A Parkite gets more than she bargained for with a shot at Broadway
October 4, 2018
When Park City-based voice teacher and playwright Debra Cook shepherded a flock of local singers to the New York New Works Theatre Festival three weeks ago, the plan was to perform the finale of her autobiographical musical, "Jilted to Perfection: A MorMom's Love," for two nights, Sept. 7 and 8.
That changed when judges asked Cook and the group to perform once more in the festival's third round, on Friday, Sept. 21.
"We didn't know we were going to do that performance, and they told us on Monday, Sept. 17, that we had been picked," said Cook, cofounder of the Utah Conservatory. "So we scrambled to see who could do it."
She rounded up a mix of Park City vocalists and friends who lived in New York.
"The ones from Park City took midnight flights, and we rehearsed in the morning of the performance," Cook said.
The final round performance is significant because the New York New Works Theatre Festival, designed by director Gene Fisch, Jr., gives developing musicals and other plays a chance to preview in front of Broadway and off-Broadway producers.
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"Producers will look at the work and decide if they want to develop the work, or just give advice," Cook said.
The Sept. 21 performance went well, regardless of some technical difficulties that required a little improv, like a last-minute fix for a broken piano, she said.
"One of the keys on the piano we had shipped to New York had broken," Cook said. "So my sister and I went to the theater to take this electric piano apart and use a drill to put the parts back together."
The piano was fixed in time, and, after missing a curtain call, the performance, which featured Cook's six-year-old granddaughter, McKinslee Mitchell, went as planned.
"I was very happy with how it turned out," she said.
The reviews were encouraging, and while no one has asked Cook to turn the show into a full musical yet, she said she will continue to work on it.
"I have had people tell me that I should think of performing it somewhere here in Park City," she said.
Cook is also working with Sundance Institute Theatre Program Artistic Director Philip Himberg and Producing Director Christopher Himba to submit the musical for the 2019 Sundance Theatre Lab, she said.
Cook said she also has the support of Naja Lockwood, a Sundance Institute Utah Advisory board member and a Utah Film Commission board member.
In addition to the New Works Theatre Festival performances, Cook and her singers were approached to perform the song "Good Fight Hallelujah," from "Jilted," and "It's a Small World" during the United Nations Day of Peace gathering at Times Square earlier in the day.
Again, a technical difficulty threatened to derail the group's performance.
Cook had created a musical arrangement track of "Small World" to accompany the singers, but when it came time to perform, the sound engineer working the event informed her the track had been erased.
So, the group decided to sing the Disney classic a cappella.
"McKinslee started it out with a solo and then the rest of us came in," Cook said. "The second verse was sung by another one of our young girls, Anly Lockwood, and she just belted it out. I couldn't have been happier."
Cook said none of the performances could have happened without the talent from and support of Park City.
"To have (all of these) Parkites drop what they were doing to come and get involved with this is profound to me," said Cook as she fought back tears. "They all did it from a place of love, and I'm grateful for this community for turning it all into a fabulous experience."