Students May Stage Musical Off Broadway

A rap musical written, directed and acted by Harvard students will tour several East Coast campuses and may perform in an off-Broadway theater this summer, the production's directors said yesterday.

The directors said the popularity of "The Gang's New Threads," performed at the Leverett House Old Library this February, encouraged them to take the show on the road. The musical is the story of a romance thwarted by rivalry between two Harvard Square "fashion gangs."

"All universities like to have other groups coming by," said Matthew L. Snyder '88, the show's producer. He said student theater programs at Brown, Yale and Wesleyan Universities as well as Boston-area high schools had agreed to host the musical.

Snyder and the show's directors, Robert C. Hanning '88 and E. Randall Weiner '88, said they are also discussing a possible off-Broadway run with potential backers. Weiner declined to name the backers because "we haven't signed a contract or anything" and because of the "fame of one of them."

Weiner, who worked on an off-Broadway show last summer, said he had learned that people involved in the theater are constantly trying to attract new audiences. He said "The Gang's New Threads" had promise because it could make rap and theater accessible to "a different kind of audience."

Students called the tour a chance to improve the show while deciding whether the material is popular enough to fill a New York theater.

"Taking the show from campus to campus will be a workshop process," says Weiner, adding, "I think it will improve by quantum leaps."

He said his goals included changes in the plot and soundtrack. For example, he said the script had suffered from the authors' preoccupation with technical aspects of the production. "We lost sight of what the basis of the show was," Weiner said, adding that he and Hanning hoped to put more emphasis on the relationship between the lead characters, Jon and Jane.

The Winthrop House resident said he and Hanning also hoped to replace popular songs used in the show, such as "I Want Your Sex," by George Michael, with an original score.

Cast members said they looked forward to performing at other schools. "I never thought it was going to get this popular," said Felicia D. Phillips '88, who plays Jane. She said she had acted for the first time in college when she got the part two weeks before the show opened.

John M. Shecter '90, who appears as Jon, is the lead singer of BMOC, a rap group that recently recorded the single, "Guaranteed to Rock," with a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"It would be such a thrill to perform off Broadway," Phillips said. She said she might postpone other work when she graduated this fall to perform in the show. "It's the kind of thing you only get one chance to do."