Fort Salem is the only professional theater north of New York City that consistently, year in and year out, is dedicated to creating and producing original musicals, starting in 2007 with a highly successful adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," and continuing for the next five seasons with original shows by playwrights Al Budde and Jay Kerr.
In 2008, the pair inaugurated their collaboration with "Breakfast Epiphanies," a murder mystery musical set in an internet café.
The following year, Budde and Kerr tackled the local, but also national, issue of the future of family farming in "Corn! The Musical."
2010 saw the debut of a musical based upon a true story of an adoptee's search for her true parents as a young actress tried to make a career in Hollywood movies. "StarCrossed" featured a Judy Garlandesque actress torn between drugs, alcohol, and her own guilt at giving up an illegitimate daughter to adoption.
The pair's next musical, "Senior Moments," traces seven seniors an all-inclusive riverboat trip down the Mississippi River. Highlighting serious issues and an energetic joy of survival, the musical, now titled "One More Tomorrow," was published this year by ArtAge Publications, who lease the theatrical rights worldwide.
"The publication gives our work an extra sense of legitimacy," notes author Al Budde recently. "Now it can entertain more than just our friends and relatives."
"I wanted to increase our audience base," he continued, "so I went to our local Stewarts store to see why people go there and possibly not to the theater. That's where I got the idea of writing about the lottery. So many people are buying lottery tickets there, that it's quicker for me to brew a pot of coffee in my office than wait in line to pay for a cup at Stewarts. Lottery. Especially in today's economy. We're all looking to win the lottery."
And so "Winning the Lottery" begins, for three women who work together in an office, with the realization of everyone's dream: they continually play the same numbers, and one lucky day they win $44 million.
"How they deal with winning and losing, the people around them, and their own futures creates the dramatic tension and opportunity for song and dance that make musicals entertaining, relevant, and even thought-provoking," said Kerr.
"And funny," says Budde. "Don't forget funny!"
Budde and Kerr have gathered some of their favorite performers to carry forth their message to the world, including film and television performer Jesse Liebman, whose first post-college job was in Kerr's 2003 musical, "Pyrates," at the Theater for the New City in Manhattan.
Playing Jesse's father, as he has in the past, is Gordon Hazzard, who first graced the Fort stage as Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol." Gordon once toured nationally with John Astin in a different musical version of the Dickens classic.
"Look for some intrigue, plot twists, and more than a little romance," promises Kerr. "Maybe you won't feel like you've won $44 million when you leave the theater, but you'll have a good time."
"Winning the Lottery" plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., with senior and group discounts available. More information is available on the website (fortsalemtheater .com) or by calling the theater's box office at (518) 854-9200.