Winchester, VA — You may think Hillary Clinton was the first woman to run for president of the United States, but at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 25 in Glaize Studio Theatre, Shenandoah Conservatory presents a staged reading of a musical that tells a different story. It is based on the life of Victoria Woodhull, a woman who, in 1872—half a century before women achieved the right to vote—ran for president.
The staged reading is the culmination of a weeklong residency with the theatre division exploring the musical “Onward Victoria.” The book and lyrics were written by Shenandoah University board of trustees member and playwright Irene Rosenberg Wurtzel, and Charlotte Anker, with music by Keith Herrmann. The work, which has appeared on and off-Broadway, tells the story of Victoria Woodhull, who moved to New York City with her sister Tennessee Clafin in the later half of the 19th century and started a movement with their radical views on sex, love, politics and business. In New York, Victoria and Tennessee won a supportive following, including the adoration of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who financed the sisters’ first assault on sexist taboos by backing Tennessee to become the first female stock broker.
Amidst the hilarity of its essentially accurate history, the play illuminates the struggle for equality that women are still fighting today, taking on new relevance in this era of Hillary Clinton and the Women’s March protests. “Although the play was written in 1980, the subject matter is still very relevant today,” said Director of Musical Theatre and Assistant Professor of Theatre Kevin Covert, B.F.A. who will direct the staged reading. Covert continued, “regardless of your political viewpoint, the story is timeless.”
Following the enthusiastic recommendation and support of Dean Michael Stepniak, Ed.D., Covert and Music Director and Assistant Professor of Theatre Rick Edinger, M.A. reviewed the musical and began discussing a potential residency with Wurtzel. The faculty then seized on the opportunity for conservatory students to work on the project. “I am thrilled that our faculty and students can engage with this very fine work,” said Dean Stepniak. “Beyond being an extraordinary supporter of the conservatory and university, Irene has done brilliant work in theatre, and I’m thrilled that she is making herself available to interact with students—learning is a process, and having access to the playwright can be one of the grandest things!”
Covert saw similar benefits to working with the creators, “Irene is truly dedicated to the art of theatre,” said Covert. “For our students to be able to work with her and her co-author and composer is an invaluable academic experience that goes to the core of who we are as a conservatory.” Covert hopes this residency will lead to further opportunities to work with exceptional plays that are lesser known within the musical theatre canon. “It’s like a hidden gem,” Covert explained.
From Wurtzel’s perspective, the opportunity is equally valuable. “Working with the conservatory’s students and faculty will be a high point for me,” she said.
The staged reading of “Onward Victoria” will be presented at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 25 in Glaize Studio Theatre, located on the campus of Shenandoah University. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Shenandoah Conservatory is home to more than 700 students enrolled in baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral programs in the areas of music, theatre and dance. Virginia’s oldest and premier center for performing arts training, the conservatory is led by a dynamic faculty comprised of performers and scholars of national and international repute.
Established in 1875 and located in Winchester, Virginia, Shenandoah University is a private, nationally recognized university that blends the best of professional studies and the liberal arts. Shenandoah promotes a close-knit community rich in creative energy and intellectual challenge. With 3,900 students in more than 90 programs in seven different schools, Shenandoah students collaborate with accomplished professors who provide focused, individual attention. Through innovative partnerships and programs at both the local and global level, there are exceptional opportunities for students to learn in and out of the classroom. Shenandoah empowers its students to help the human condition and to be principled professionals and leaders wherever they go. For more information, visit su.edu.