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Short GeMs

Our Season Opens with “Short Gems ”

Demonstrating how Visual Artists “Seeing Differently ” can inspire

and be perfectly paired with Music-Theatre Artists “Hearing Differently.”

In 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, Alliance for New Music-Theatre put together six teams of composers and librettists and commissioned a series of musical-theatre “Short Gems” to afford work to artists and to celebrate the centennial of America’s first museum of modern art. Alliance asked each artistic team to respond to a work of visual art that would showcase both the diversity and strengths of The Phillips Collection as well as these artists. Each "Short Gem" also resonated with the events and conversations our nation was having in the tumultuous year.


We release all six works as an on-line Free Season Opening Series July to October 2021.

“Trials and Tears " 

Based on Benny Andrews’ painting “Trail of Tears”

Composer-performer: Dawn Avery

Writer-performer: Ty Defoe

And as Benny Andrews: Singer-Actor Jarrod Lee


Native-American composer-cellist Dawn Avery specializes in world music and is equally comfortable performing at Lincoln Center as in an Iroquois Longhouse. For Short Gems, Dawn collaborated with fellow Native American writer/performer Ty Defoe in response to a most powerful Phillips’ recent acquisition, Benny Andrews’ “Trail of Tears.” Singer-actor Jarrod Lee embodies the artist Andrews, teaching art in the New York prison system. The story reframes the many meanings of “journey” and connects the dark and tragic chapter of our country’s history when the many indigenous people were forced from their homelands to the trails leading to incarceration of so many minorities.

"Caesar and The Mannequin "

Based on Man Ray's  “Shakespearean Equation, Julius Caesar”


Composer: Andrew Earle Simpson    

Writer: Susan Galbraith

Andrew Earle Simpson’s musical works make multi-faceted, intimate connections with literature, visual art, and film, and he was already very familiar with works of Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. The Phillips’ recent acquisition of this Man Ray painting leant itself perfectly for a highly theatricalized exploration of sound and word shot through with dada and surrealism. Follow Simpson and librettist down a Man Ray rabbit hole to an illogical world where the mathematical equation shows us 2+2=22, and a headless bust of Caesar and a singing mannequin fly in from being stuffed together in a museum closet. And who are the shadowy figures of someone claiming to be Wo-Man Ray and a most curious Harpo Marx look-alike who discovers trumpet playing can be amusing. We should all know by now, Caesar cannot be stuffed in a closet forever.

"Outside – In The Canyon "

Based on Helen Frankenthaler’s “Canyon”


Composer: Jessica Krash

Writer: Claudia Rosales Waters

Featured Singer: Noelle McMurtry

Featured Musician: Saxophonist Carolyn Braus


Cuban-American writer/performer Claudia Rosales Waters collaborates with local composer Jessica Krash, who draws on many musical languages including Latin rhythms and bluesy tunes and manages a balance in her work between modern music idioms and melodic sensibilities - “Romantic lushness meets post-tonal grittiness.” They are both drawn to the mid- 20th century abstract work of Helen Frankenthaler and are excited to experiment with incorporating animation and virtual reality techniques into filming.

"Strength to Love "

Based on Jacob Lawrence Panel #57 from The Migration Series

“The Washer Woman”


Composer: S. Rene Clark 

Writer: Thomas W. Jones II

The Woman: Roz White

Rene and Tom have collaborated before on bringing important stories of African-American life to the stage in musical theatre forms. Rene and Tom have collaborated before on bringing important stories of African-American life to the stage in musical theatre forms. Their approach to Lawrence’s work taps into the griot tradition, reconstructing an iconic work that will resonate with Black mothers of today. A washer woman, going about her practical chores and keeping body and soul together, travels back and forth in time, but always finds herself singing of her worries and fears for her sons in a world of racially motivated violence and inequity.  This is truly a gem of an opera in the key of the blues, and singer-actress Roz White, who starred in the Helen Hayes’ Recommended Alliance production, Black Pearl Sings!, delivers a soulful performance, accompanied by Dave Cole on blues guitar.

"Journey to You."   (Still Showing)

Based in the Photographs of William Christenberry - “Tree,” "The Warehouse," “Night Landscape,”  “Bloody Pond” and others…


Composer/Singer Timothy Amukule        

Writer/Singer-Actor:  Jarrod Lee

Writer/Singer Jarrod Lee, originally from Alabama, is drawn to the haunting photographs of William Christenberry, and, like the Alabamian photographer, Jarrod became a transplant to the Washington-Baltimore area. In celebration of The Phillips’ recent acquisitions of Christenberry’s photography, “Journey to You” feels like a perfectly compressed journey back in time, in which two friends, Timothy and Jarrod, find solace by sharing the experience of looking at art together and accompanied only by harmonizing vocals and body percussion. All the better to learn how to listen to each other for needed healing.     


View a short video of one of our first meetings with artistic team on the "William Christenberry" Short Gem.HERE

“Rothko: The Bleeding Godliness of the In-Betweens."

Based on Mark Rothko and “The Rothko Room”

Composer: Quraishi Roya

Writer: Fatemeh Keshavarz

Unable to limit focus to only one of his paintings, Afghan composer and rubab player Quraishi Roya and Fatemeh Keshavarz, Iranian poet and Professor-Philosopher of classical Persian literature, focused on the experience of sitting in The Rothko Room in the special presence of the artist’s mesmerizing, vibrational abstracts. The sound of Afghan’s national instrument, the rubab, carry us into an aural interpretation of the experience of “falling into” Rothko’s paintings. The performers Maribeth Diggle and Jennifer T. collaborated on creating a tapestry of abstract sounds and movements evoking how so many fall under the spell of these almost mystical works.                                                       REHEARSAL VIDEO

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