Some think of the Dark Ages as wretched. Some recount tales of pestilence, plague, rampant rats and famine. Some point to filth, political strife, religious upheaval and an artful void.
But some, like Percival von Schmootz, see light in what was dubbed a dark time.
“If the world needs light, I’ll be the one,” sings von Schmootz, played by Kyle Sherman, as the curtain rises on a Dark Ages morning in Manureshire, a village of dining dung pigeons, poo burdened villagers and wretched windowsills topped with just-baked, steamy rat pies.
In “The Enlightenment of Percival von Schmootz,” the second main stage show of the Adirondack Theatre Festival summer season, von Schmootz sets out on an epic quest to save the world and end the Dark Ages in this musical comedy that opens on July 5 at the Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls.
“It’s the funniest show to hit Glens Falls since 500 AD!” said Chad Rabinovitz, ATF producing artistic director.
In a rehearsal last week, choreographer Emily Maltby was working out the detailed movements, complete with swords, fake horses and dramatic moves, with an ensemble cast of seven.
“March in place, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 ... “
Then leaning into their wooden rehearsal swords the actors sing, “Staring a villain down ... tear him limb from limb.”
“Percival” was first conceived several years ago by legendary musical theater writing duo Kooman and Dimond and workshopped as part of the Canadian Music Theatre Project. It was later workshopped by the American Music Theatre Project.
But a Disney gig, writing more than 150 songs for the celebrated “Vampirina,” an animated children’s TV-show, led to a break in ‘Percival’s” evolution.
“We came back to this work with a fresh new perspective,” said lyricist and writer Chris Dimond.
And when the songwriting duo returned to the production, they changed several things about the musical, including writing a new song for the Manureshire opening.
“The newest song truly set-up the world and the expectations for the audience,” said composer Michael Kooman last week following an afternoon rehearsal. “It is a place where people didn’t wash.”
And through its several year evolution, “The Enlightenment of Percival von Schmootz,” a one-act, 90-minute play, has become an eclectic blend of Monty Python funny, opening with everyone but Percival dying from the Black Plague; Voltaire deep, with shades of Candide’s tragedy beset journey; and wrapped in incredibly lush vocals musical score.
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“I direct a lot of comedy and you can reach more people through comedy,” said Scott Weinstein, the show’s director. “This show has the power to do that … in the show everyone dies at least once.”
Set in the so-called Dark Ages, “Percival” it is oddly reflective of today’s political and social culture.
“The show is about how to find hope in a world that seems dark and challenging,” said Dimond. “He (Percival) is the one and only optimist in the Dark Ages. Unfortunately, now there is a lot of darkness in our world and for me it is about coping with all that and still feeling hopeful.”
In a conversation with Weinstein, Dimond and Kooman, the three talk about the show’s relevance to today and how their own life experiences colored its creation.
“We use the Dark Ages as the setting, but we are writing for modern audiences,” said Kooman, adding that he explored how to use sounds that are hundreds of years old to create the world of Percival.
And Dimond added that the show for him is the product of what came before.
“It influences what we do today,” he said.
In 2015, as part of the Canadian Music Theatre Project, “The Enlightenment of Percival von Schmootz” was selected for a two-week run in Ontario at Sheridan University in the Studio Theatre after a workshop the previous year. And it was also workshopped at the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University in 2015.
“(Until now) we have only worked with students. It is really nice to have professional actors,” said Dimond. “It is illuminating, they bring so much to it.”
Because this is still a new and evolving work, its creators are grateful for the Glens Falls audience.
“We need the audience for feedback. Glens Falls is a smart audience and it is great to have an audience that is used to new work,” said Kooman.
The three talk about the work Rabinovitz has done and how it is rare to have the opportunity to produce new works.
“He has built an incubator and he has cultivated an audience that understands new plays,” Dimond said. “That’s part of what makes this so exciting. We learn from them (the audience) ... It is our hope with the production is to really refine it and take it to the next level. To move it on to future productions.”
“The Enlightenment Of Percival Von Schmootz” stars Kyle Sherman (Off Broadway: “Ordinary Days”), Sydney Parra (Off-Broadway: “We Are The Tigers”), Zach Kononov (Off-Broadway: “50 Shades! The Musical”), Erik Gratton, Tess Primack (Broadway: “Fiddler on the Roof”) Cathryn Wake (Broadway: “Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812”) and John Anthime Miller (“Alice In Wonderland”).
Percivial designer’s include lighting design by Jeffrey Small (ATF: Calling All Kates, The Jedi Handbook, Glitches in Reality and Everything in its Place: The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers.), scenic design by William Boles, costume design by Johanna Pan and sound design by Brandon Reed.
Matt Deitchman is the musical director.
The show runs from July 5 to July 13.