Creative team returns to IU to present their premiere musical, ‘The King’s Critique’

Co-writer and musical director Nat Zegree, center, works with Robert Toms and Emily Rozman during a rehearsal for "The King's Critique" on Thursday, May 26, 2016, at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

Nat Zegree, center, works with Robert Toms and Emily Rozman at a rehearsal for “The King’s Critique.” Zegree is the musical director and co-writer. Rehearsal photos by James Brosher.

Post courtesy of newsroom intern Amanda N. Marino:

Nat Zegree comes alive when he plays the piano. Already full of energy, the upbeat song he is banging out on the keys has a little bit of him in it, much like the rest of “The King’s Critique.” He is, after all, its co-writer and musical director.

The musical will premiere this month as part of the IU Summer Theatre season at Indiana University’s Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

IU Summer Theatre, formerly known as IU Festival Theatre, will feature four productions in 2016, starting with “The King’s Critique” June 8, 9, 10 and 11.

In “The King’s Critique,” performers must band together to bring art and laughter to audiences in spite of a king’s decision to name himself head theater critic in the empire. Unlikely comrades must band together to put a monarch in his place and prove a woman can do anything a man can do.

Musical teamwork

While Zegree was studying musical theater at IU, he met Eric Holmes during the 2012 workshop for the musical “Alamo.” Holmes, another IU alumnus, wrote the musical with Timothy Noble, distinguished professor of voice at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Eric Holmes

Eric Holmes studied playwriting at Indiana University and is now based in New York City.

Holmes and Zegree clicked. The two stayed in touch and began collaborating right away.

Zegree said once he moved to New York City, their writing process began to show results.

Holmes said their creative relationship is an unconventional one. The playwright could tell Zegree what a character was feeling or thinking and instantly Zegree would be playing what Holmes heard in his own head.

Holmes said he can’t really explain how their partnership came to fruition, but he was always dazzled by Zegree’s talent. “I was so overwhelmed and truly impressed with what he did,” he said.

Before he knew it, Holmes said they were writing the musical together in a near constant back-and-forth process. Where one of them left off, the other would pick up and continue writing music, dialogue or lyrics. “The King’s Critique” is a combination of what they both love about musical theater.

Some things came naturally to the show, Holmes said. The musical’s title song, for example, took a surprisingly short amount of time to complete.

“We had so much fun, we wrote it in an hour,” Zegree said.

That, Zegree said, is when the team knew they had something special. But it wasn’t their only project.

“We were actually writing two shows simultaneously because we’re insane,” Holmes said.

Zegree explained that while “The King’s Critique” is an energetic satire rife with social commentary, the other show was much darker and more cerebral.

“The two musicals we had written could not be more different,” he said.

“‘The King’s Critique’ was easier to get excited about because it had more room for creativity and fun,” Zegree said.

Merriment and messages

Along with witty dialogue and lively music, Zegree said the show also carries two important messages.

Robert Toms, left, and Emily Rozman rehearse a scene for "The King's Critique" on Thursday, May 26, 2016, at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

Robert Toms plays Sebastian and Emily Rozman is Josephine in “The King’s Critique,” which premieres June 8.

First, Zegree said the entertainment industry is losing some of what makes it great. Theater and art are being replaced with reality television and other unimaginative works.

He said this show is an attempt to call to mind a better time in the entertainment world.

Holmes said he has a passion for the second message in the show. “My favorite thing about it is that it’s a feminist story,” he said.

The main character is a woman who wants to change the world. Zegree said that while everybody has that ability, “we still live in a society where women are second tier to men.”

Zegree said he finds that unacceptable and believes people deserve the opportunity to try to do what they love, regardless of gender.

Page to stage

Holmes said the process from idea to completed show took about a year for “The King’s Critique.”

During that time, Zegree told his friend George Pinney about the musical. The director loved it and helped bring it to IU as part of the summer selection of shows.

“Nat and Eric, individually, are outstanding artists, as a team they are a true theatrical force. Their writing is witty, imaginative, engaging and very fun,” said Pinney, the head of the musical theater within the IU drama department. “Most of all, they are terrific human beings to work with.”

“Nat and I are so excited to finally see it on stage,” Holmes said.

Director George Pinney works with an actor during a rehearsal for "The King's Critique" on Thursday, May 26, 2016, at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

George Pinney has won numerous teaching awards as an IU professor and has directed more than 150 university and professional productions.

Zegree said this is their opportunity to see what in the show works in practice and what only made sense on paper. “That’s the most beautiful thing about a workshop,” he said.

Holmes said they are happy to spend a few weeks doing what they love in what he said is one of their favorite cities.

Zegree said he and Holmes are extremely grateful to work with former friends and colleagues on this performance.

After what he hopes will be a successful run, Holmes said he and Zegree will likely try to get the show produced at a regional level. Broadway never sounds like a bad idea, either.

“It means a lot to Eric and I that we can start this process in a place we both call home,” Zegree said. “We’re Hoosiers, and we’re proud Hoosiers.”

To see the show

“The King’s Critique,” a new musical by Eric Holmes and Nat Zegree, will be presented at 7:30 p.m. June 8, 9, 10 and 11 in the Wells-Metz Theatre at 275 N. Jordan Ave. in Bloomington. Tickets are $15, $10 for students and are available online or in person from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the IU Auditorium box office.

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