Canadian musical wins big at New York Musical Festival

Jenny Waxman, left, and Ben Page.

A new musical play by Hamilton, Ont., native Jenny Waxman has carried away the top prize at the prestigious New York Musical Festival.

The competition, which has served as the birthplace for many successful Broadway hits, rated the play Leaving Eden, which was written by Waxman and Sheridan College theatre student Ben Page, the best musical of the festival. That’s in addition to three other first prizes and five runner-up honours, the highest total for any show at the festival.

“This is just all very, very exciting,” Waxman said after the awards ceremony, which she couldn’t attend because of a law school commitment.

“Members of the team were texting me as the awards happened,” she said. “It was really nail-biting, but it was really exciting, because almost everyone got recognized.”

In addition to being named best musical, Leaving Eden also took top prize for overall design, Sarah Anne Martinez tied for top prize for best lead performance and Waxman was recognized for best lyrics.

The show also garnered runner-up honours for best lead performance, direction book, music and outstanding ensemble.

“To get affirmation like this from the New York community is pretty stellar. I don’t really think it has sunk in yet,” she said.

For Waxman, a veteran of local theatre camp and university shows, the experience and the win are just one step toward getting the major production she wants for the show. It’s also a significant boost to her own dream of a career as a Broadway producer.

“Our first next step is to get the team together and start doing some rewrites,” she said. “This was our first time seeing actors perform it without music stands in front of them. We learned a lot by listening to the audience and seeing where they laughed and where they didn’t.

“People really responded to the show.… It wasn’t perfect the first time, but I’m proud that it made people think and talk. That was the goal of it.”

While the show and its songs are being tweaked, meetings are being planned with potential backers for an Off-Broadway, or even a Broadway, production.

“We have meetings with people interested in taking it places, so we’re putting together footage and press kits and proposals for institutions,” she said. “Sometimes it’s an investor, sometimes it’s a producer with connections, sometimes it’s a theatre, a regional theatre that wants to champion it. That’s the next step and we have meetings with all of those kinds of people.”

Waxman said a regional theatre production, in Canada or the United States, is the likely next step as the show continues to develop into something people will pay US$150 ($200) to see.

“I can see a longer run at a regional theatre, then bringing it back to New York, either Off-Broadway, or Off-Broadway and then Broadway,” she said.

While she praised everyone connected with the festival production, Waxman was especially effusive about co-author Ben Page.

“Ben and I have an almost sibling relationship. For two months, we worked in the tiniest one-bedroom apartment with him sleeping in the living room and me in the bedroom,” she said. “It’s hard to find such a communicative and supportive artistic relationship. I adore him and wouldn’t want to work with anyone else. His music is really good.”

Waxman didn’t know it when she and Page started working together, but his musical pedigree is pretty impressive on its own. Page’s father, Steven, is a founder and former front man of the Canadian supergroup Barenaked Ladies.

The New York Musical Festival has a reputation as being the birthplace of musicals that go on to success on Broadway – in its 15 years, 105 of the festival’s 447 productions have gone on to the Great White Way, or a theatre close to it.

Leaving Eden tells the story of Adam and his first wife Lilith, who has some questions about the many rules Adam has for their relationship – including that he always has to be on top.

In a parallel storyline, a modern Adam and Eve struggle with their own friend Lilith and their desire to become parents.

Waxman, 28, has already earned graduate and undergraduate degrees in fine arts from New York University and is now entering her second year at Georgetown University law school.