The authors and director of the new musical A Separate Peace gathered in Manhattan on Dec. 5 to explore material in the coming-of-age drama tale inspired by the novel by John Knowles.
The presentation was a chance for the authors (librettist Warren Leight and composer-lyricist Todd Almond) and director (Stafford Arima) to hear a selection of the score with performers, in privacy. The actors involved were Tony Award nominee Bobby Steggert, Curt Hansen, Jason Hite, Joshua Issacs, Matthew Marsh, Carly Hughes, Jessie Barr and Michelle Herring.
A Separate Peace is in development. No full production has been officially announced. Reading casts do not necessarily indicate future casting for titles.
Almond’s work includes the musicals We Have Always Lived in the Castle, On the Levee and the adaptation of Girlfriend, based on the songs of Matthew Sweet. Leight won the Tony Award for Best Play (and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist) for his drama Side Man. He recently worked on the libretto to the musical Leap of Faith.
Arima is an Olivier Award nominee for his direction of Ragtime and is now in rehearsal for MCC Theater’s revised revival of the rock musical Carrie. He also directed Off-Broadway’s Altar Boyz. As previously reported, Leight and Arima acquired the rights to the 1959 novel, which appears on the literature reading lists in many American high schools.
Leight and Almond first worked together in 2003 when Almond acted in a production of Leight’s post-World War II play, James and Annie. Berkeley Rep premiered Almond’s Girlfriend in spring 2010. Leight’s credits include being writer-producer of HBO’s award-winning series “In Treatment.”
“A Separate Peace” is set in the early 1940s at an East Coast American prep school called Devon, where introverted, bookish student Gene bonds with outgoing, athletic Finny, leading to a tragic end. The book has been adapted for films twice (a 1972 feature and a 2004 TV movie).
The story, told in flashback from an older Gene’s perspective, is concerned with darker aspects of the human experience: envy, violence, competition.
Novelist Knowles, born in 1926, attended high school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, a school not unlike Devon.
As previously reported in summer 2009, Canadian-born director Arima, now a busy New York City-based director, came across the novel in 2007. He’d never read it before, but he saw the possibility of a musical. He made a phone call to his agent to discuss the possibility of getting the rights and snagging Leight as librettist. Arima said he was an admirer of Leight’s Side Man, a memory play about a broken family.
Of “A Separate Peace,” Arima told Playbill.com, “I was drawn into the psychology and complexity of friendships — admiration and love that can turn into competitiveness, jealousy and rage. And how does forgiveness play a part in that relationship? In true friendships, all can be forgiven — this is what inspired me about ‘A Separate Peace.’”