Abyssinia  |  Houdini  |  Imperfect Chemistry |  Joker's Game  |  Jolson  |  Oh, Kay!

2005 North Shore production of Abyssinia in BostonRacheff and Kociolek

Abyssinia is a musical retelling of the Job story, set in rural Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th Century in the all black community of Stillwater.  Abbysinia Jackson, born in a cotton field in the aftermath of a tornado, is spared by "the finger of God" and grows into a young woman who has the healing power of song.  Like Job, Abby undergoes a series of faith-testing trials, and at one point gives back her "gift," vowing to never sing again for a God who gives with one hand and takes with the other.  Her decision devastates the community, and her journey from songless despair to musical strength is shepherded by the community's Sister of Healing, Mother Vera.

Since the debut production by Musical Theatre Works in 1987, to its development by the Goodspeed Opera House, Abyssinia has had over a dozen productions, including encore productions, at some of the best known regional theatres in the country:  Arena Stage (D.C.), Cleveland Play House, North Shore Music Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House mainstage, the Lyric Stage (Dallas), to name a few.

book by James Racheff and Ted Kociolek
music by Ted Kociolek
lyrics by James Racheff
based on the novel Marked By Fire by Joyce Carol Thomas

CAST SIZE:  14  (8 women, 6 men)

Abyssinia is a book musical with a Broadway/Gospel score.  Current plans are for a UK production at the Hackney Empire, Susie McKenna directing, in 2016.

Composer William Scott Duffield, director Gabe Barre,
and lyricist Racheff during rehearsals, 2004
Houdini is a musical based on the life of the legendary magician, Eric Weiss. It explores the rivalry between Harry and his brother Theo (known as Hardeen) both professionally and personally over their love for Harry's wife, Bess. The show follows the brothers who as boys break away from their Rabbi father to form a partnership in magic, to meeting the young Irish performer, Bess. Their early struggles finally pay off when they meet impresario Martin Beck, but Theo has to take a back seat as Harry's assistant while Houdini escapes his way to international fame.

Houdini had its premier on the mainstage at the Goodspeed Opera House, and a subsequent production in the round at the Lincolnshire Marriott (Chicago).  The score by William Scott Duffield is haunting and engaging, ranging from 1890s barbershop to a poignant triple-counterpoint ballad to an edgy, off-kilter chorale.  Magic is used as a story-telling device and includes Metamorphosis, the upside-down straight-jacket escape, black arts, and Houdini's own water escape.

book by James Racheff
music by William Scott Duffield
lyrics by William Scott Duffield and James Racheff
magic consultant Peter Samelson

CAST SIZE:  19   (11 men, 8 women)

Imperfect Chemistry is a musical romp through Genesis:  Adam and Eve (Alvin and Elizabeth) as genetic scientists, pursuing the cure for male pattern baldness in the perfect laboratory, Avalon, outfitted by a mega-rich benefactor who has only one proscription:  don't use his two supercomputers! Of course there is the evil Russian ex-pat out for profit at all costs, and the snakey administrator who convinces our two naifs to break the rules.

Imperfect Chemistry had an Off Broadway run at the Minetta Lane Theatre, directed by John Ruocco, starring Brooks Ashmanskas, Ken Barnett, John Jellison, and Amanda Watkins; produced by Back To Back Productions LLC, Roger Alan Gindi general manager.

Imperfect Chemistry
story and music by Albert M. Tapper
book and lyrics by James Racheff

CAST SIZE: 8 (5 men, 3 women)
Cast Album available

The NY staged reading creative team: Allen, Racheff, Zhang, Stimic, and Stock.
The Joker's Game is currently under development. It is a contemporary musical set in Beijing and tells the story of a magician (stage name The Joker) and the four Queens who have an impact on his life. It is unique in that it is being developed simultaneously in Mandarin for the Chinese audience and in English for an international audience.

From an original idea by Kemin Zhang and Tony Stimac, The Joker's Game tackles contemporary issues in China, like the new materialism and old familial obligations, in a backstage setting. The score is not afraid to insert pop elements like hip-hop and rap alongside classic Broadway, and the element of magic propels the story forward to its startling conclusion: the Joker has to solve everyone's problems without getting himself killed in the process.

The Joker's Game had a Mandarin workshop production in Beijing in September 2010, and had a full production in Tang Xia, China on November 15, 2011, and also at the Guangdong Musical Festival in January, 2012.  Plans are underway for a 2013 production in Beijing.

The Joker's Game
book by James Racheff, Tony Stimac, and Kemin Zhang
English lyrics by James Racheff
Chinese lyrics by Kemin Zhang
music by Louis St. Louis
additional songs by Mark Allen
music director Louis St. Louis

CAST SIZE:  18-20 (8 men and 10 women) including a girl group of 4

Jolson: A Vaudeville 

Jolson lead, John Sannuto, and Ted Kociolek
Jolson is a tour de force vehicle for the performer who can deliver the songs that made this master entertainer famous. Utilizing an MC and a "Card Girl" to narrate/comment on the life and times of Al Jolson, this musical songbook tells Jolson's story from his early days on the boards, to Broadway fame, to talkies and beyond. Even Jolson in blackface is presented, a comment on the roots of white hip-hop and rap. Jolson makes no apology for the political incorrectness of a white man in blackface, but it gives a contemporary audience a context to think about, and a relevance in today's pop music to ponder.

Jolson was originally presented at the Pelican Studio Theatre, starring John Sannuto, Scott Darby, and Kyrst Hogan; directed and choreographed by Gary Slavin. Music is by Al Jolson and various composers - copyright has lapsed for some material, however licensing arrangements must be made for those songs still under copyright.

Jolson: A Vaudeville
book by James Racheff and Ted Kociolek
based on an idea by John Sannuto

CAST SIZE:  3 (2 men, 1 woman)

David Merrick's Oh, Kay! is an adaptation of the original Gershwin/Wodehouse musical of the twenties, set in Harlem (instead of Long Island) during Prohibition. Owners of a prominent Harlem night club hide their illegal booze in the basement of a local millionaire who is out of the country. The owner (Jimmy) shows up unexpectedly with his new bride and her minister father, forcing one of the bootleggers into pretending to be the new butler, and the star of the nightclub, Kay, into pretending she is the new maid.

This version of Oh, Kay! originated at Goodspeed Opera House from an idea by Dan Siretta, who choreographed that production which starred the late Ron Richardson as Jimmy and Pam Isaacs as Kay, with Martin Connor directing. David Merrick saw it and produced it on Broadway with Siretta directing, Brian Stokes Mitchell as Jimmy, and Angela Teak as Kay. The show got universally good reviews--except from Frank Rich, then at the height of his power as the New York Times reviewer. Merrick, wheel-chair bound, incontinent, and almost incommunicable because of a stroke, fought publicly with Rich, but was unable to overcome Rich's power to affect box office.

Merrick closed the show in the winter, with plans to open it in March. Unfortunately, he fired Angela Teak and over the entire creative team's objections hired Rae Dawn Chong, a Hollywood actress who could neither act nor sing, and certainly couldn't carry the title role. Merrick finally realized this and closed the re-opening in previews.

David Merrick's Oh, Kay! had full access to the Gershwin catalog, and featured songs like "Do, Do, Do," "Slap that Bass," "Clap-a Yo Hands," and of course, "Someone to Watch Over Me."  It was a tap show and showcased the talents of Stanley Wayne Mathis and the late Gregg Burge. The show is not available for production. Not long after Oh, Kay! closed, Crazy For You opened and was a hit. They also had access to the Gershwin catalog and appropriated "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Slap That Bass."  Thank you, Frank Rich.