The ensemble of PCS's big new musical, 'Somewhere in Time.'
The successful, young Broadway and Off Broadway producer Ken Davenport (Kinky Boots, Godspell) goes to the plays he’s producing often, but rarely to watch the performances. Rather, he goes in the last ten minutes for a show of a different kind. “I’m producing Macbeth, but instead of watching Alan Cumming’s incredible performance, I watch the looks on the audience’s faces,” he says in the lobby of Portland Center Stage the morning after the opening preview for his world premiere musical, Somewhere in Time. “The joy on the faces is why I do this, and the good news is: we had that last night.” 

Which is a considerable achievement, given last night—in front of the live audience—was the first time they had performed the entire show without stopping (which is not as uncommon as you might think, even on Broadway). Somewhere in Time officially opens on June 5, but Davenport’s eyes have been set from the start of this five year journey on a much bigger stage: Broadway.

Somewhere in Time should be familiar to lovers of romances, the ‘80s, or Christopher Reeves. Based off the novel Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson (a legend among writers who also penned Twilight Zone episodes, What Dreams May Come, and, ah, I Am Legend), it was made into a movie in 1980 starring the fresh off-the-cape Reeves, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer.

About a playwright who falls in love with a photograph of an actress born decades before him and then time travels to be with her (using hypnosis to separate himself from the time-space continuum), it was not a movie renowned for its profound, realistic performances and plotline. In fact, it was panned by many critics for being so solemn and absurd as to be silly. If you’re in need of a chuckle, I’d recommend reading the original reviews, my favorite being the New York Times: “Though Mr. Reeve’s is physically huge, he has no more weight on the screen than a giant, helium-filled canary. He doesn't even walk with authority. He sort of floats, but awkwardly.”

But it did appeal to lovers of romance and grandeur, and that’s why it caught Davenport’s eye when he saw the cover in a video story five years ago. “When I look for stories that demand to be musicalized, I look for heightened reality,” he says. “When people walk down the street in Portland, they don’t burst into song. You need a grander reason. A man who falls in love with a woman and breaks the laws of nature to be with her—that’s a reason to sing.”

In the aisle of the video store, Davenport asked his girlfriend, who turned out to be a fan, if she thought it would make a good musical. She melted immediately (“it was a good date night”), and he started work on getting the rights the next day. It took him five years and three creative teams to convince Matheson to trust him with the story and to bring it to the stage, blending elements from the book, the movie, and Davenport’s own imagination.

Rarely do shows go straight to Broadway. Instead, they tend to open at prestigious theaters in smaller markets, like the Old Globe in San Diego or the Alliance in Atlanta. Davenport had first come across PCS a couple years ago when artistic director Chris Coleman invited him out to see another play and charmed Davenport’s production company with his passion. In considering a venue to host Somewhere in Time’s world premiere, PCS floated to the top of the list. “This theater is incredible, the community is so supportive, and there’re amazing resources,” says Davenport. “I think this is going to be the first of many a big show to open here.”

With a story and a theater, Davenport had little trouble signing up a dream team of talent, including Broadway director Scott Schwartz (Golda's Balcony, Jane Eyre), two-time Tony nominated choreographer John Carrafa (Urinetown, Into The Woods), and a cast of Broadway veterans that includes three-time Tony nominee Marc Kudisch (9 to 5, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Andrew Samonsky (Mystery of Edwin Drood, South Pacific), Hannah Elless (Godspell, Mamma Mia!), and David Cryer (Lend Me a Tenor, The Phantom of the Opera).

Somewhere in Time
Portland Center Stage
May 28–June 30

Now that previews have opened, the team is onto the final stage for developing a new show: tweaking it before a live audience. They’re trimming lines, honing technical choices, and reworking bigger moments altogether. “There’s a song right now that has a pause in the middle of it, and we had tagged on a little scene after it,” says Davenport in the lobby, while his director gives notes to the cast in the theater. “It got huge applause after the big note, so today we said we should just end the song then. Little things like that you only learn in front of audience.” 

And they are the little creative things that only Portland audiences will get to witness. For Davenport, it’s never been a question of will the show go to Broadway. It’s only been a question of when. And when it does, the impact for Portland Center Stage, including becoming a regular incubator for such shows, could be tremendous.

Of course, the payoff for local audience will be more apropos to the topic of somewhere in time. Says Davenport: “The cool thing for Portland audiences is being able to say, ‘I saw it when.’”

Stay tuned for a review next week.

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