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July 17, 2017
NYMF Interview: Taran Gray and Richard Allen on ‘Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical’

The 2017 New York Musical Festival, which runs July 10 through August 6, will bring audiences four full weeks of new musicals, concerts, readings, and panel discussions. We spoke with Taran Gray and Richard Allen about their musical Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical.

Tell us about your show!

FREEDOM RIDERS: The Civil Rights Musical tells the story of activists in 1961 who boldly challenged the legality and optics of the Jim Crow South by riding buses in mixed groups. The music is a mix of soul, pop and RnB that at times will remind you of John Legend, other times an incredible church service. It is galvanizing, anthemic, and full of hope.

What was the first musical that made you want to make musicals?

Taran: My dad has been the lighting designer and director of production at Lambs Player Theater in San Diego since before I was born. So musicals have always been around and mesmerizing to me since before I can remember. Because of that I think I was conditioned to believe that creating and performing a musical was achievable.

Richard: For me it was being in Showboat. I emotionally connected to the story and just thought it highlighted issues we should be talking about in a beautiful way.

Describe the sound of your musical, it's like _______ meets _________

Taran: Its like an American Les Misérables.

Richard: West Side Story meets John Legend.

Among the characters in your musical is John Lewis, who is still standing up for Civil Rights (now as a Congressman). Is it important to you to create work that is politically/socially relevant?

Taran: It’s not just important, it's imperative. Our entire reason for creating this musical was in order to tell this story and inspire change.

Richard: Absolutely! My work in film and television tends to revolve around that theme. I’m always searching for a way to explore the political and social landscape and make it palatable to ingest.

Why is it important to bring your show to NYMF?

Taran: NYMF is the leading festival for new works. Because we're both from the West Coast doing film and music, it's vital that we have someone who adopts and introduces us to the community of New York musical theater. NYMF is like going straight to the ASB of your new High School and telling them you want to be involved.

Richard: Haha (me laughing at Taran’s answer). I love how NYMF is willing to introduce new work. It’s a brave festival. I also like that you can present and those in attendance know that it’s not going to be a Broadway production but it’ll be interesting and maybe even great. Haha. There’s a lot of shows I want to see this year!

What's next for the show?

Taran: We have a lot of offers on the table! We're trying to weigh them all and make the best possible move forward for this show. This message needs to be delivered so we’ll be looking to find the options we believe get us in front of the largest audience possible.

Richard: We wanna sit down and put on an amazing production. Do some more discovery of the piece. Feel out how to make the acapella Freedom songs more integrated into the musical. Play a little more and then introduce Freedom Riders to the world.

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