Hear a new, original play brought to life by Theatre UAB on Feb. 24

The developing work, following the true story of the Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, will premiere at UAB in November.
Theatre stream

Theatre UAB will present a reading of an original production, “Michael Collins,” which the company will premiere in November.

The reading will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, on the University of Alabama at Birmingham campus, in the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center’s Odess Theatre. It is free and open to the public. The event will also include a Q-and-A with the creative team and cast.

Theatre UAB is the performance company of the UAB College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Theatre.

The developing work follows the true story of the Irish revolutionary Michael Collins and his part during the Easter Rising in Ireland. Broadway and West End director David H. Bell will direct the show, which has book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham and music by Joshua Salzman.

“Michael Collins” is a universal tale of oppression and the consequences of a violent response — even if it ultimately leads to freedom. The play begins in 1916, during the failed Easter Rising against the British. As a young soldier, Collins sees the flawed methods that continually lead the Irish people to lose in uprising after uprising. Upon being released from prison, he joins with other rebels — Eamon De Valera, Harry Boland, Arthur Griffith, Cathal Brugha and Tom Hales — to start a new kind of revolution: one that would eventually bring the British to the negotiating table for the first time in history. These negotiations would free Ireland and cost Collins everything he holds dear.

The story of Michael Collins is epic, but for this show it is presented as a great legend being told in a corner pub. This actor-driven storytelling will see performers begin the tale by stepping onto tables in a wood-paneled room, with beer-soaked sawdust on the floor. Others join them and bring the story to life all around the audience.

For the play, the 14-member ensemble will reflect the people of the community in which the show is being presented, including their ethnic background and gender. The actors tell an Irish story, but they begin the play as themselves in their own accents and presenting in their chosen gender. Shortly thereafter, they pick up Irish instruments, adopt Irish accents, don Irish clothing and portray character-specific genders — even if they are not their own ­— to tell a universal story of the consequences of oppression.

UAB Musical Director Carolyn Violi is the lead producer for the project with Alan E. Schwanke as assistant producer. The cast is made up of UAB musical theater students, including McKenna Shaw in the role of Kitty with Cara Parisi as understudy. For the reading, Ryan Cunningham will read as Michael Collins with student Peyton Griffin as understudy.

All ensemble members will have roles for the reading. The ensemble is Charity Beilicki, Sophie Grace Bell, Lily Cameron, Kaleigh Jones, Nairobi Maurice, James Gavino, Matthew Piper, Jason Torrey, Knox Villemarette and Caleb Womack. 

Director, choreographer and author Bell is a professor and director of Music Theatre at Northwestern University. He is also the artistic director of The American Music Theatre Program. His career has spanned a wide range of projects here and abroad. Salzman and Cunningham are Jonathan Larson Award winners as well as Drama Desk and MAC Award-nominated writers. Their musical “The Legend of New York” was an O’Neill finalist, and “Michael Collins,” their newest show, was selected to be part of the ASCAP Workshop with Stephen Schwartz.