Matt Webster and Taylor Ferrera have been best friends since they were students in the School of Theatre and Dance at West Virginia University graduating less than four years ago—they both moved to New York City, ready to take a bite out of the big apple.
And did they ever.
Both have achieved tremendous success individually in a short time, and now, a show they co-wrote titled “Propaganda! The Musical” has been selected for the prestigious New York Musical Theatre Festival, the largest annual musical theater festival in America. The show opens July 23 and will run through July 27 at PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd St., in the heart of New York City’s Theatre District.
This world premiere is directed by Nathan Brewer and the cast of 10 also includes MaryJoanna Grisso, a Morgantown native who graduated from the School of Music in 2011 (who just came off a national tour of “West Side Story” as Maria), as well as other actors and singers who have performed on Broadway, Off Broadway, or toured nationally with various shows.
“Propaganda! The Musical” is the story of a somewhat ignorant young man who takes over his family’s business and soon finds out that it is full of secrets. Now it’s up to him to cover up the biggest scandal since Watergate. Armed only with a clever idea, he must also fight off the evil mastermind—Agent X—and save the world from certain doom.
Add to that an energetic, catchy score and maybe even a tap dancing president (rumors are that it is Richard M. Nixon), and the result is a show that provides lots of fun for the audience.
To hear some songs from the show, go to this link on the NYMF website and click “music and video.”
The partners have been working on the musical for the past three years, constantly revising it, writing new songs, and performing it in workshops. On March 25 of this year, when the “Propaganda! The Musical” had its premiere reading in New York City, people were standing in the back and sitting on the floor for a chance to see it.
Both Ferrera and Webster have been performing since they were young children, Webster since he was 5 years old and Ferrera since she was three.
“I was one of the twins in the musical “The King and I,” said Webster, who is from Martin’s Ferry, Ohio. “My mom took me to the audition, and I caught the bug. I did a show pretty much every year of my life after that.”
Ferrera, a native of Harper’s Ferry, got her start when she played the head orphan in the musical “Oliver” at her brother’s elementary school. “My mom runs a children’s theater company, so I was lucky enough to be involved in theater my whole life.”
The two met at WVU during the fall of 2008 when they did the show The Legend of Sleepy Hollow together and they often played music together in the practice rooms at the Creative Arts Center.
“The Creative Arts Center really cultivates an environment that inspires personal creativity,” Ferrera said. “Matt and I played music with other students in the practice rooms and that’s when Matt began pushing me to take songwriting seriously.”
They also got to be in a lot of shows, including six main stage productions each year and multiple laboratory theater shows.
Both were also in Urinetown: The Musical at WVU, which inspired them as actors and as writers. In that Tony Award-winning show, there is a terrible water shortage and public toilets are controlled by giant corporations. Matt and Taylor were part of a cast of rebellious characters who break into song as they demand free access for the people and are chased by police through the sewers.
It was shortly after this experience that Webster started writing his first musical, “Kingdom Come,” while still a student at WVU. Told through singing and dancing, monologues and scenes, the show features 14 stories, all centered on the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Kingdom Come was performed in Morgantown and other places before it went on to win Best Musical of 2012 at the prestigious Downtown Urban Theatre Festival in New York. Since then, it has been featured by the New York Theatre Barn and had a three-night, sold-out run at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City.
Ferrera was one of the stars of that show. “I loved being part of Matt’s original musical, ‘Kingdom Come,’ which was the first time I was really involved in an original musical like that,” she said.
Taylor received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting from WVU in 2010 and has been in New York for three years. In that short time, she has attained a worldwide audience on YouTube. (See her YouTube videos here: http://www.taylorferrera.net/videos.html and her website: www.TaylorFerreraMusic.com)
She has been featured in The Huffington Post, on NBC and various radio shows across the country for her songwriting.
In addition to acting, she writes songs for individuals, campaigns, and companies and also writes sketches and short plays. “Propaganda! The Musical” is the first time she has delved into the world of musical theater writing.
“After graduating and doing summer stock with Matt, I moved to New York with another friend from WVU,” she said. “I’d been to New York plenty of times, but that never prepared me to live here. The first year was full of figuring out how to make it in the city.
“That was also when I first came up with the idea for ‘Propaganda! The Musical,’ while at an audition. It was an open call and I was bored while I was waiting and wrote a song in my head. I wrote down the lyrics and the title and immediately went to Matt with the idea.”
By that time, Webster, who graduated in 2011, was also in New York, where he has been in the Off-Broadway Alliance Award-winning family show, “StinkyKids the Musical”; “The Curious Quest of Benjamin Bunny” with Connecticut Children’s Theatre, a member of the Rescue Agreement Theatre Company, and a show host on TvTalk. See Matt’s website: http://www.theothermattwebster.com/.
In November 2013, he joined the Broadway national tour of “West Side Story,” performing the role of Gladhand for nine months as the show traveled around the country, with his fianc�, MaryJoanna Grisso, as Maria. (See MaryJoanna’s website: http://maryjoannagrisso.com/)
“Taylor approached me with the idea for ‘Propaganda, the Musical,’” he said. “I loved it and the collaboration began.”
Out of the song, lyrics, and title that Ferrera came up with originally, the title is the only thing that has survived the past three years of revision.
“We have been constantly working on music, working on lyrics, working on the book, changing things around, making edits, cutting things, and adding things to flesh out the show and make it more fun and more awesome,” Webster said.
Back in 2012, when Webster and Ferrera took their musical to Orlando, Florida, to workshop it, they documented their experience in this video.
Along the way, Webster and Ferrera have received support from many friends, as well as their WVU family.
“We have been lucky to have a great group of friends from WVU,” Ferrera said. “Even if we fall out of touch, whenever support is needed, they are always there. “The WVU New York/New Jersey Alumni Chapter has also reached out to us and has been very generous and supportive.”
Their goal now is to use the New York Musical Theatre Festival as a springboard for the show, since the festival has established itself as an unparalleled launching pad for new musicals.
“We hope we can continue to work on the show and get a commercial run,” Webster said. “That’s the dream. To continue to work, collaborate and move forward.”
They both hope to have future lives where they continue doing what they love.
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting this show to be produced,” Ferrera said.
“In the meantime, I’m willing to serve shrimp in Times Square so I can write and produce new musicals in my free time.”
“Propaganda! The Musical” is being staged at PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd Street (between 9th & 10th Avenues) in New York City for five performances during July 23-27.
The schedule includes: Wednesday, July 23 at 8 p.m.; Thursday, July 24 at 1 p.m.; Friday, July 25 at 9 p.m.; Saturday, July 26th at 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, July 27 at noon.
For more information about “Propaganda! The Musical” and the New York Musical Theatre Festival, see the festival website: http://www.nymf.org/.
Matt and Taylor are still raising funds for the show. Anyone interested in contributing can visit www.PropagandaTheMusical.com and click “donate” in the top right corner.
Also, see them on Twitter: @PropTheMusical, Instagram: @PropTheMusical, and Facebook.com/PropagandaTheMusical.
CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, College of Creative Arts
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.