The Festival of New American Theatre: Composer Lyricist Cabaret: Alara Magritte and Daniel Rosen

The Festival of New American Theatre

Composer Lyricist Cabaret: Alara Magritte and Daniel Rosen

Phoenix Theatre Company, Phoenix, AZ, January 21, 2024

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

Alara Magritte & Daniel Rosen


Alara Magritte and Daniel Rosen were chosen through a blind submission to present a cabaret of their work as part of the Phoenix Theatre Company’s (PTC) 2024 Festival of New American Theatre. The opening song, “Mine/Yours” from their work-in-progress musical Safe Hands, was used as the song for the Choreography Lab as well. PTC asked the team to choose 10 songs and provided them with top-notch pianist Andie Chung and four professional-quality singers/actors: Cassie Chilton, Connor Dunning, Jessica Lester, and Michala Montano. After only 10 hours of rehearsal, the cast delivered a cabaret of this young creative team’s entertaining and interesting original songs. Magritte and Rosen had met in their Bay Area high school in the chorus of Cabaret where the creative spark for writing lit a fire, and now they are based in New York City.

We were treated to five songs from Safe Hands; two from the musical they wrote in high school, With Great Power; two standalone songs from their short project CDs; and a brand-new song they wrote while they were in residence at PTC.

While they respect musical adaptations and those based on past recordings, they only work with original story lines. Both compose, using piano and/or guitar, and both work on the book and lyrics. Their method is collaboration across the board, which is rare. They strive to create truth, depth, and empathy in their characters, and unlike many young songwriters who see the world only through their own lens, they are drawn to the struggles and longings of middle-aged women. Safe Hands is set in the 1950s, but it taps into themes such as domestic abuse, access to abortion care, mental health, and friendship that resonate with audiences today. They described the show as an interlocking story about five women, one of whom is trying to find the courage to leave her abuser.

Lester sang of that character’s dilemma in “Alone” with ethereal vocal-harmony backup from the rest of the cast. Her voice is clear and articulate, and she moves easily between chest, middle, and head voice. The songs from Safe Hands were intermingled in the cabaret, but the show also included a bluesy trio on “Bad Woman” and an up-tempo “Out with the Wash”; both that use cleaning as a metaphor. The women nailed both songs like the pros they are. If anyone in Phoenix was meant to play a southern, country, Broadway character it is Chilton, who played Patsy Cline at PTC. She soloed on the title song “Safe Hands,” which is the story of the cycle of teen pregnancy and the tragic consequences of illegal abortion. I was angry with the character from the beginning, and by the time she took responsibility for her daughter’s death, I could not manage any sympathy, which takes nothing away from Chilton’s skillful performance of the song. Chilton also had the lead, and she did a fantastic job on the new song “The Backwaters.” It was written for Bayou Baby Blues, which the songwriters are thinking of presenting as a Podcast musical. She was joined by Dunning, who looks a little like Sheldon Cooper but has a mature baritone voice with plenty of range.

I would describe With Great Power, the team’s high-school musical, as Red meets X-Men with a video-game flair. They shared a fun song, “Bam! Boom! Pow! X Brain Freeze!” early in the cabaret that involved all four singers. They closed the show with the first song they ever wrote together, “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” that featured Dunning (with the ladies backing him up) as a superhero who is tired of taking care of everyone else and longs to escape to the moon. He also managed “Howling” with gusto in duet with Lester as two teenage werewolves falling in love. The song comes from Magritte + Rosen’s House of Haunts, a CD they released for Halloween. Montano has a low, sultry voice with a wide belt range, and it was a pleasant change from a weekend of sopranos. She was joined by the others on “Vibe,” which, like the opening tune, is a pop song in my book. It was from a Valentine’s Day recording, and it contains sexual inuendo. It has lyrics like “shivers and quivers,” and used a kazoo.

Magritte and Rosen are young and incredibly talented. Their gift for scoring harmony and pushing the boundaries of subject matter in musical theater is promising. Bravo to Festival director Michelle Chin and PTC producing artistic director Michael Barnard for their distinctive vision for the Festival of New American Theatre and for helping foster the careers of talents like Magritte and Rosen.

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.