Before we had the subprime mortgage crisis of the dot com bust, Holland had the Tulip craze of 1636, the first recorded financial bubble in history.
And now through July 1, the Arden Theatre Company concludes its theatrical season with the world premiere of “Tulipomania: The Musical,” with book music and lyrics by Michael Ogborn.
The story centers around six strangers in an Amsterdam hash bar who recall the seedy story of love, sex, money and power as told by the bar owner, and shifting between modern day and the 1600s. They are strangers who seek camaraderie and anonymity on a rainy Amsterdam afternoon.
This show marks the Arden’s third Ogborn premiere, following 2001’s “Baby Case” (Barrymore Award for Outstanding Original Music) and 2003’s “Café Puttanesca.”
“This is a story within a story,” says Juliet Harris, who takes the role of a character known only as woman. “I am a human resource worker in Amsterdam out for the day with a co-worker, and she decides to take me to this hash bar. And it’s there where the bar owner decides to tell us the story about the tulip craze that took place in 1636. We all then become the characters in his story.”
And that, says Harris, is where most of the play’s challenges occur. “Coming in an out of the times as the story goes back and forth, sometimes even in mid-sentence, creates quite a challenge for the actor. And then integrating the story, and integrating the character with the character in the story, is one of the biggest challenges in doing this role.”
But not impossible for this well-seasoned actress who has been playing many roles for many years. Returning to the Arden where she won the Barrymore Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Caroline in “Caroline or Change,” is a treat for Harris. Additionally, Harris has appeared in many regional productions, including “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Hairspray,” “Finian’s Rainbow” and many more.
Defining herself as both an actress and a singer, Harris said her grandmother predicted her theatrical success the first time she saw her in the hospital’s newborn wing.
“My grandmother said that when they first came to visit me they saw all the other kids behind the glass screaming and crying. But supposedly I had a big smile on my face, my eyes were bright and inviting, as if I was looking at everyone as if to say ‘are you my audience and are you here to see me?’ At least, that’s according to my grandmother. And so I guess that was the start.”
As a kid, she continues, she was gregarious and outgoing. “In school at Germantown High, I was into everything — the school plays, the band, the choir. Even today I’m part of the Germantown alum association.”
And now, Harris seems to be living out her destiny. “This play features a multicultural cast, and that’s just the way Michael wrote it. He told me when he was crafting it that there was a part in it for me. In the meantime, I carried on with life, but here I am today.”
As far as other roles being available to various cultures, Harris says she thinks. “Philadelphia is getting there. There is so much talent here, actors who are hungry for work that things have to become available to them. It’s a tough battle, so I hope more African-American writers will begin writing things that we actors can perform in and that theaters will open themselves up to producing the various pieces.”
For times and ticket information, call 215-922-1122.