Theatre - Reston, VA
4/14Appalachian State University - Boone, NC
4/15University of Virginia - Charlottesville, VA
4/17Louisiana State University - Baton Rouge, LA
4/20Pepperdine University - Malibu, CA
4/23Torrance Cultural Arts Center Foundation - Torrance, CA
4/25Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts - Schaumburg, IL
4/29Michigan Technological University - Houghton, MI
5/1Madison Civic Center - Madison, WI
5/2 College of DuPage Arts Center - Glen Ellyn, IL
5/4 University of Iowa - Iowa City, IA
5/7 Raritan Valley Community College - Somerville, NJ
5/12-16Tokyo Globe Theatre
6/1 - 7/24 Kennedy Center
8/9-30Edinburgh Fringe Festival

-- Ann Miner

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