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Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Center for the Arts 

Launches Inaugural New Musicals Lab for Emerging Musical Theatre Artists


The New Musicals Lab at the Ferguson Center for the Performing Arts at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, is making space for new musical works by providing Artist Residencies with access to world-class facilities, funding, and student and Broadway talent. This summer, the New Musicals Lab (NML) will bring together emerging musical theatre artists, directors, composers, writers, designers and actors to develop their musicals in a safe haven outside of the “Tri-State Bubble.” 

Casting for the Lab is composed of students and alums from the quickly rising star Musical Theater program at Christopher Newport under the leadership of Colin Ruffer. Additionally, Broadway talent will join the Lab as Artists-in-Residence to collaborate on the development of these new musicals. Full casting will be announced soon. 

The Ferguson Center started to turn heads when Broadway producer Diana DiMenna brought her workshop of Stu for Silverton (book by Peter Duchan, music by Breedlove and Will Reynolds, directed by Andrew Russell) for a developmental lab in 2018. In 2019, Ryan Speedo Green and Daniel Bergner workshopped the musical adaptation of their book Sing for Your Life, which was followed by the premiere of "We Aren't Kids Anymore," a song cycle by Drew Gasparini (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Night Shift, and the upcoming Karate Kid) produced by Erica Rotstein, music supervision by Justin Goldner, with Ilana Ransom Toeplitz directing and choreographing.

“Drew and I always talk about what a wonderful time we had working together at Christopher Newport and the Ferg,” said Ransom. “The collaborators from that show and I often refer to our process with the Ferg as our Gold Standard.” 

The NML is designed to elevate emerging artists and their development of new musicals in a supportive artistic haven outside of New York. The final two weeks of the program will feature a Writers Residency Retreat, serving as an incubator for experienced writers to develop their new musical projects with talent and resources provided, culminating in the recording of demos and a performance opportunity. 

The NML is partnering with Maestra, an organization dedicated to the women and non-binary artists who make the music in the musical theatre industry, to offer two Residency spots to members of the Maestra community. The Maestra recipients of the NML Residency will be announced at a later date. 

The 2021 Lab will run from June 7 - July 24, with eight new musicals in development. Ilana Ransom Toeplitz (Violet, Reefer Madness, The Prom) will serve as Director-in-Residence. Colin Ruffer, head of CNU’s musical theatre program, will serve as Artistic Producer and Music Supervisor. 

The musicals selected for this year's New Musicals Lab are: 

?????: The Improvised Broadway Musical, co-created by Ali Reed, Adrien Pellerin and Ilana Ransom Toeplitz

True North: A Magical New Holiday Musical, by Holly Reed and Kelvin Reed

Madame President: An Optimistic New Musical, by Jessie Field, Lucy O’Brien and Gabrielle Mirabella

The Untitled Clara Schumann Musical by Shoshana Shattenkirk and Ilana Ransom Toeplitz

The Untitled Alexis Myles Project by Alexis Myles

The Carlisle Project and #Resist: the Musical by Ronee Penoi and Annalisa Dias

Fever Dreams by Kara Cutruzzula, Shoshana Shattenkirk and Justin Schwartz

The Violet Hour (concept album recording) by Will Reynolds and Eric Price      

Honoring the Ferguson Center’s commitment to supporting emerging artists and new works, all participating artists are paid, receive a travel stipend and housing, and are provided with a five-day work schedule with access to use of the venue.

“The Ferguson Center is uniquely positioned to provide space, time, support, talent and resources from its state-of-the-art facilities,” said Executive Director Bruce Bronstein. “The Lab will be the most welcoming, supportive and collaborative space for new musical theatre in America. Here, they have a home made ready with all the fittings and functions of a live show and dedicated crew. New musicals need a place to develop before the regionals, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide the resources to make that happen.” 

The New Musicals Lab is honored to be among the first new musical development programs to come back to life this summer. COVID protections are in place and the eagerness to return and make live theatre again is palpable. 

“This year will be the beginning of many wonderful summers of new musical development to come,” said Ransom. “The NML is committed to supporting marginalized artists of all color and gender by ensuring there is representation on all sides of the proscenium — onstage, backstage, and on the creative teams. As the New Musicals Lab continues to grow, so does our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

The New Musicals Lab is made possible through the generous support of the Ferguson Center’s annual donors, The Reverend Dr. Janet Edwards, MusicalWriters.com, Susan Griffin and Black Wren Studio. 

Designed by renowned architects I.M. Pei and Henry Cobb, CNU’s Ferguson Center provides a world-class facility for CNU’s theatre and music programs, including the 1,700-seat Diamonstein Concert Hall, 500-seat Peebles Theatre and 250-seat Studio Theatre. 

Visit newmusicalslab.com for details.