Harrison Kaufman and Christopher Anselmo like to joke that they’re too young to drink, but they can write a musical. Both 19, the two New Jersey natives — Mr. Kaufman is a Princeton High School graduate; Mr. Anselmo graduated from Allentown High School — are the youngest writing team to be accepted by the New York Musical Theater Festival, a prestigious launching pad for such shows as the Broadway hit Next to Normal.
The writing duo’s musical, Fable, will be performed in mid-July at New York’s Pershing Square Signature Center as part of the 11th annual festival. Mr. Kaufman wrote the book; Mr. Anselmo the music and lyrics. The show is one of hundreds submitted from all over the world, reviewed by a panel of established musical theater artists before the 10 winners are chosen.
“We’re really excited and we hope the show finds a life somewhere,” said Mr. Kaufman, who is a student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Mr. Anselmo attends Northwestern Universitiy; the two met at a performing arts summer camp. “But this is really more of a process experience. All of these rewrites, talking to people, and really getting to know what it’s like to produce a show and be in the theater community while still at school is amazing.”
Theater has been a favorite subject of Mr. Kaufman since he was a student at Littlebrook Elementary School. His interest became a passion while he was at summer camp.
“It’s funny, because when I sent him to camp and they had to choose their activity, he kept choosing theater and he really loved it,” said his mother Jill Kaufman. “He was always interested in the arts, playing trumpet and piano and guitar. He was always a creative kid. But he really figured out in middle school that this was his calling. Theater is what he wants to do all day long, every day. He’s very enthusiastic and dedicated, like an old soul. He’s very serious about his craft.”
At John Witherspoon Middle School, Mr. Kaufman was in the musical How to Eat Like a Child. He was involved in different productions at Princeton High and started the improvisational troupe Just Wing It. He took classes at McCarter Theatre along the way, mostly in Shakespearean acting.
Fable grew out of song cycle that Mr. Anselmo wrote after graduating from high school. “After that, he came to me and said, ‘Let’s turn this into a musical,’ “ Mr. Kaufman said. “He thought it would take a month, but two years later, here we are.” After submitting their work to a board at Northwestern, the partners had two readings in Chicago last spring. Then in the fall, they decided to send the script to the musical theater festival.
As described in the Festival’s lineup, Fable is as follows: “It’s graduation time. When a mysterious classmate crashes their last epic night of celebration, a group of childhood friends is forced to confront the secrets they’ve been keeping from each other. Will their friendships survive the night? With an imaginative score and dynamic characters, Fable captures the moments when we are forced to change whether we like it or not. Watch what happens when the stories we were told as kids are revealed for the fictions they truly are.”
Mr. Kaufman says that while the show isn’t autobiographical, “It’s inspired by people we know.”
Friends at NYU have been helping out as the project progresses. “We’ve been trying to use this project to integrate with school. We’re using NYU rehearsal space,” Mr. Kaufman said. “A lot of my teachers are also professionals working in the field. I’m hoping my design teacher will be designing the show. So it’s been a really exciting process to watch those two worlds collide.”
As with any theatrical production, there is fundraising involved. “We still have to raise money for this project,” Mr. Kaufman said. “Anyone who wants to help out can click on our donation page and we would so appreciate it.” Visit www.nymf.org/fable for more information.