Milwaukee, Wis. (January 19, 2021) — Skylight Music Theatre today announced it will offer a rare insider’s look at the making of a new musical when it presents the first staged concert reading of Fortunate Sons, featuring music and lyrics by legendary Oscar and Grammy Award-winner Paul Williams.
Fortunate Sons has a book by Eric R. Cohen and Marc Madnick and is set in 1969, centering on the turbulent times during the Vietnam War and the first draft lottery held since 1942.
The reading will be live streamed on Friday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. A maximum of 350 patrons per reading will be admitted. Tickets are free, but contributions are appreciated. Reservations are required and will be made available first to Skylight subscribers, donors, and supporters, who will receive email invitations. Any remaining tickets will be made available to a wider audience beginning February 8.
Generations have been entertained by Williams’ legacy of songs including “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “You and Me Against the World,” “An Old-Fashioned Love Song,” “Let Me Be the One,” and “The Rainbow Connection.”
Set During the Vietnam War Draft
The action of the musical starts on December 1, 1969, a night that would determine the fate of almost one million draft-eligible young American men. The Willet family has gathered to watch the televised Draft Lottery, in which the next group to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War would be randomly selected based on their birthdates.
We meet draft-age RJ and Cliff, and younger sister Abby, who dreams of becoming a songwriter in L.A., while pondering the potential of a life without her brothers. Their “Greatest Generation” parents, Robert and Claire, met and fell in love while serving in World War II. Joined by other relatives and friends, the family grapples with issues of privilege, race, and war. All anxiously watch as their lives may be torn apart in one fateful night.
“Fortunate Sons examines the monumental impact that being called to serve in the Vietnam War had on the nuclear American family,” said Skylight Music Theatre Artistic Director Michael Unger, who will direct the musical’s first reading.
“It was the only lottery people wanted to lose,” said Marc Madnick about that televised draft event. Madnick co-wrote the book with Eric R. Cohen, who added, “It was the first, worst reality show.”
For composer and lyricist Paul Williams, the musical is personal. “I lived through the Draft Lottery of 1969. Although I was passionately opposed to the war, I knew young men who answered the call and served their country in Vietnam,” he said. “Reading Eric and Marc’s remarkable script gave those courageous souls and their families a commanding voice I couldn’t ignore. The Willet family’s humor, resilience and especially their love for one another spoke directly to my heart. It helps to care deeply about the characters you’re writing for and I fell in love with this beautiful American family. Fortunate Sons is a tribute to the veterans who suffered and celebrated this historic demand on the youth of America and their families. It’s an honor to bring music to their journey.”
Insider’s View to Developing New Works
Fortunate Sons will be presented in a staged reading format by nine local actors with minimal musical accompaniment and no costumes. In the development of new works, a staged reading allows the creative team to focus on the material while they, and an audience, hear it for the first time. After each of the readings there will be a live, virtual feedback session during which patrons can share their responses to the work with the cast and creative team.
“This experience allows performers and audiences to be in on the ground floor of the thrilling process of creating a new musical,” said Unger. The reading will take place onstage in the Cabot Theatre, with strict safety protocols in place. The audience will watch live, via streaming.
“This story is an important one to tell – and to be told through Paul Williams’ music is a wonderful opportunity for Skylight. It will add a powerful new piece to the Musical Theatre canon,” said Unger. “New works are crucial to the health and vitality of the American Musical Theatre. We know Skylight patrons will relish the opportunity to see the process first-hand. We are ecstatic to launch this important series working with a legend like Paul Williams.”
The Fortunate Sons collaboration came about through Unger’s previous work with Cohen and Madnick, when Unger directed a reading of their musical Liberty Smith and then produced and directed it at New Arts in Newtown, Conn.
Fortunate Sons is the first presentation of MKE MaKEs, a new Skylight Music Theatre reading series to develop and present world premiere musical works. In spring 2022, Skylight will present staged readings of three musicals chosen from submissions to the MKE MaKEs New Musical Works series created by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) writers and composers.