Top Young Opera Director Kevin Newbury ’00 Comes to Bowdoin

 

Bruno Ribeiro, Kevin Newbury and Bill Watterson, in Watterson's Mass Hall office

Kevin Newbury ’00’s direction of operas and musical theater has been described as spellbinding, imaginative, emotionally nuanced, smooth, theatrically astute, endlessly resourceful, subtle, ingenious — and the accolades go on and on — by the New York Times, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal and others.

He’s worked throughout the United States and in Europe, and his career highlights include a 2010 The Irish Times Theater Award for Virginia, for best new opera, and a Grammy nomination for Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. And he’s coming to Bowdoin next February. (See sidebar.)

A Bowdoin Workshop
In February, Newbury will return to Bowdoin for two weeks to put on an intensive workshop, with Bowdoin students, of The Good Simmer, a rock-n-roll musical written by Heidi Rodewald.

“It’s a show we’re hoping to bring to New York City, off-Broadway,” Newbury said. “I’m excited to bring the students into the process.”

The Good Simmer is an unconventional narrative about the Vietnam era, according to Newbury. “The story is based on an Antigone reversal,” he said. “A town wants to pay homage to its first fallen soldier, but the soldier’s sister doesn’t want it to happen.”

But more recently, the former English major was on campus to visit one of his favorite professors, Bill Watterson, Bowdoin’s Edward Little Professor of the English Language and Literature. Newbury was traveling through New Hampshire and southern Maine — he grew up in Auburn — to see old friends and family with Bruno Ribeiro, an opera tenor from Portugal. Newbury said he stops at Bowdoin “whenever I’m in the area. I had a great experience here.”

Part of Newbury’s fondness for Bowdoin comes, he said, from the classes he took with Watterson, such as Introduction to Drama and courses on Shakespeare. Newbury also completed an independent study on Anton Chekhov with Watterson, and remembers traveling with Watterson’s classes to see plays, including Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, in Boston.

After graduating from Bowdoin, Newbury’s career got off to a brisk start. He moved to New York City, where his first job was at the New York City Opera. Soon, he was receiving attention for his operas and plays, such as Candy and Dorothy, which he directed in 2006 in New York City, and Nixon in China, which he staged around the country between 2004 and 2007. “That gave me a chance to be seen,” he said.

Despite all his accomplishments so far, Newbury calls 2013 his “big year.” Besides developing a couple more musicals, he’s been hired to direct several world premiers, including a new opera based on the film Doubt at the Minnesota Opera, an opera about Mary Magdalene in San Francisco, and a new opera on Oscar Wilde at the Santa Fe Opera House. He’s booked into 2015. “I’m a journeyman, a freelancer,” Newbury said, with a smile. “I go from gig to gig.”

This month, Newbury will also be working on his first feature film, which will be filmed in New Hampshire and Maine. The movie, Mothra is Waiting, is based on a David Johnston play described by the New York Times as about “two over-the-hill chanteuses, one of whom is sure that a fictional Japanese monster will rescue them from their dreary lives … [it’s] is an endearing tale about show-business delusion.”

A self-described “theater geek” since he was a kid, Newbury said he took advantage of the access he had as a Bowdoin student to stage a number of college productions. “Because Bowdoin is not a theater school, per se, it was good training for me to go into the professional world. I made a lot of mistakes here that I learned from,” he said. He remembers staging 1930s-style cabarets in the pub and directing The Baltimore Waltz in Chase Barn Chamber, making do with smaller spaces while Pickard Theater was renovated. “[The renovation] forced us to be more innovative and creative,” he said.

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