Two benefit concerts
Spearfish native and internationally produced author of musicals for the stage, Bill Russell returns to the Matthews Opera House for two concerts to benefit The Matthews Opera House and Art Center’s Capital Fund at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 30 and Sunday, July 3, also at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 adults, $10 youth (18 and under).
A night of music
Each evening will feature Bill telling stories about his adventures in the professional theater and local talent performing songs from his shows. Bill will be accompanied by Janeen Larsen, who has played for all his previous appearances there.
Performers will include:
- Marnie Almirall
- Molly Brown
- Alan Finkle
- Kirk Hauck
- Blake Joseph
- Brandon Joseph
- Shirlene Joseph
- Scott Kennedy
- Mary McGillivray
- Shelli Place
- Lorrie Coughlin Redfield
- Jesse Ziebart
Bill has warm feelings for The Matthews. “The Matthews Opera House provided some of my earliest and most formative theater-going experiences when I was still in grade school. It has become something of a tradition for me to host these concerts featuring local talent performing my songs as benefits, usually for the Opera House itself. Proceeds from these will help support the Capital Fund,” remarks Russell.
Bill has a full calendar
Mr. Russell is in the midst of a particularly productive period. “Brave New World,” a musical adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s novel for which he wrote the lyrics. Its world premiere is in May 2016 in Asheville, North Carolina. Bill is directing “Pageant,” for which he co-wrote book and lyrics, at the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park. Performances begin June 25th and go through July 15. Coming up in July and August, “Unexpected Joy,” for which he authored the book and lyrics, will enjoy its world premiere on Cape Cod. “Side Show,” for which he also penned book and lyrics, had an acclaimed Broadway revival in 2014. This show will open in London at the end of October.
About Bill Russell
Bill Russell was born in Deadwood and raised in Spearfish in the Black Hills of South Dakota. His paternal grandparents were Wyoming ranchers and his father was known as “Cowboy” to all. But somehow in that Wild West context, Bill was bitten by a theater bug at an early age.
He attended Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, for two years, majoring in theater, and spent the summers directing shows at a resort in northern New Jersey. There he met an Oberlin student, Janet Hood, and inspired by Hair, asked if she’d like to write a rock musical together. They did — entirely by mail — and the result was presented at the University of Kansas where Bill transferred because Bill Becvar, a professor from Morningside, was doing graduate work there and said he’d like to direct an original. That show, a modern version of the Icarus myth titled, “Sun, Son,” won the national BMI Inter-Varsity Show Competition for original musicals.
Continuing to write with Ms. Hood, Bill took a detour from musical theater into pop music. With Linda Langford, Janet formed a duo called Jade & Sarsaparilla. Bill managed them and wrote their lyrics. Bill was the impetus behind the formation of Monteith & Rand as a comedy team (they first performed as an opening act for Jade & Sarsaparilla). He directed and stage-managed their act for 14 years — on and off Broadway, and at theaters around the nation.
In 1980, Bill made his off-Broadway writing debut, penning book and lyrics for “Fourtune.” The show ran for 241 performances at the Actors Playhouse and was subsequently performed around the country and in Rio de Janeiro. In 1985, he teamed up with composer, Albert Evans, and co-author/co-lyricist, Frank Kelly, to create “The Texas Chainsaw Musical off-Broadway,” a review of unlikely musicals. In 1987, “Family Style,” with music by Janet Hood, was presented by the Minnesota Musical Theater Workshop and in 1989 their AIDS piece titled, “Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens,” premiered at the Ohio Theatre in Soho with Bill directing.
In 1991, “Pageant,” another collaboration with Evans and Kelly, opened off-Broadway at the Blue Angel where it ran for over a year. In 2000, Bill directed a fringe production at the King’s Head Theatre in London which transferred to the West End at the Vaudeville. That production received two Olivier Award nominations — for Gregg Barnes’ costumes and “Best Supporting Performance in a Musical” which Miles Western won for his portrayal of Miss West Coast (competing against three real women!). Bill has also directed productions in Chicago, Los Angeles, Stoneham, MA, Atlanta and the University of Kansas in Lawrence and will direct one at the Black Hills Playhouse summer of 2016. An off-Broadway revival in 2014 received a Drama Desk nomination for “Best Revival of a Musical” and Jay Records released an Original Cast Recording of that production.
“Side Show,” with music by Henry Krieger, marked Bill’s Broadway debut as a writer. The musical, inspired by a true story, opened in October of 1997. Bill received a Tony nomination for Best Book and shared one for Best Score with Henry. The show also received a nomination for Best Musical and a rare joint nomination for Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner as Best Actress in a Musical for their portrayal of the conjoined Hilton Sisters. The Original Cast Recording was released by Sony Classics. A Broadway revival in 2014, directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Bill Condon, received great critical acclaim and five Drama Desk nominations, including “Best Musical Revival.” The Original Cast Recording of that production was released by Broadway Records, as well as a live album of the cast performing cut songs and new material at 54 Below. Prior to Broadway, the revised version was presented by the La Jolla Playhouse and the Kennedy Center, where it won three Helen Hayes Awards including Best Musical. “Side Show” continues to be produced around the country. Bill directed a production at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN in January of 2002. It has toured Sweden in Swedish and had it’s Japanese premiere in April 2010 in Toyko. That production was revived in the fall of 2011. The show will receive its London premiere in October 2016 at the Southwark Playhouse.
Bill and Henry’s second collaboration — a wacky version of the ugly duckling idea (Hans Christian Andersen was not consulted) — has had five major productions under the title “Everything’s Ducky.” Bill wrote the lyrics and co-authored the book with Jeffrey Hatcher. The musical comedy premiered with TheatreWorks of Palo Alto in January of 2000 and was subsequently performed at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the La Mirada Center for the Performing Arts in Southern California and Northlight Theatre in Chicago. The show received the Will Glickman Award for Best New Play (in the S.F. Bay Area) and Garland Awards (presented by Backstage West) for Best Score, Set, and Costumes. A majorly revised version under the title “Lucky Duck,” premiered at the Old Globe in San Diego in July 2004, directed by John Rando, the Tony-winning director of Urinetown. Bill directed a production at the Boston Conservatory in the spring of 2007 and consulted on one at Black Hills State College in his hometown that fall. In 2010, the Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, presented a version adapted for young audiences. That production played the New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City in 2012.
With Henry, Bill wrote, “Santa’s Gonna Rock and Roll,” the opening number of the Radio City Musical Hall Christmas Spectacular which premiered in 1994 and remained for a dozen years. They were commissioned to write “Take the Flame” for the opening ceremonies of Gay Games IV. The song, performed by Lillias White, was repeated at the closing ceremony at Yankee Stadium and was subsequently selected as the official anthem of the Gay Games.
Bill wrote lyrics for “Brave New World,” an adaptation of the Aldous Huxley novel, for its world premiere production at NC Stage in Asheville in 2016.
He is also writing the book and lyrics for “Unexpected Joy,” music by Janet Hood. It premieres in July 2016 at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater on Cape Cod.