Philly’s MusiCoLab offers a collaborative community for musical theater

Provided / MusiCoLab

Whether you’re knee-deep in writing a musical and can’t figure what’s next, starting the musical theater process from scratch and need collaborators, or just want sounding boards of fellow scribes, Philadelphia’s MusiCoLab is for you.

In March and April, the Philly musical theater organization—whose mission is to develop and showcase new musical theatre work and cultivate a networking community—will hold its most public events at the Drake Theater and beyond.

Co-founded by InterAct Theatre’s Seth Rozin, librettist Barbara Bellman and the late Marjorie Bicknell in 2018 — with Philly’s Charlie Gilbert, joining as the outfit’s Executive Director — MusiCoLab has eight showcases and nearly 100 songs by 43 local composers and lyricists.

Provided / Charles Gilbert

“MusiCoLab started by bringing together local theater creators, seeing what they had, what they did, what they were excited about, and what they felt was not available to them in this city or missing within this community,” said Rozin. “What we heard in 2018 was that creatives felt as if there was no real community, no forum to hear and talk about anyone else’s projects, no opportunities to meet possible collaborators and no place to showcase up-and-coming works. MusiCoLab was born to serve Philly theater-makers.”

The organization is for Philadelphia professionals, such as 1812’s Pax Ressler and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer James Ijames, along with novices alike. Gilbert, a Philadelphia professor used to helping young students taking their fresh ideas to the stage, was the right man for MusiCoLab’s exec-director position.

“I felt as if I had a lot of knowledge of the scene as I was a part of that scene,” said Gilbert with a laugh. “Like me, there are Philadelphia theater people who have had success, but need help with the next show or the next project.”

Or, even their first project.

When veteran composers and new scribes come to a MusiCoLab meeting, Gilbert’s introduction is the same: “You are not alone. Everyone is wrestling with the same issues. And if you join us, you will be refreshed and invigorated as to the opportunities that are being created for you. Everyone responds to this like water in the desert… and along the way, we all learn from each other.”

Rozin continued with: “We’re trying to offer hope to people in an artform that can be brutal. Musical theater creators face an uphill battle because so few theaters can take chances on new musicals because the costs are so great, greater than plays. Ideally, we can help their musicals be better so they can get produced.”

While anyone working on new musicals can join in on the fun and discussion of a MusiCoLab monthly session by checking their website for meet-and-greets, there are several upcoming events this spring where viewers can enjoy the fruits of this team’s labors.

On March 23 and 24, Theatre on the Verge will present a New Musicals Festival in Jenkintown, featuring new works by Philadelphia creators such as ‘Red & Black,’ by Nick Hatcher, Sheridan Merrick and David Thomas; ‘Clock-Maker,’ by Alexi Ralston; and ‘Unwound: Beyond the Labyrinth’, by Amanda Gulla.

Then, on April 14 and 15, in connection with Philly Theatre Week, ‘A Closer Look’ will feature three selected staged new workshop musicals created in 2023 as part of MusiCoLab’s first-ever Spotlight Series presentation at the Drake Theatre.

“MusiCoLab is a clearing house of information,” said Gilbert, “one that sings, dances and shares in the communal process of musical theater.”