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Skylight Music Theatre Presents First Developmental Reading of "Fortunate Sons"

Music and Lyrics by Legendary composer Paul Williams
Virtual Live-Streamed Staged Concert Reading
February 19-20, 2021

Milwaukee, Wis. (January 19, 2021) — Skylight Music Theatre today announced it will offer a rare insider’s look at the making of a new musical when it presents 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. Tickets are free, but contributions are appreciated. Reservations are required and will be made available first to Skylight subscribers, donors, and supporters, who will receive email invitations. Any remaining tickets will be made available to a wider audience beginning February 8.

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.”

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.”

Insider’s View to Developing New Works

Fortunate Sons will be presented in a staged reading format by nine local actors 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 of the readings 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
FORTUNATE SONS
February 19-20, 2021
Live-Streaming Presentation
First Staged Concert Reading
Music and lyrics by Paul Williams
Book by Eric R. Cohen and Marc Madnick
Directed by Michael Unger
Cabot Theatre, Broadway Theatre Center

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. For Skylight, Unger directed the last installment of their education program’s KidsWrites production, three virtual productions, and launched new works initiatives that will bring to Skylight such famed songwriters as Paul Williams, Dennis DeYoung, and a festival focused on BIPOC writers. Unger is also the Producing Artistic Director of NewArts in Newtown, CT, started with a local father in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. For NewArts, he has directed a dozen large-scale musicals involving 600 local children. Prior to coming to Skylight, he was Associate Artistic Director and Director of Education for Off-Broadway’s York Theatre. Unger has directed many benefit concerts, including for the Sandy Hook and Parkland, FL communities. Selected world premieres include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Caligula, and A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is featured in the award-winning documentary film, Midsummer in Newtown. Among many other credits at top regional theatres, he has directed fifteen operas, two of which are available on DVD.

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. Tickets are free, but contributions are appreciated. Reservations are required and will be made available first to Skylight subscribers, donors and supporters, who will receive email invitations. Any remaining tickets will be made available to a wider audience beginning February 8.

The reading is live streamed and not recorded. More information available by calling the Box Office at (414) 291-7800, Mon. – Fri. noon - 5 p.m., or anytime via email at tickets@skylightmusictheatre.org or online at www.skylightmusictheatre.org.

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.


  • Fortunate Sons

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