About the time Bryan D. Leys graduated in theater from the State University at Fredonia and went off to the University of Connecticut for a masters degree in playwrighting and directing, he picked up a book called "Acting: The First Six Lessons" by Richard Boleslavsky.
Boleslavsky was one of a small diaspora of theater people under the influence of the great Russian director and theoretician Konstantin Stanislavky (1865-1938). So inspired was he that he set out to transmit Stanislavsky's ideas as he understood them in book form. "Acting: The First Six Lessons" imagines two people meeting six times over 30 years within a framework of Stanislavskian principles.
We skip ahead 20 years or so, and Leys has gone to New York City, has married, and holds down a steady job in the city's Transportation Department (recording traffic fatalities). The Boleslavsky book sits in his apartment bookshelf.
Over the years Leys has kept up his passion for theater. He has written more than half a dozen musicals, his frequent collaborator being composer James Campodonico, a music teacher in New Jersey high schools.
Musical theater inspiration comes from any direction: novels, plays, movies, autobiographies, anything. It comes as no surprise then that Leys and Campodonico have erected a musical on an acting text, but still it is unusual. How unusual, how surprising is for theatergoers to judge starting tonight in the Alleyway Theatre where "Acting a Romance" makes its debut.
"It began as a kind of exercise," said Leys. "Could I write a two-character musical? There's nothing to save the day, like bringing in a chorus. If I had a model for it I would say 'I Do! I Do!' I wrote the story and lyrics and Jim wrote the music.
"The story starts at a civic center in the Midwest. A girl approaches an actor on how to act. Five years later they meet in New York City at a rehearsal. Six or seven years later they meet at a Hollywood party. Later in Paris when she's married they come across one another and form a partnership in a show. Later they break up, and later they are reunited.
"What really started me, what I really liked about the Boleslavsky book, is that it is so passionate about theater."
There are 19 songs in "Acting a Romance," a fairly high number said Campodonico. "We try to tell the story as much as possible with music," he said. "My style is traditional, you could say. Bryan says the songs have a high humability quotient."
Even before it opens here, an investors' version of "Acting a Romance" was tried on representatives of the powerful Shubert Organization and other potential backers in New York. Both men said reponses were encouraging.
Neal Radice is directing the premiere at the Alleyway. Playing the man and woman are Tom Owen and Katy Clancy. Donald Jenczka is the piano accompanist.
Performances are at 8 tonight through Saturday and at 2 Sunday, continuing through April 19.