The good news is that Kiesha Lalama’s The Bench is moving forward. We first saw the production in 2009 as part of Point Park University’s dance series. it was a family affair from the start, with cousin and composer David Lalama and tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama a part of the holiday package.
It told the story of a young man and woman who met, fell in love and married. What followed was the everyman story of an everyday family, where relationships cause both difficulty and great joy. It was something that virtually everyone in the audience could relate to in a different way as they reflected on their own lives, like “a family album come to life.”
So people warmly responded to scenes like the “crazy aunt” at the table scene and the wedding, where the daughter walked down the aisle with her dad.
But there is more good news. It evidently has legs, strong and sure, and has been renamed The Bench: A Journey Into Love. Subtitled “A New Musical Dance Spectacular.” The evening-long work falls into a family-friendly version of productions like “Movin’ Out” and “Contact,” where dance formed the thread.
There was much interest at the outset from Titus Theatricals LLC founder and CEO, Eric McCree to take it to Broadway. With his input, though, that meant that Kiesha had to reconstruct certain elements of the story.l
Now two narrators, both singers, will express the secret thoughts of the main characters in song. Scotland’s Joel Mason, lyricist, joined the team to add another dimension to David’s score.
They were going to do a staged reading, but they bypassed it in favor of a full-blown workshop, according to Kiesha. This has enabled her and David to stay “true to the values” of their work. They added about 20 minutes and got deeper into the characters. While the mother’s stage-dominating dress will remain, the dinner table, a pivotal scene in the original production, will be lengthened and will rotate on a platform to increase its visual impact.
This past week Kiesha and her team, including Point Park staffer Jason McDole and James Washington, who played the son in the original cast, traveled to Boise, Idaho. “Idaho,” you say? Sometimes called the Potato State, it also grows dance companies in the state’s largest city — the critically-acclaimed Trey MacIntyre Project and Ballet Idaho, which made a brief appearance on the reality ballet series “Breaking Pointe” when one of the dancers got dumped from Ballet West and picked up a job there.
So some of those local dancers populated the production and Broadway veteran Tituss Burgess (Jersey Boys, The Little Mermaid, Guys and Dolls) and Angela Birchett (Hairspray, national tour) joined the 15-member cast.
Kiesha met Tituss a while ago and he never left her thoughts. “You know, you meet someone along they way and you don’t know the impact they will have on your life,” explains Kiesha.
But there is more good news. A Pittsburgh group, including traveled there and several Broadway backers, who shall remain nameless for now, as well.
“In some ways, it’s been bigger than I anticipated,” says Kiesha, who is looking to go straight to New York’s Musical Theatre Festival next year.
It’s a difficult process, most likely filled with the kind of obstacles that Dorothy faced in Oz. But Kiesha appears to be determined, noting that “I am secure with kind of artist that I am.”