‘Birthday Candles,’ Workshopped in ‘17, to Appear on Broadway

  • Annie Purcell and Kelsey Jenison act out a scene in which their characters share a moment as mother and daughter during a photo call following a performance of the New Play Workshop production “Birthday Candles” Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2017 in Bratton Theater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

A play workshopped at Chautauqua Institution in 2017 will soon be taking center stage on Broadway.

Birthday Candles by Noah Haidle is a show that distills 100 years into 30 minutes as it follows one woman from her 17th birthday all the way until her 117th. In a 2017 story in The Chautauquan Daily, Haidle said the show deals with how to lead a meaningful life, and examines how family, tradition and time mingle with one another to create human experiences.

“It’s life, but more curated,” Haidle said in 2017.

The show was originally commissioned by Detroit Public Theater, where Chautauqua Theater Company Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy co-founder and co-producing artistic director.

After its inception, Birthday Candles came to the Institution as part of the New Play Workshop where it was staged and altered based on each night’s performance.

Through the NPW, recently written plays come to Chautauqua to find their feet. Instead of simply being read aloud in a writing room, the plays are staged with some technical elements and costumes in order for their writers and directors to get a better idea of what they look like during a real performance.

Now, just two years after its workshop at Chautauqua, the show will begin running on Broadway in the 2019-20 season.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Corporandy said.

Birthday Candles will be directed by former CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch, who left Chautauqua in 2016 to step into the role of producing artistic director at the PlayMakers Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Benesch has been involved with this play from the start. She took the helm as director when the play first came to Chautauqua, then followed it to Detroit for its world premiere at DPT in 2018.

Now that the show is set to appear on the Broadway stage at the Roundabout Theater Company, Benesch will remain in her role as the production’s director.

Not only will the show be taking the stage in New York’s most prestigious theater district, it will also star Debra Messing, best known for her leading role in NBC’s “Will and Grace.” Birthday Candles will be the second on-Broadway production Messing has appeared in after performing in John Patrick Shanley’s Outside Mullingar in 2014.

CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba was just as excited about the show’s success as Corporandy.

He said he appreciates the opportunities the NPW provides both writers and CTC staff.

“Because of the amazing resources and talents we have (at Chautauqua), we’re in a unique position to actually shepherd and work and stretch and challenge these plays before they go on to full productions,” Borba said. “That’s something special because it usually doesn’t happen.”

And while Birthday Candles’ rapid rise to the Broadway stage may seem implausible to some, Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore doesn’t think so. She has believed in both this show and the NPW program all the way.

“I’d almost say it’s unbelievable, but it’s not, because we believed in this work,” Moore said. “I would say it is an incredible affirmation about the power of the work that the Chautauqua Theater Company is doing.”

In light of this success, both Borba and Corporandy expressed a desire to keep the NPW program going strong.

“It’s really one of our top priorities right now,” Borba said. “There are many ways we’re going about supporting it, whether it’s giving more time and resources to these shows, or the conversations that we’re in with outside theaters to build those bridges for these shows to carry on.”

CTC will once again be staging plays as part of the NPW this season.

How the Light Gets In by E.M. Lewis will run July 18-20; On the Exhale by Martin Zimmerman will run Aug. 14-18; and Agent 355 by Preston Max Allen and Jessica Kahkoska will run Aug. 15-18.
Tags : Birthday CandlesBroadwayThe Artstheatre

The author Duard Headley

Duard Headley is from tiny Yellow Springs, Ohio, and studies journalism and American studies at Miami University in Ohio. Coming hot off the heels of performing in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream last summer, he is excited to cover theater at Chautauqua, merging his love for writing and theater into one experience. In his free time, he enjoys acting, reading, and staring wistfully into the distance as though he were deep in thought (He usually isn’t).