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Reimagining history

Bucks County Playhouse celebrates third world premiere, ‘The New World,’ a comedic take on the first Thanksgiving

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

On stage: Broadway veteran Ann Harada stars as Chief Massasoit, the leader of the local tribe. Harada got her start on Broadway as Christmas Eve in the original cast of the Tony Award-winning Avenue Q and stepsister Charlotte in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. PHOTO: Joan Marcus

The year is 1620 and the Wampanoag tribe is living peacefully under the watchful eye of Chief Massasoit…that is, until the pilgrims arrive. In its third world premiere this year, Bucks County Playhouse goes against the grain of traditional holiday productions with The New World, a comedic take on the first Thanksgiving. Drama, romance and catchy musical numbers ensue as the Native Americans are forced to share their land with these foreign newcomers.

The New World is currently charming audiences with its unique reimagining of this historical event, but its creation didn’t happen overnight. Development for the show began seven years ago, with its first reading taking place at the Playhouse’s Oscar Hammerstein Festival in 2014. After an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, writers Regina DeCicco and L.F. Turner and producers Robyn Goodman, Alexander Fraser, Stephen Kocis and Josh Fiedler knew they had something special.

“We’re thrilled to present this original musical comedy developed for and by Bucks County Playhouse,” Goodman said. “Our talented creative team has reimagined an important moment in history when love and food brought disparate cultures together and created the great melting pot we call America today.”

Fraser shared a similar sentiment.

“Over the past three years, this creative team has worked tirelessly in honing their very original idea of turning the story of the first Thanksgiving upside down,” he said. “The result is a very funny musical that allows us to laugh at ourselves as we debunk everything we thought we knew from history class.”

The New World stars Broadway veteran Ann Harada as the powerful head of the local tribe, Chief Massasoit, whose son falls in love with a young pilgrim girl. The chief had plans to arrange a marriage with a girl from a well-off tribe, but is forced to deal with this taboo romance. Harada admits Massasoit isn’t the nicest character, but as a single mother running a tribe, who can blame her? But despite her rough exterior, her heart is in the right place.

“She’s a bit of a tiger mom. She wants what’s best,” she said.

It’s showtime: The plot of the show centers around the forbidden romance between Chief Massasoit’s son, whom she planned to marry off to a well-off tribe, and a young pilgrim girl. PHOTO: Joan Marcus

For Harada, taking part in The New World has felt like coming home. When she got her start on Broadway, Harada starred as Christmas Eve in the original cast of the Tony Award-winning Avenue Q and stepsister Charlotte in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Both shows were produced by Goodman, whom she’s thrilled to be working with again.

“I think of her as my good luck charm,” Harada said.

Thanks to her background, Harada is no stranger to the art of creating a new musical. After years of development, she explained how rewarding it was to see the finished product of The New World. Some of her favorite aspects include a turntable set that shifts between two sceneries in a matter of seconds, detailed traditional costumes and a high-energy band, which consists of a number of local musicians. According to Harada, the visuals and comedic yet joyful songs allow the heart of The New World to shine through, transporting audiences back to 1620.

“Putting together a new show is one of the most fun things,” Harada said. “Every actor aspires to do new work, to do new things.”

In addition to Harada, the cast of The New World includes a mix of Broadway veterans and newcomers such as Jillian Gottlieb, who starred in Off-Broadway’s The Golden Bride and Jennifer Perry of Broadway’s Kinky Boots and Mamma Mia!.

Also featured is Ginna Le Vine, the grandniece of Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly, Clyde Alves (Broadway’s On the Town and Bullets Over Broadway), Eddie Cooper (Encore’s Assassins), Ann Sanders (Disney’s Frozen and Broadway’s The King and I), Rod Singleton (Ogunquit Playhouse’s Ragtime) and Tyler Maynard (Broadway’s The Little Mermaid).

Music is by Gary Adler (Altar Boyz) and lyrics are by Phoebe Kreutz. Stafford Arima (Broadway’s Allegiance and newly appointed artistic director of Theater Calgary) directs and choreography is by Bucks County Playhouse artistic associate Lorin Latarro (Waitress).

The New World will run through Dec. 2. Tickets range from $40 to $75 with special rates for groups of 10 or more. For complete details and to purchase tickets, visit buckscountyplayhouse.org, call 215–862–2121 or visit the box office at 70 S. Main St., New Hope.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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