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Theater hunts for lost musicals and puts them on

Published on NewsOK Modified: September 25, 2013 at 8:02 am •  Published: September 25, 2013
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NEW YORK (AP) — Don't be fooled by how mild-mannered Ben West seems. He's the musical theater world's Sherlock Holmes and Victor Frankenstein rolled into one.

As artistic director of the nonprofit UnsungMusicalsCo. Inc., West scours libraries, newspaper archives and databases for overlooked and undervalued musicals. Then he breathes life into them.

"The intention is to return them to the canon," he says as he puts the finishing touches on the latest of his "lost" shows — "Bless You All!" a 1950 revue with songs by Harold Rome and sketches by Arnold Auerbach.

West, who also directs, has restructured the show, trimmed a few numbers, restored a sketch and streamlined the story. "I always try to stay true to the original author's intent," he says from the company's temporary home at the Connelly Theatre.

Now celebrating its fifth year, UnsungMusicalsCo. has produced 13 shows that range from developmental readings to fully staged off-Broadway productions, including "The Fig Leaves Are Falling" and "Make Mine Manhattan."

West, who grew up in Miami but visited New York regularly to see shows while his mom came for business, is a walking encyclopedia of the golden age of musical theater, roughly 1931-1971.

He and his three-person staff operate on a shoestring budget, and West supplements his income as an administrative assistant. ("Bless You All!" will cost about $40,000.)

He finds potential works in various places, getting a clue from an old newspaper review or from archival collections. He found a never-produced Arnold Horwitt musical in the copyright office, so obscure that even the lyricist's children were unaware it existed.

He stumbled across the manuscript for the concert "Gatsby" at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts in the papers of its lyricist, Carolyn Leigh, while looking for another show.

He tries to make sense of the manuscripts' often chicken-scratch longhand and, if the work is unfinished, he'll stitch in new music or characters. "The material is there," he says. "It's just finding it and making it usable."

West also seeks out permission to mount his revivals from the creators' heirs, many of whom are thrilled that shows never produced or forgotten from 60 years ago will be seen and heard.

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