Pintauro Plays Put to Music at Parrish

“Salvation,” a fully staged, contemporary musical theater piece
In “Rex,” Hadley Rouse and Matthew Boyd play a vegetarian couple at odds over whether to eat a pheasant she has killed with his Mercedes. Kevin Jeffers

Joe Pintauro is a prolific playwright, poet, photographer, novelist, and fixture of the theatrical and literary worlds. However, the Sag Harbor resident has not been associated with musical theater — until now.

“Salvation,” a fully staged, contemporary musical theater piece adapted by Kevin Jeffers from one-act plays by Mr. Pintauro, will have its world premiere on Friday, May 25, at 6 p.m. at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill. The production will feature six vocalists and piano accompaniment by Mr. Jeffers.

The composer chose three works from “Metropolitan Operas,” a collection of 27 short plays by the playwright. He closely aligned his adaptation with Mr. Pintauro’s original scripts, adding opening and closing numbers and blending the dramatic realism of contemporary musical theater with the soaring melodies of the classical vocal style.

The chosen plays are “Rex,” “Rules of Love,” and “Birds in Church.” In “Rex,” a woman driving her husband’s vintage Mercedes home from a Buddhist retreat accidentally hits and kills a pheasant. The vegetarian couple debate whether to roast and consume the bird so that it might re-enter the life stream.

In “Rules of Love,” Maisie, a single woman having an affair with a married man, has to decide whether to continue the relationship despite his unwillingness to leave his wife. Seeking guidance, she confesses her affair to a priest. 

“Birds in Church” is the story of a priest struggling with a crisis of faith who has an inexplicable encounter in a cathedral with winged creatures that may or may not be messengers from above. 

Mr. Jeffers and Mr. Pintauro first connected more than 15 years ago, when, for a BMI musical theater workshop project, Mr. Jeffers came upon “Birds in Church.” He sketched the entire show in a few hours. “It was singing back to me,” the composer said. At the time he had never met the playwright.

A mutual friend subsequently introduced the two men, and Mr. Pintauro went to New York City for an informal private performance. “I was happy with it,” said Mr. Jeffers, “but there was dead silence. When I went to thank him for coming and say I was sorry it wasn’t his cup of tea, there was a tear in his eye. He said, ‘Will you guys do that again for me?’ We did, and he said he loved it.”

A long friendship followed. Mr. Pintauro wanted the piece expanded into a full show, but Mr. Jeffers had other ideas. He decided to musicalize “Rex” and “Rules of Love,” and a little more than a year ago he invited the playwright to another private reading. Mr. Pintauro approved, and further discussions led to some refinements. 

Mr. Jeffers proposed renting a theater on Broadway, but Mr. Pintauro favored a first step before taking it to New York. They met in November with the Parrish’s director, Terrie Sultan, and Corinne Erni, the senior curator of special projects. There was no video recording of the  play, but when Mr. Pintauro said, “You’re gonna love this,” it was enough to seal the deal.

The cast of singers includes Tyler Belo, Matthew Boyd, Jessie Pressman, Hadley Rouse, and Eric Sorrels, and features a guest performance by Bart Shatto, who has had leading roles on Broadway in “The Civil War,” “Dracula,” “War Paint,” and “Les Miserables.”

When composing, Mr. Jeffers works at the piano with photocopies of the play in front of him. In “Salvation,” some lines are sung, some spoken with background music, and some are straight dialogue. “My hope is that I expand into music or partial music as necessary, and at that moment when it can’t do anything else, it has to open up into full song. Joe’s text is very lyric.”

Mr. Pintauro is a recipient of the John Steinbeck Literary Humanitarian Award, and his many plays include “Snow Orchid” and “Beside Herself,” both produced at the Circle Repertory Company, “By the Sea,” a collaboration with Terrence McNally and Lanford Wilson (Manhattan Theatre Club), and “Raft of the Medusa” (Minetta Lane and Cherry Lane theaters). 

Mr. Jeffers is a composer-lyricist for musical theater and chamber opera, having written a musical based on Edgar Lee Masters’s “Spoon River Anthology” and a chamber opera based on Arthur Miller’s “Elegy for a Lady.” He has written many choral works and a fully orchestrated Requiem Mass.

Tickets are $25, $10 for museum members and students.