Northanger Abbey by Common Man Musicals at MST&DA

200 Years Later: Chasing ghosts inspired by Jane Austen

Updated 3 years ago David Stone
John Blaylock wrote the book for the musical production of Northanger Abbey
John Blaylock wrote the book for the musical production of Northanger Abbey
Photo courtesy of Common Man Musicals

Only 41 when she died in July, 1817, Jane Austen wrote a handful of beloved novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Northanger Abbey, published posthumously, was rewritten during her final months. Like her other stories, this one's been reimagined as a movie - twice, most recently in 2007, but until now, the book considered her wittiest, was never transformed for the musical stage.

In a satire of gothic novels popular at the time, the tale's heroine Catherine believes life is as it's portrayed in the books she reads. Her experiences teach her, with wit and Austen's unique style, that she - and reality - are in fact more ordinary.

That inspired composer Jonathan Fadner and writer John Blaylock to create a new story, script and lyrics that fit in a modern setting.

(See photos from the rehearsals for Northanger Abbey.)

Jokes Blaylock, "“When Jonathan and I first started talking about what we wanted to write together, we sort of bonded over how dorky we both were in high school. It seemed only appropriate to write a show about a bunch of dorks trying to survive in New York City.”

"The book and music for Northanger Abbey are fresh, inspired, and wonderfully quirky," says Roosevelt Islander Russ Cusick, who plays a leading role.

The idea for turning classic literature into lyrical insight is shared by Composer Jonathan Fadner and writer John Blaylock, who adapted the book for the stage.

Jonathon and Kimbirdlee Fadner are founders of Common Man Musicals, producers of Northanger Abbey in partnership with Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance.

Kimbirdlee Fadner told The Daily, "Diversity and inclusiveness are important to Common Man Musicals, and we are grateful to share this vision with our partner MST&DA and our colleagues at the National Asian Artists Project (NAAP)."

 Baayork Lee, NAAP cofounder, won the 2017 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award "presented annually to a member of the theatre community who has made a substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations."

Northanger Abbey Director Steven Eng shares credit as also a cofounder of NAAP.

"Steven Eng does incredible work with the asian theatre community and NYU," where he's and Adjunct Professor, Kimbirdlee Fadner continued, "and it's a great honor to have him on our team for Northanger Abbey. He helps us actors to reach deep and pull out the humanity in our characters. This opens up the possibility of a true connection between the writer, the composer, the actors and the audience."

Among Eng's professional credits are acting in shows from London's West End to the La Jolla Playhouse in California with many stops in-between. He's honed his directing skills in Ohio as well as here in New York.

Boundlessly enthusiastic, Kimbirdlee Fadner adds, "This show is about discovering and rediscovering yourself. It's about overcoming your fears and healing from life's battle wounds. It's also about being proud to be your true dorky, eccentric, passionate self!"

"The company has an amazing opportunity to lift this new musical off the page," Cusick observes. 

Also in the production from MST&DA are sisters Kaitlyn and Madison Abdul, whose duet in Sondheim on Sondheim lifted that show into another realm in the spring, Aya Esther Hayashi, and Aoife Sheils,

This landmark, original musical has its world premiere at MST&DA's Howe Theatre, 548 Main Street, on Friday, August 4th at 8:00 p.m. with three more shows filling out the opening weekend. This production may sell out, so get your tickets early by clicking here

Cusick, a veteran with countless credits in the theatre, concludes, "Personally, this is one of the richest experiences I have ever had."

You may leave the show sharing that feeling. It's what musical theatre is all about.

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