By Rebecca Weiler
Triple-threat writer, composer and lyricist Bryan Putnam of Sunnyside is thrilled about the upcoming world premiere of his new show, “The ToyMaker,” playing at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at The Theatre at St. Clements in Manhattan from Oct. 5-18.
Putnam is no novice when it comes to the stage. As a “theater kid” growing up on a farm in North Carolina, his outlets were playing flute, performing, writing and making puppets.
“I was one of those crazy, creative kids who kept to themselves,” Putnam recalled. He dove right into the theater industry as an actor almost immediately after high school, and has been working in the business in many capacities ever since.
After working as an actor for a while, Putnam discovered that he also had a passion for writing musicals. One of his first shows, “Trouble in Shameland,” was picked up by York Theatre Company, which also commissioned The ToyMaker.
“York does about 30 readings of new works and then exposes those new works every year,” he said. “They bring new musicals to life.” Putnam is grateful for their support.
The fictional story of “The ToyMaker” derives from actual events during World War II. It takes place in modern times with the tale of a woman, Sarah Meeks, who is having trouble in her marriage after not being able to have children. The legend of a toy leads Sarah to what was once a small Christian town in Czechoslovakia that was wiped off the face of the earth following the assassination of SS Leader Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. During the time of the town’s obliteration, the residents who were men and boys were murdered, and the women and children were taken to concentration camps.
But while there is a historical element to the piece, it is not a story about the Holocaust. It is about a woman’s journey to find what she is looking for: the last toy made by a childless toymaker in this town before its destruction. Sarah Meeks travels on an emotional journey which then opens a door to the past through flashbacks.
“The main point of the story is about enduring passionate hope,” said Putnam. “It’s about the search for a toy, but also about the search of self.”
Rosina M. Hill plays Sarah Meeks, and has commented to Putnam about how refreshing it is for an African American to play a role that wasn’t specifically written for someone who is African American. She has been proactive in saying that it makes the journey even more significant. The entire cast is filled with theater veterans and together they represent a collection of over 20 Broadway credits.
Putnam has enjoyed creating all elements of the story and score.
“All the ideas are organic and come from me,” Putnam said. “I know where I want the scene to begin and the emotion I want to convey.”
Putnam will be discussing these concepts in further detail at the Barnes & Noble at Lincoln Center in a panel discussion entitled “Triple Threats: Writers Who Write Book, Music AND Lyrics.” The event will take place Oct. 1 at 5 p.m. The panel is presented by the ASCAP Foundation and the NYMF 2009 Summer Series.
In addition to his writing projects, Putnam works out of his home studio as a vocal coach in Sunnyside. He is currently accepting new students.
Putnam has high hopes for his musical, both during and after the festival. His immediate goals are to present the full production so that industry professionals can see the potential.
“There are only so many things that we can do with the show right now due to budgetary restraints, but I want the material to be represented in an authentic way,” Putnam said. Of course, the dream of any writer is that producers will see the show’s success and want to take it further. Putnam said that bringing his show to a large regional theater in the tri-state area would be the next logical step in order to do an out-of-town tryout, and then bring it back to the city to be produced on a major level.
“However, right now, it’s about the story and the actors,” he said. “We have put everything we have into it and we will see what happens.”
If You Go
“The ToyMaker,” by Bryan Putnam
When: Oct. 5, 8 p.m.; Oct. 6 & 13, 1 p.m.; Oct. 12 & 17, 9 p.m.; Oct. 18, 4 p.m.
Where: The Theater at St. Clements, 423 West 46th St., Manhattan