If you are a fan of WYFL1180 AM’s “From Bullets To Broadway,” then you saw “Un-Block The Music’s” story about Sally Rosenberg and her musical in the making, Invincible (https://unblockthemusic.blog/2020/05/18/humans-need-humans-story-of-emergency-hits-home-more-than-ever/).
The radio show, hosted by Dan McCaughan is the Anatomy of A Broadway Show, Featuring Emergency The Musical. “Un-Block The Music” sits in on the show and follows up the conversation on this blog. Sally, like Emergency’s Jeff and Jacob Foy, is part of Davenport Theatricals’ Inner Circle which is a networking group in New York aimed at theater development. Sally’s story started long before her involvement with that group, however.
Sally wrote the middle grade novel, Invincible (Imagination Stage Press 2006), upon which the musical is based. She said, “My passion growing up was performing. I produced and directed when I was in college.” Then, she became a lawyer, but her zeal for theater never really went away. She has been involved with a non-profit organization called Imagination Stage, in the Washington, DC area for more than two decades.( See the description below or go to https://imaginationstage.org/)
However, it was Sally’s friendship with Jill Lesser that really brought her towards the New York stage. Jill and Sally have been friends since their children met in nursery school. Those boys are now in their 20s. Jill knew about Sally’s book, which is a fantasy about a twin girl who cannot walk, but refuses to accept the limitations of her world. “My immediate inspiration for writing Invincible in the winter of 2000 was the 5-year-old twin daughters of my wonderful friends from law school. One of the girls was born with cerebral palsy, but she was fiercely determined to break through her limits.” That little girl was not Sally’s only inspiration.
Sally also grew up with an aunt who used a wheel chair and had a degenerative physical condition. “She was a powerful force in my life. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, there were not opportunities for people like my aunt to be able to integrate into the world. As a child, in my eyes, my aunt had no life. She sat in a chair in my grandmothers apartment with no activities or social life. She was understandably a miserable person. My compulsion to write this story was to rewrite her story. It was my fantasy of what my aunt’s life should have been.” The Head of Theater at America University told her she should turn the book into a play. Sally thought a musical would be better.
“Jill loved the idea of getting this musical to the stage and she told me she wanted to help me do it. She found Ken Davenport’s first Super Conference, a gathering of the world’s top theatrical talent for a weekend of education, inspiration and connection. (https://tppsuperconference.com/).” They went to the inaugural conference. Sally introduced herself to Ken. “He invited me into the Inner Circle (just what it sounds like, a networking group). Jill came with me and we realized we really want to do this…even beyond Invincible.” Becoming part of the theater community felt like coming home, Sally said.
Sally and Jill learned right away that the best way to learn how to produce theater is to co-produce. So, she and Jill, formed Ladybug Productions (https://www.ladybugp.com/), and they became investors in Ken’s musical Gettin’ The Band Back Together. “It was fun, and I think it was fun for Ken to have some non-New Yorkers come into the fold. Washington DC is close to NY and it is easy to get there. But it was a novelty to be part of Broadway.” Ladybug also invested in the tour of Once On This Island, Ken’s Tony winning show. ‘It was supposed to hit the DC area when everything was cancelled due to CO-VID 19.”
As for Invincible, it has gone through many changes. However, Mark Sonnenblick (marksonnenblick.com), the composer/lyricist, is a constant. Sally met him through an Imagination Stage Board Member. “Last summer, Mark was doing a residency in DC. While he was in town, Jill and I hosted ‘an evening of sharing’ for him. He talked about Invincible and shared some songs from another show he had in development at Signature Theater in Virginia. It was fun and great to expose Mark to our network. People are curious about how shows get done.” (That’s why WYFL’s Show, From Bullets To Broadway is so amazing.)
Another longstanding team member is Director/Choreographer Jeff Whiting (Bullets Over Broadway, The Scottsboro Boys, Hair, Wicked, Young Frankenstein, Big Fish). Sally met him through one of her former law clients, who after hearing the music himself suggested sending it to Jeff who wanted to meet the writers when he heard it. Invincible’s original book writer had moved on to films which created the opportunity to bring on a woman for this project. Enter… Fred Ebb Award Winner Stacey Luftig (https://www.staceyluftig.com/) . Sally said, “I believe that you can take full advantage of an unexpected occurrence. While losing our original writer was disheartening, adding a woman seemed right since the story features a female protagonist. And to not have a female writer on the scene stands out.”
Sally has been working on Invincible The Musical (https://invinciblethemusical.com/) for nearly a decade, but the timing just seems right now for this type of story. Think back to the Tony Awards last summer when Oklahoma’s Ali Stroker became the first person in a wheel chair to ever win the honor. For Invincible, Sally said, “We have now brought in people that live with disabilities as well as family and friends of those living with disabilities. Our cast has to be representative as does our creative team. We have been connecting to the disabilities communities and have been in touch with The National Disability Theater to get recommendations of dramaturgs and such.”
“We have been thinking how the physical structure of theater is unfriendly to people with disabilities, and we hope to address that,” Sally says. Ali Stroker had to sit backstage at the Tonys because there was no way to come up on stage if she won. At the time she told The New York Times, “I think I had a dream that maybe there could be a ramp built. It’s more than just a logistical thing — it’s saying that you are accepted here, in every part of you. I know that the Tony’s did the best that they could, and I know that Radio City did the best they could. I am not naïve — there are a lot of logistical things you have to deal with around buildings that were built a long, long time ago. They did put in a ramp backstage.”
“Un-Block The Music” was in NYC that Tony night running back and forth between Radio City and Circle In The Square Theater where Ali was starring in Oklahoma. When she won, there was a roar throughout the city; very thrilling to be there. And now, it will be exciting to watch Sally and Jill’s next step to getting this show on the road…or rather on the stage!
By the way, if you haven’t heard From Bullets To Broadway, you can check it out every Saturday at Noon Eastern Time, and you can see the interviews done by “Un-Block The Music” but putting “Emergency” in the search bar.
About Imagination Stage
“Imagination Stage empowers all young people to discover their voice and identity through performing arts education and professional theater. We value inclusiveness and diversity by including all artistry, abilities, and talent, by welcoming and serving the diversity of our community and by respecting the diversity of our world and our work. Unlike most children’s theatre companies, Imagination Stage commissions new works for children every year. These productions have been recognized with awards and productions by other companies around the world.”