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New musical ‘Triangle’ stretches across time

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From left, Ross Lekites and Megan McGinnis appear in TheatreWorks’ premiere of “Triangle.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

The idea for musical set in the New York building where the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire broke out in 1911 has been percolating in lyricist Thomas Mizer’s head since 1995.

“I was walking down the street, and I recognized the building, and got a feeling that was almost visceral,” says Mizer, amazed that the structure looked almost exactly the same on the outside as it did decades ago.

Considering the young immigrant factory workers trying to better their lives back then, and the scientists working in the building today, got him thinking philosophically about time and space, and about a show set in two periods that would “reach across time.”

TheatreWorks presents the world premiere of “Triangle” – with lyrics by Mizer, music by Curtis Moore and book by Mizer, Moore and Joshua Scher – this week.

The show, however, may be familiar to patrons of TheatreWorks New Works Festival, where (after being commissioned by Williamstown Theatre Festival) it was developed in 2012, a process Mizer calls “incredibly informational.” Last year, it was presented in a workshop production at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma to positive reviews.

Still, “There are changes happening every day,” says Mizer, who is no stranger to making difficult decisions with the material – including, at one point, cutting all the songs from the present, because they “simply didn’t feel right,” and because and his creative partners were thinking, “I don’t buy these modern characters.”

After putting the project on the shelf, Mizer says, a light bulb went on, and the team was able to come up with a convincing pop contemporary sound that nicely complements and blends with the more classic musical theater music sung by the historical characters.

“The fun thing is that the modern half is really close to us, says Mizer, adding, “a lot of me is in the main character.”

Another important tonal element for the writers was to make the garment workers seem fresh and real.

“We never wanted them to be sepia-toned. We wanted them to be fresh and funny and sexy – as real as someone you’d meet tomorrow,” says Mizer, who, in addition to being a lyricist, is an advertising copywriter and author of a blog about Broadway.

Mizer – whose influences include Stephen Sondheim “whose funny and insightful lyrics blow his mind” and Howard Ashman (“whose playful language makes people smile”) – wants audiences to know that although the show’s title refers to a tragedy, “Triangle” is, at its core, a moving and hopeful story full of laughs and heart.

Presented by TheatreWorks
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes Aug. 2
Tickets: $19 to $74
Contact: (650) 463-1960, www.TheatreWorks.org

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