- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - One Broadway director is going back to the early 1970s to pull out a poignant, untraditional gem of a musical called “The Me Nobody Knows.”

Stafford Arima said Monday he is directing an industry reading of the children-led revue May 14-15 in New York City in anticipation of a commercial production. Bellanca Smigel Rutter, who helped produce “The Bridges of Madison County” and “Macbeth” with Alan Cumming, is spearheading the effort.

The show - made up of songs, poetry and moments of dialogue - takes its lyrics and dialogue from the writings of nearly 200 New York City public school children, ages 7 through 18. The children express their feelings, reveal anxiety and show optimism.

“It’s been weirdly chilling to hear these young people read these monologues and sing some of these songs and go, ‘My goodness. Did you literally write this yesterday?’” said Arima, who will direct. “It resonates so deeply today as much as much as it did back in 1970s.”

Joining Arima on the creative team will be musical director Bryan Perri (“Wicked”), and Taye Diggs, the veteran of “Rent” and TV’s “Private Practice,” who will handle the choreography. Arima calls the work a “moving tapestry” and “a dreamscape.”

Adapted by a book, the show went from an off-Broadway theater to one on Broadway in 1970 and ran over 300 performances, starring a then-unknown Irene Cara of later “Flashdance” fame. (Donna Summer appeared in a German production.)

The new reading will, appropriately, star 10 students from The Broadway Dreams Foundation, a national, nonprofit performing arts training program. None have professional experience. “There’s a rawness to these young people which, to be in the room with them and this material, has been captivating.”

The musical has been adapted for the stage by Robert H. Livingston and Herb Schapiro, with music by Gary William Friedman and lyrics by Will Holt. All have updated the musical to keep the material contemporary, with Friedman rearranging the songs and only a handful of references needed to be updated.

“What’s wonderful about the material - and this is what really surprised me - was how it wasn’t etched into some pop culture reference show,” he said. “The piece will be brought to a today energy and vibe.”

Arima, 45, was only vaguely familiar with the original show. He read the script and was surprised to find that the young people’s dreams and desires in it were still relevant more than 30 years on. “So many of these voices were voices that I’ve heard today in 2014 and voices that I am still hearing in my own spirit,” he said.

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