Skylight Music Theatre Announces Casting for First Developmental Reading of Fortunate Sons
Music and Lyrics by Legendary Composer Paul Williams
Remaining Free Tickets Now Available to the Public
Virtual Live-Streamed Staged Concert Reading February 19-20, 2021
Milwaukee, Wis. (February 9, 2021) — Skylight Music Theatre today announced the cast of the first staged concert reading of Fortunate Sons, featuring music and lyrics by legendary Oscar and Grammy Award-winner Paul Williams.
Fortunate Sons has a book by Eric R. Cohen and Marc Madnick and is set in 1969, centering on the turbulent times during the Vietnam War and the first draft lottery held since 1942.
The reading will be live streamed on Friday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. A maximum of 350 patrons per reading will be admitted. Attendance was first opened to Skylight subscribers, donors and patrons. Limited remaining tickets are now available on a first come, first serve basis. Tickets are free, but contributions are appreciated.
Generations have been entertained by Williams’ legacy of songs including “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “You and Me Against the World,” “An Old-Fashioned Love Song,” “Let Me Be the One,” and “The Rainbow Connection.”
Set During the Vietnam War Draft
The action of the musical starts on December 1, 1969, a night that would determine the fate of almost one million draft-eligible young American men. The Willet family has gathered to watch the televised Draft Lottery, in which the next group to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War would be randomly selected based on their birthdates.
We meet draft-age RJ and Cliff, and younger sister Abby, who dreams of becoming a songwriter in L.A., while pondering the potential of a life without her brothers. Their “Greatest Generation” parents, Robert and Claire, met and fell in love while serving in World War II. Joined by other relatives and friends, the family grapples with issues of privilege, race, and war. All anxiously watch as their lives may be torn apart in one fateful night.
“Fortunate Sons examines the monumental impact that being called to serve in the Vietnam War had on the nuclear American family,” said Skylight Music Theatre Artistic Director Michael Unger, who will direct the musical’s first reading.
“It was the only lottery people wanted to lose,” said Marc Madnick about that televised draft event. Madnick co-wrote the book with Eric R. Cohen, who added, “It was the first, worst reality show.”
Composer Connected Personally with the Story
For composer and lyricist Paul Williams, the musical is personal. “I lived through the Draft Lottery of 1969. Although I was passionately opposed to the war, I knew young men who answered the call and served their country in Vietnam,” he said. “Reading Eric and Marc’s remarkable script gave those courageous souls and their families a commanding voice I couldn’t ignore. The Willet family's humor, resilience and especially their love for one another spoke directly to my heart. It helps to care deeply about the characters you’re writing for and I fell in love with this beautiful American family. Fortunate Sons is a tribute to the veterans who suffered and celebrated this historic demand on the youth of America and their families. It’s an honor to bring music to their journey.”
The 9-person cast of Fortunate Sons features well-known Skylight performers and some making their Skylight debuts. Stephanie Staszak (Abby Willet) and Joey Chelius (RJ Willet) return to Skylight after appearing in the virtual musical Being Earnest (2020). Chad Larget (Robert Willet) appeared in Skylight’s Oklahoma! (2019). Joseph Nolan (Wayne Wille) was last seen at Skylight in HMS Pinafore (2000). Jamie Lynn Mercado (Beth Willet) recently appeared in Newsies (2019). Making their Skylight debuts are Frankie Zabilka (Cliff Willet), George Lorimer (Troy Willet), Denzel Taylor (Willy Taylor) and Amanda Satchell (Claire Willet).
Insider’s View to Developing New Works
Fortunate Sons will be presented in a staged reading format with minimal musical accompaniment and no costumes. In the development of new works, a staged reading allows the creative team to focus on the material while they, and an audience, hear it for the first time. After each reading there will be a live, virtual feedback session during which patrons can share their responses to the work with the cast and creative team.
“This experience allows performers and audiences to be in on the ground floor of the thrilling process of creating a new musical,” said Unger. The reading will take place onstage in the Cabot Theatre, with strict safety protocols in place. The audience will watch live, via streaming.
“This story is an important one to tell – and to be told through Paul Williams’ music is a wonderful opportunity for Skylight. It will add a powerful new piece to the Musical Theatre canon,” said Unger. “New works are crucial to the health and vitality of the American Musical Theatre. We know Skylight patrons will relish the opportunity to see the process first-hand. We are ecstatic to launch this important series working with a legend like Paul Williams.”
The Fortunate Sons collaboration came about through Unger’s previous work with Cohen and Madnick, when Unger directed a reading of their musical Liberty Smith and then produced and directed it at New Arts in Newtown, Conn.
Fortunate Sons is the first presentation of MKE MaKEs, a new Skylight Music Theatre reading series to develop and present world premiere musical works. In spring 2022, Skylight will present staged readings of three musicals chosen from submissions to the MKE MaKEs New Musical Works series created by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) writers and composers.
MKE MaKEs Premiere
February 19-20, 2021
Live Streaming Presentation
First Staged Concert Reading
Cabot Theatre, Broadway Theatre Center
Music and lyrics by Paul Williams
Book by Eric R. Cohen and Marc Madnick
Directed by Michael Unger
Produced by Marc Madnick
FORTUNATE SONS CREATIVE TEAM
Music and Lyrics - Paul Williams
Book - Eric R. Cohen, Marc Madnick
Director - Michael Unger
Music Director - Eric Svejcar
FORTUNATE SONS CAST
(in order of appearance)
Abby Willet - Stephanie Staszak
RJ Willet - Joey Chelius
Cliff Willet - Frankie Zabilka
Troy Willet - George Lorimer
Willy Taylor - Denzel Taylor
Robert Willet - Chad Larget
Wayne Willet - Joseph Nolan
Claire Willet - Amanda Satchell
Beth Willet - Jamie Lynn Mercado
Creative Team Biographies
Paul Williams (Music and Lyrics) A lyricist and composer, Paul Williams has won an Oscar Award, three Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. “The Rainbow Connection” and “Evergreen” grace the American Film Institute’s List of Top Movie Songs of All Time. His hits have remained wonderfully diverse, from “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “You and Me Against the World,” to “Beyond” and “Touch” on Daft Punk’s chart-topping, Album of the Year Random Access Memories. Williams’ songs have also been recorded by such diverse musical icons as Ray Charles, David Bowie, Tony Bennett, The Carpenters, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross, Willie Nelson, and Gonzo. His song scores include The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Christmas Carol, Bugsy Malone, Ishtar, Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas, and Phantom of the Paradise. Writing with Gustavo Santaolalla for the animated film, The Book of Life, Williams received a World Soundtrack Award for their "Apology Song". His career, life, and work in recovery have been chronicled in the acclaimed documentary, Paul Williams Still Alive. He has also acted in dozens of films and on television, most recently with Billy Bob Thornton on Goliath. As President and Chairman of the Board of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Paul Williams is also a leading spokesman for music creators in the digital age.
Eric R. Cohen (Book) is a graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts. His screenplay, Liberty Smith written with Marc Madnick, has been optioned for every medium but has found its biggest success on the stage as a theatrical musical. It was selected for The National Alliance of Musical Theatre Festival, The New York Musical Theatre Festival, and received its world premiere production in 2011 at Ford’s Theatre. It was nominated for six Helen Hayes Awards and went on to become one of the most successful musicals ever produced at this historic landmark. In addition to Fortunate Sons his current writing projects include a screenplay, Video Nation, a comedic look at the early years of the home video revolution for Plausible Films.
Marc Madnick (Book) was the co-founder and chief executive officer of Final Draft, Inc. from 1991 to 2016 Final Draft is the most widely used screenwriting software in film, television and theater today. In 2013 Madnick was presented with the Primetime Engineering Emmy Awards for contributions to the television development process. A produced playwright, Madnick saw his musical, Liberty Smith premiere at the historic Washington D.C. Ford's Theatre in the spring of 2011.
Michael Unger (Director) joined Skylight as Artistic Director in fall, 2019 and has directed KidsWrites, virtual productions, and launched new works initiatives that will bring to Skylight such famed songwriters as Paul Williams, Dennis DeYoung; and a festival of BIPOC writers. Unger is also the Producing Artistic Director of NewArts, started in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. For NewArts, he has directed a dozen musicals involving 600 local children. Previously, he was Associate Artistic Director of Off-Broadway’s York Theatre. He’s directed many benefit concerts, including for Sandy Hook and Parkland. Selected world premieres include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Caligula, and A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is featured in the documentary film, Midsummer in Newtown. He’s directed fifteen operas, two of which are available on DVD.
Eric Svejcar (Music Director) is a composer/pianist/arranger living in Brooklyn, NY. Composing credits include Caligula: an Ancient Glam Epic, A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream (both directed by Michael Unger) and the acclaimed musical podcast series Loveville High. On Broadway he conducted the Roundabout/Deaf West production of Big River and played first keyboard for The Little Mermaid. With playwright/lyricist David Zellnik he adapted Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. which has been performed thousands of times around the world. Off-Broadway he arranged and performed in the Zipper Theatre production of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well… and orchestrated Evil Dead, The Musical. As a pianist he has performed in concert with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and pre-pandemic was one of Broadway’s most active audition pianists.
Stephanie Staszak (Abby Willet) was most recently seen at Skylight as Gwendolyn in the virtual production Being Earnest as well as Ensemble/Understudy in Oklahoma! and Newsies. Staszak has performed with Milwaukee Opera Theatre, All In Productions and In Tandem, and has done commercial and film work, including starring in the award winning short film ANGELAAA at the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival.
Joey Chelius (RJ Willet) is graduate of the 2018 BFA-Acting Class at UW – Stevens Point. Chelius is currently an actor with the Emerging Professional Residents program at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Recent credits include Jack Worthing in Being Earnest at Skylight, Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th St. with the Forte Theatre Company and the guitarist in Hedwig and the Angry Inch with All In Productions at the Next Act Theater.
Frankie Zabilka (Cliff Willet) was recently seen in the Los Angeles premiere of a new musical called Glass Ceilings. Before heading to LA, he performed near Chicago in roles such as Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can, Huck Finn in Big River, and Leo Bloom in The Producers at the Erica Heilmann Theatre. Zabilka also spent a summer in Kansas City playing Motel Kamzoil in Fiddler on the Roof with Western Playhouse.
George Lorimer (Troy Willet) is making his Skylight Music Theatre debut. He is a graduate of the College of Wooster, receiving a BA in Theatre and Music. Lorimer has worked with First Stage, Music Theatre of Madison, Outskirts Theatre Co., and Greendale Community Theatre. He has also worked as a teaching artist with Forte Theatre Company, an assistant director with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's 2019 Young Playwrights Festival, and a choral scholar with Trinity Episcopal Church in Wauwatosa.
Denzel Taylor (Willy Taylor) is making his Skylight Music Theatre debut. He is an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin - Madison and the First Wave - Hip Hop and Urban Arts scholarship program. Taylor completed an Education residency with Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Emerging Professional Resident program. His acting credits include Charlotte’s Web and Willy Wonka with Children’s Theater of Madison, Romeo and Juliet with Theater Lila and Taming of the Shrew with Madison Shakespeare Company.
Chad Larget (Robert Willet) was seen at Skylight as Andrew Carnes (Oklahoma!), Pasquale (Most Happy Fella), Erlanson (A Little Night Music), Dr. Blind (Die Fledermaus), Don Curzio (Marriage of Figaro) and Frederic (Pirates of Penzance). Larget made his Broadway debut in the 1997 revival production of Candide, directed by Harold Prince. Other recent Milwaukee area credits include Dear World with Boulevard Theatre, Only We Know Best, with Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices, Mary Poppins and She Loves Me, both at Sunset Playhouse.
Joseph Nolan (Wayne Willet) last appeared at Skylight in Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore. Nolan has performed in numerous community and professional theaters throughout southeastern Wisconsin and the Midwest. Favorite roles include Dan in Next to Normal, Archibald Crain in The Secret Garden, Fredrick in A Little Night Music and Sky Masterson in Guys & Dolls.
Amanda Satchell (Claire Willet) is making her Skylight Music Theater debut. A graduate of the University of Michigan's Musical Theatre program, she has performed in regional theaters including Paper Mill Playhouse as well as in New York at Joe's Pub and Carnegie Hall. Recent roles include Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia, Marian Paroo in The Music Man at Lake Country Playhouse and Miss Gardner in Carrie with Outskirts Theatre.
Jamie Lynn Mercado (Beth Willet) was last seen with Skylight in the 2020 KidsWrites: Me, Myself, & I cast and in the ensemble of Newsies. Other credits include Dad’s Season Tickets at Northern Sky Theater, Matilda at First Stage and Songs For a New World at All In Productions.
For more information on Fortunate Sons, click here.
Box Office and Performance Information
The concert reading will be staged in the Cabot Theatre without an audience to observe strict safety protocols. Fortunate Sons will stream live on Friday, Feb. 19 and Saturday, Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m. A maximum of 350 patrons per reading will be admitted. Attendance was first opened to Skylight subscribers, donors and patrons. Limited remaining tickets are available on a first come, first serve basis beginning February 9. Tickets are free, but contributions are appreciated. Reservations are required.
To RSVP, click here or call the Box Office at (414) 291-7800 Mon. – Fri. noon - 5 p.m.
Health & Safety Protocols
Following CDC guidelines and in consultation with area doctors, Skylight Music Theatre has implemented strict health and safety protocols. Read more at www.skylightmusictheatre.org/about/health-and-safety-protocols.
About Skylight Music Theatre
Skylight Music Theatre marks its 61st season in 2020-2021. Skylight’s mission since 1959: To bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. Skylight brings fresh approaches or interesting twists to music theatre works, creating meaningful connections, not only between the characters on stage but with the audience as well. Skylight’s home is the beautiful 350-seat Cabot Theatre, modeled after an 18th century French opera house.
Recent News & Media
Press Coverage |
Interview with Fortunate Sons Creative Team - WUWM 89.7 Milwaukee’s NPR “Lake Effect”
Click here to listen to the interview Fortunate Sons interview begins at 35:14.View
Press Coverage |
Skylight Music Theater is pulling back the curtain on new musical - FOX 6 News Milwaukee
Click here to watch the videoView
Press Coverage |
Milwaukee Skylight Theater to debut 'staged reading' of new Paul Williams' musical - CBS58
Click here to watch the videoView