Show History

Summer 2008:
Workshop at Northwestern University

Winter 2008-09:
World Premiere at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire

Fall 2010:
Showcase at National Alliance for Musical Theatre's
annual festival of new musicals in New York City

David H. Bell, PlaywrightI have always been fascinated by the American "rags to riches" mythology. It is the essential ingredient of the "American Dream," that at any moment we can re-invent ourselves, escape our circumstances, and through hard word and perserverence attain success. This American mythology was celebrated in more than 200 books written by Horatio Alger Jr.

Writing at the end of the 1800s, Horatio Alger Jr. lived through perhaps the most exciting period in American history. He witnessed the beginning of the great western expansion, the struggle between slavery and freedom, and the burgeoning of an industrial giant. Alger created a compelling reflection of an America that had an appreciation of hard work, strong character, and good fortune. He created simple morality tales filled with wicked squires, evil poorhouse managers, scrappy street boys, manly robust heroes, delicate flowers of girls, evil roisterers, and the rich, rich, rich! Alger was interested in the struggle of "making it in America". In the ability of young boys with no fortune or education to speak of, to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps through courage, honesty, character, and luck. His tales of shoe shine boys, newsboys, street musicians, match sellers, and all the young male orphans that populated the Newsboys Lodging House, ignited the imagination of millions, making Horation Alger the most popular author of his era.

When I started work on the idea, I focused on the 5 books written about Alger's most popular character - Dick Hunter. I recalled the pictures and writing of Jacob Riis (THE OTHER HALF) - who created enduring images of the squalid lives of Immigrant America. The distance between the optimistic and continually upbeat street boys of Horatio Alger and the horrible deprivation of the actual conditions of the period seemed to be an exciting place to start building a musical. Fortunately a little over two years ago I took that idea to Terry James and Aaron Thielen at the Marriott Theatre - and they also saw the potential.

My initial intension was to interpolate lesser known George M Cohan songs into a Horatio Alger Jr. story, since so much of the energy and optimistic spirit of the period is central to the songs of Cohan who was writing at the same time as Alger. But as the story started to emerge and my music collaborator and composer, Jeremy Cohen, started to evolve the score, the Cohan songs became a point of departure musically and the score of THE BOWERY BOYS started to have a voice of it's own very different from the music that inspired it.

Jeremy and I presented a reading of our recently completed script a year and a half ago and were thrilled that the Marriott Theatre decided to produce it - but (as is always the case) that was just the beginning of the Bowery Boys journey. In the summer of 2008 the Marriott Theatre presented a three week workshop of the new musical with a committed and talented student cast from Northwestern University and the American Music Theatre Project. Following this process, THE BOWERY BOYS had an overhaul - eight songs got thrown out, four new ones written, new characters were created while others were dropped.

THE BOWERY BOYS has been a rich collaboration. It is the Nineteenth Century inspiration and energy that guides this Twenty First Century interpretation.

- David H. Bell,
  Playwright

Photographer: Peter Coombs