“I just finished filling out a form to get an opening-night cake,” said a breathless Christopher Dayett by phone earlier this week.
Opening-night cake. That’s New York theater talk. Opening night in Manhattan?
A Villanova University alum, Dayett is the author of a musical that opened off-Broadway on Wednesday at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row, 42nd Street, for a three-day, three-show run through Friday.
The last 13 months have been the ride of his brief theatrical career. Let’s rewind.
In 2016, for his graduate thesis project in playwriting at Villanova, Dayett decided to do something crazy: Turn Oscar Wilde’s somber, philosophical novel The Picture of Dorian Gray into … a musical. Sounds nutty, but he did it. As in Dorian Gray The Musical.
“I wrote it in five months,” said Dayett, still breathless. University of Pennsylvania grad Kevin Mucchetti was arranger and accompanist at the first reading of Dorian last summer. It was accepted “with distinction,” and Dayett went out into the world a newly-minted master of arts in theater.
Then he had another nutty idea: Submit Dorian to the New York Musical Festival. Since 2004, the festival has run a competition in which winning productions are selected for brief off-Broadway runs, “to ensure the vitality of musical theatre.” For winners of its Next Link Project, the festival rents out a theater and the folks selected are responsible for all production costs. It’s a great opportunity for fresh new musical works to be seen and heard, and maybe have an extended life.
“I did it as a dare to myself,” Dayett said, “and also because I knew the script would actually be read by someone. That meant a lot to me. So I thought, ‘OK, let’s do it. We’ll see.’ ”
That was last October. Meantime, Dayett, a native of Hockessin, Del., had landed a job in Florida, running the Performing Arts Department at Marco Island Academy in Naples.
In December, blammo: Dorian Gray was chosen as one of 10 Next Link Project winners out of more than 200 submissions worldwide.
Then the crazy began. Dayett and Mucchetti reworked the score and cowrote four new tunes. “I gave the characters their voices,” Dayett said modestly, “and Kevin gave them their souls.”
Largely from afar down in Florida (“When the news came in December, I said, ‘How are we going to do all this from here?’ ”), Dayett had to pull together a team and raise funds, which he did via a GoFundMe crowd-funding drive (that’s how it’s done these days) and other donation streams.
And order that opening-night cake. Don’t forget that opening-night cake.
Plenty of Philly- and Pennsylvania-linked people were in the cast and crew, including actors Brad DeLeone, Courtney Boches, Lee Cortopassi, Kevin Durkin, Topher Layton, Samantha Solar, Maura McColgan, Carter Horton, and Brie Knight; director/set designer/lighting designer Christen Mandracchia; choreographer Caitlyn Colgan; and production stage manager Lauren Davenport.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet that this is actually happening,” Dayett said on Tuesday, in the Philly area to pack up the set and costumes and drive up I-95 to New York. “I visited the theater recently, and it hit me: My work will be produced off-Broadway, 13 months after its first, tiny reading at Villanova.”
Set design was a challenge, one Dayett and coworkers eagerly accepted. “Festival parameters require that all of the set, costumes, and props must fit into a 4-by-4-by-8 space,” he said. “That was where our Villanova training came in. We all have experience in set design and lighting, and we decided to build our own set. We said, ‘Let’s prove to New York that we can do it all.’
“We designed the set so it can fit into two cars. Everything nests within other parts. We’re folding the whole thing up, jamming it into two cars, and riding up the road to New York.
“Every time I think about what’s going to happen Wednesday night, I start crying,” Dayett said Tuesday. “So I’m trying not to think about it. But it’s pretty hard.”
On Wednesday night, opening night at the Acorn Theatre, Dorian Gray The Musical sold out.