Web Exclusives:Features
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July 4, 2001:
From Princeton to New York, the show goes on
A group of Princetonians found the Prospect Theater Company

By David Marcus '92

Pictured: Cara Reichel '96 and Peter Mills '95

Peter Mills '95 took up an unusual challenge as an undergraduate: He set Princeton's honor code to music. A member of Triangle Club, Mills used the words of the code as the refrain in a song he wrote as a freshman for Triangle's 1992 spring show.

His creativity in setting the pillars of Princeton's academic life to music didn't stop there; Mills wrote his senior thesis about the musicals Carousel, A Little Night Music, and My Fair Lady. Mills has continued to combine Princeton and the musical both in his most recent work, The Flood, and in the Prospect Theater Company, which performed The Flood in New York City in May.

The work details the efforts of the citizens of Meyerville, a fictional town on the Mississippi River, to save itself from a 1993 flood that destroyed numerous towns along the upper Mississippi. Cara Reichel '96, who cowrote the musical with Mills, began to consider the events surrounding the flood as the basis for dramatic material in a class she took at Princeton in the spring of 1995. The class researched the flood and its effect on one town in particular, Valmeyer Illinois.

Though students wrote scenes based on their research, they did not produce a finished play, said Reichel. She revisited the subject after reading a newspaper article about a 1997 shooting in the U.S. Capitol by a man from Valmeyer.

"The article reminded me of some of the people we interviewed who were suspicious of the government and its role in the 1993 floods. It was easy to let my imagination go and wonder how this guy might have been motivated by the flood," Reichel said. In 1998, Reichel, Mills, Melissa Huber '96 and Tony Vallés '97 started Prospect Theater Company, which they named in honor of their alma mater.

The first thing they did with the troupe was road-test it; in the summer of 1999, they led a group of 24, including 16 Princetonians to Rome, Georgia, Reichel's hometown, for a season of musicals, Shakespeare, and educational outreach in an place not often frequented by thespians.

Prospect returned to Rome last summer, during which time Mills and Reichel put together a version of The Flood. The duo revised the work this past fall and as part of the ASCAP Musical Theater Workshop presented a version to songwriter Stephen Sondheim, who, Mills said, "was nicer to me this year than he was last year," when for the same program Sondheim critiqued Marco Polo, a musical that Mills helped write.

The chance to interact with such luminaries is valuable, but Prospect's desire to perform new works is even more critical for young artists like Mills, who noted the struggles of students he'd met in the NYU Graduate musical theater writing program, many of whom have been working on shows for years without having them performed. "It's a struggle to get your work out there in any way," he said. "To have a connection to a theater company is hugely beneficial."

David Marcus is an occasional contributor to PAW.