New Works Initiative - Commissioning Project Update!

Class of 2017 performing Love in Hate Nation at 54 Below

The New Works Initiative is the first of its kind in musical theatre training, an opportunity to cultivate both the artists and the art of tomorrow’s musical theatre. By commissioning new musicals that capitalize on the unique talents and humanity of our senior MT majors each year, then guiding those works through development that benefits both the students and the musicals, Penn State is creating a unique foothold in the process of new musical theatre.

Class of 2017 backstage before State College reading of Love in Hate Nation Last year’s musical LOVE IN HATE NATION (by Joe Iconis) was developed with the senior students through the year, culminating in a sold-out performance at 54 Below in NYC and a packed house full concert reading at the Downtown Theatre in State College. While not necessarily the goal for every project, LOVE IN HATE NATION will continue to a second phase of development this year—a full production at Penn State. We will utilize the talents and resources of the original cast (who have now graduated) and have the full support of a School of Theatre production. Joe Iconis will be with us through that process and revise/rewrite during the production. Please look for more information on the show, running February 13-24, 2018, at the Downtown Theatre.

Joe Iconis gives casual campus concert for MT studentsLOVE IN HATE NATION is also fortunate to have already garnered a professional developmental trajectory as well. Readings will occur at Musical Theatre Factory in NYC on October 16-17 with a professional cast and team. Penn State is heavily represented in that professional trajectory, and the goal is that both developmental processes work together toward the best possible production in February at Penn State. Please visit for more information and tickets to the October readings.

Mike and Sarah meet the class of 2018This year’s commission is a still untitled piece by Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger. Mike and Sarah visited Penn State last year to meet the then-junior class and have been writing since. They will be with us in residence throughout this year to develop the piece, culminating again in a 54 Below concert and full concert reading in State College. Stay tuned for more information as this exciting project grows—and read more about Mike and Sarah below.

If you are interested in learning more about this exciting commissioning program or would like to support it in any way, please drop John a quick note!




Mike rehearses with the class of 2018MIKE REID (composer) has been both one of the most feared defensive linemen in the NFL and the writer of more than 30 top-10 country and pop hits, including Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me." That song has been recorded by 538 artists (including Adele) and is number eight on the list of the 100 Greatest Songs of All Time. The son of a railroad worker from Altoona, Pennsylvania, Mike was an All-American defensive tackle at Penn State; the number one draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1970; an All-Pro in ’72 and ’73; inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame; and recipient of the Outland Trophy. Reid gave up football to pursue a career in music in 1975. His journey took him from rock to folk to country. As a classical pianist, he played with the Utah, Dallas, and Cincinnati symphony orchestras. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. In addition to his Grammy-winning pop hits, he is a composer of musicals, dance, and chamber pieces, as well as the opera Different Fields.

Different Fields, the first collaboration of Mike's long-term partnership with lyricist/librettist SARAH SCHLESINGER, was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. It concerns the ethics of the American Football hero. Since its New York premiere, it has been performed throughout the United States and Australia. As a team, the pair have written The Ballad of Little Jo, which premiered at Steppenwolf as the theatre's first musical and subsequently had a successful run in London. A revival of the show premiered at Two River Theatre Company in Red Bank, New Jersey, in June 2017. They are also the creators of Casanova Returns, which was produced as a developmental workshop last summer in Hamburg by Stage Ent. Inc. Mike and Sarah's other joint works include In This House, premiered in 2011, and Wind in the Willows, which premiered in 2013.


Sarah is the Chair of the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and Associate Dean of Performing Arts at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. In addition to her work with Mr. Reid, she has also been the lyricist/librettist for True Love, produced at the George Street Playhouse by Daryl Roth and at Sharon Playhouse directed by John Simpkins. She was the lyricist/librettist for Swing Shift at the Manhattan Theatre Club. With Mr. Reid she has received the Kleban Award, The Richard Rodgers Award, the Gilman-Gonzalez Falla Theatre Foundation Award and Chicago's Jeff Award for Best Original Musical.

Writing about the teams work for the The Ballad of Little Jo in the New Yorker, John Lahr called the show the best piece of musical storytelling in a decade. He described the score as "refreshingly muscular and filled with passion" and the narrative as one where "barbarity and blessing can coexist as they do in life."  Domenic Cavendish in 'The Daily Telegraph" described it as "two and a half hours of unmitigated brilliance that examines the damage we do to others and the damage we do to ourselves to triumphantly stirring effect. "

Mike and Sarah with the Class of 2018


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