Bethesda Little Theatre to stage world premiere of ‘TREES: A New Musical’

Local composer Neal Learner drew inspiration from impact of large-scale development projects on the DC region over the past 20 years.

Join the Bethesda Little Theatre (BLT) when it presents the world premiere of TREES: A New Musical, by Alexandria, Virginia, composer and writer Neal Learner.

TREES follows the story of Rachel Spring, a high school environmental activist, as she and her best friend Henry take drastic steps to save a beloved forest from being torn down to make way for luxury townhomes and mixed-use condos. Standing in their way are the city’s powerful Mayor Pilton and developer Dirk Ramelton, who argue that more housing is needed to keep up with booming demand.

What do they see? Come find out at ‘Trees: A New Musical.’ Singing ‘Biology,’ a song from the show, are (front row) Rowan Tarmy, Kaitlyn Gibbens, and Trishana Thomas; (back row) Evan Hamilton and Nora Rudmann. Photo by Neal Learner.

The musical was inspired by Learner’s observations of the many large-scale development projects that have transformed the Washington, DC, region over the past 20 years.

“No one disputes the need to build more affordable housing,” says Learner. “Unfortunately, many of these new developments lack ample greenspace and preservation of natural environments. Studies have shown that access to parks and open space can significantly enhance the health and wellbeing of residents living in a community.”

Urban land-use policy, while seemingly a dry topic, often stokes the most passionate arguments among residents and local city officials. TREES aims to capture these passions.

The sung-through “operatic” style of TREES provides the ideal musical format for the 12-member cast to tell this compelling story. Learner’s soaring melodies and rich harmonies draw on a wide range of musical styles, from Broadway and pop music to operetta and choral singing.

“It’s exciting to be involved with a brand-new musical. Few artists get a chance like this,” says director Sabrina McAllister. “It’s special to be talking about such important topics like conservation in rehearsals, and to see our young actors so passionate about their world.”

BLT is delighted to present a timely — yet timeless — story of young people seeking to protect the place they love, says Leslie Blaha, executive director of BLT. Today’s youth understand the growing threats to our environment, whether it’s on a global scale or the local level.

“This is a compelling story that is both thought-provoking and entertaining,” she says. “It highlights the passions, courage, and persuasions of young people, who clearly understand the challenges we face and aren’t afraid to take a stand. Audiences of all ages will relate to this show and draw inspiration from the heroes who won’t back down for their cause.”

TREES features six lead characters, with a focus on young adults. The two high school lead characters, Rachel and Henry, are played by actual high school students in this premiere.

The 90-minute, sung-through musical will be staged Friday, October 27, 2023, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, October 28 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Bethesda Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD. TREES is directed by Sabrina McAllister, with music direction by Josh Cleveland and choreography by Cathy Oh.

Purchase tickets ($25 for adults and $22 for students) online. Seating is limited.


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