Sam Balzac’s musical adaptation of ‘The Wrong Box’ to premiere Dec. 9

Sam Balzac (Provided photo)

SARANAC LAKE — A visit to the Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage and Museum here on Stevenson Lane became the impetus for the creation of a new musical theater piece premiering Saturday, Dec. 9 at the Saranac Lake Free Library.

Full of intrigue, mistaken identities, humor and heart, this musical reinterpretation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novella, “The Wrong Box” — co-authored with his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne — blends contemporary sensibilities with Victorian-era tomfoolery to create a humorous piece of theater.

New York City-based theater artist Sam Balzac, a 2013 graduate of Keene Central School, had been thinking about adapting a work of Stevenson’s for some time given the famed Scottish author’s connection to the area. On his first visit to the Saranac Lake museum, he learned that Stevenson wrote part of “The Wrong Box” during his stay at the cottage during the winter of 1887-88.

Balzac then watched a film adaptation of the novella made in the 1960s, starring Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir John Mills and Michael Caine. He found it to be in sync with his own sense of humor and sought out the novella by Stevenson and Osbourne.

“I liked the madcap energy of the movie, but in many ways, the book was even wilder,” Balzac said. “My adaptation is much closer to the book, but I was inspired by the way the film embellishes the story to try my hand at messing with the plot points and characters to put my own stamp on it.”

The premiere presentation of “The Wrong Box” will be performed in the Saranac Lake Free Library’s Cantwell Room, 109 Main St., at 7 p.m. Dec. 9. Admission is free, but reservations are encouraged — by email via thewrongboxmusical@gmail.com or by phone at 518-487-0041. Audiences will also have the opportunity to provide their own feedback on the work-in-progress in the style of a professional musical theater workshop.

The concert will feature a mix of New York City and local professional performers, including Jason Brill, Laura Cetti, Jen Chia, Linnae D’Auria, Hannah Eakin, Molly Heller, Bill McColgan, Brenda McColgan, Tyler Nye and Mukta Phatak. Fernanda Douglas is handling the musical direction, with Courtney Knysch serving as stage manager.

Surprise awards

When Balzac learned in 2022 of a major grant opportunity, the FY 2023 Support for Artists grant, funded by the New York State Council on the Arts, he hit on the idea of using his concept for “The Wrong Box” as the intended project and applied via the sponsorship of the Adirondack Lakes Center for the Arts in Blue Mountain Lake.

“I never dreamed I would be awarded the grant the first time out and envisioned ‘The Wrong Box’ as a longer-term project that I could put on the back burner and work on in the future,” Balzac said.

When he received word in late 2022 from ALCA that NYSCA had awarded him the $10,000 grant, Balzac was flabbergasted. Then he immediately began to develop a plan for creating a complete draft of the musical by the end of 2023, which was a requirement of the funding award.

In addition to the support Balzac received from NYSCA’s Support for Artists grant to create the musical, he is also a beneficiary of the Blu/Pen Artist Residency, a grant-program collaboration between Saranac Lake’s BluSeed Studios and Pendragon Theatre, that has opened up rehearsal space and facilitated housing for four out-of-town actors and a music director.

Well-founded farce

Given that “The Wrong Box” is a flat-out farce, it’s no surprise that the story line is convoluted and even frenetic. Balzac synopsizes the plot as follows: What’s the matter with Morris? On the one hand, he’s swimming in debt, saddled with a dimwitted brother, a useless adopted sister and a befuddled uncle; on the other hand, he stands to inherit a sizable fortune — should his doddering Uncle Joseph outlive the competition. The only people who stand in Morris’s way? Uncle Masterman, the other surviving competitor, and his unpredictable son, Michael.

Events take a turn for the worse when Joseph appears to drop dead in an unfortunate railway accident. Can Morris successfully thwart the astute Michael by keeping up the charade that Uncle Joseph is alive? Can he recover his uncle’s corpse when an unthinkable label mishap sends him the wrong box in the mail? And what of the bungling Scotland Yard detectives who show up at Morris’s doorstep accusing him of a murder he did not commit?

The concert is also supported by a number of community donors who have aided Balzac in financing the reading. For other community members who would like to contribute, the production’s Indiegogo campaign can be found at https://tinyurl.com/d9h6xeda.

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