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New Labs Sizzle at B'way Theater Institute

The nonprofit Broadway Theater Institute (BTI), which aims to "preserve, protect, and promote Broadway's dynamically vibrant heritage and its impact on the development of theater," is in an expansion phase. The organization now provides space to two developmental programs for new musicals, the Hinton Battle Theatre Laboratory and the Musical Mondays Theater Lab

The former program is the newer of the two; its first project, a "horror metal musical" called "The Bronx Casket Co.," receives a showcase production Jan. 27-30 at Chashama, with three-time Tony winner Battle as choreographer and director. A "love story-slash-murder mystery," the cast of 16 includes many Broadway chorus members, including Mark Richard Ford ("Rent"), Kamilah Martin ("Hairspray"), and Desiree Parkman ("Annie Get Your Gun"). The book is by Andrea Lepcio, and music and lyrics are by D.D. Verni.

According to Helen Guditis, president of BTI, last season Battle agreed to host the organization's annual Excellence in Theater Awards, working pro bono. Aware of his desire to develop new musicals, Guditis came to him with an idea.

"Hinton was kind enough to host our awards, even though he'd just come back from Los Angeles and was still deciding what he wanted to do," Guditis recalls. "To thank him, I thought we'd provide him with a space—a desk and a phone—and let him get to it." The arrangement reflects Guditis' belief that BTI's mission should be as "inclusive and proactive" as possible.

The Musical Mondays Theater Lab, meanwhile, is itself a nonprofit founded four years ago and coming into the BTI orbit last season. Created by producing director Bick Goss, last fall the Lab offered readings of new musicals, including "Theory of the Leisure Class," set in 1900 New York, and "5horts," a compendium of brief works by members of the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. Readings are to resume again in the spring, and may, Goss says, include "Like You Like It," based on the Bard; an adaptation of E.M. Forster's "A Room with a View"; and "Wild Women of Planet Wongo," a pop-rock musical.

Guditis notes that while the Hinton Battle Theatre Laboratory and Musical Mondays operate under the BTI guise, they must do their own fundraising; the agreement simply allows the groups a home base. As for BTI itself, Guditis says the ultimate goal is the creation of a theatre museum. To that end, a director of public programming has recently been hired to coordinate events, hopefully including "lectures, seminars, and walking tours—things a theatre museum would offer the public."

For more information on the Hinton Battle Theatre Laboratory, Musical Mondays Theater Lab, or the Broadway Theater Institute, call (212) 956-5481.

—Leonard Jacobs

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