Musicals for Change: The Mistress Cycle

Beth Blatt fell in love with the power of story long before she started Hope Sings. It began when she started writing musicals, after many years of performing in them. She is most attracted to stories of transformation, usually ones that center on women who fight to be free from outside strictures and, in so doing, access their power – become fully themselves.

The Mistress Cycle is a prime example of this. The musical, with words by Blatt and music by Jenny Giering, has received award-winning productions in New York, Chicago and London. And now it will be seen October 5-29 just outside Washington DC at the Creative Cauldron, where it is the season opener.

Of the New York premiere production at the New York Musical Festival, where it won the Director's Choice Award, critics said -

"…the kind of morally challenging, aesthetically accomplished work that could thrive with audiences who don’t need to feel good to enjoy musical theater.”                   (Variety)
…an extraordinary and exquisite chamber musical…a beguiling piece of musical theatre…                                                                                                (Broadwayworld.com)

The show began as a song cycle. “To You: A Song cycle of Mistresses” won the prestigious NATS Art Song competition in 1996. Then Blatt and Giering, who met in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, decided to turn the four songs into a full theatrical piece.

Beth and Jenny developed the show at the O’Neill Musical Theatre festival and Theatre Works Palo Alto; along the way, the work helped win the team recognition like the Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre from 2nd Stage (NYC), a fellowship from the Dramatists Guild and a grant from the Jonathan Larson foundation.

The story is largely told through song. Blatt dubbed the form “song cycle plus,” since it has more of a dramatic arc than a typical song cycle, but less spoken material and plot than a traditional musical.

The main character is Tess, a photographer in New York who is offered an offer by a wealthy, attractive, older man to be “kept” as his mistress. As she processes her reaction to this, “other women” from different cultures and eras come to share their stories: a 14-year-old Chinese concubine from the 12th century; Diane de Poitiers, royal mistress to King Henri II in the 15th century France; Lulu White, successful bordello madame in turn-of-the-last-century New Orleans; and Anais Nin, famous diarist and infamous sexual adventurer (and bigamist) in the mid 1900’s.

The show offers vocally and emotionally rich material for women of different ages, vocal types and ethnicities. The power of the songs and stories has attracted the voices of such talents as Rebecca Luker (Mary Poppins, Secret Garden), Julia Murney (Wicked), Sara Ramirez (Grey’s Anatomy), Jessica Molaskey, Judy Blazer and Liz Callaway.

If you’d like to “try on” being one of these women, as Tess does (or have vocal students you are ready for challenging yet rewarding materials), drop us a note for music. 

Interested in producing a show that features five meaty roles for women? Beth Blickers would love to hear from you. 

  Angela Ingersoll  as Anais Nin (in a Chicago production of The Mistress Cycle)

Angela Ingersoll as Anais Nin (in a Chicago production of The Mistress Cycle)

 Mary Bond Davis, Sally Wilfert and Stephanie Bast (NYMF production, directed by  Joe Calarco )

Mary Bond Davis, Sally Wilfert and Stephanie Bast (NYMF production, directed by Joe Calarco)

From the Chicago production starring Susie McMonagle, Angela Ingersoll, Charissa Armon, Karen Marie Richardson and  Christine Bunuan.

From the Prospect Theatre's "Good To Go" evening, featuring Julia Murney.

"Forget everything you thought you knew about musical revues in the past. Though light on dialogue, the Mistress Cycle has a strapping narrative arc, a compelling and moving plot, told through one emotionally reverting song after another."   (The Edge, Chicago)