Do our sins define our true nature, or are we damned by ignorance and mediocrity?

That’s the question posed by a new musical version of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” written by Villanova University theater masters graduate Christopher Dayett. It was his graduate thesis in playwriting — with music contributed by Philadelphia music director, pianist and composer Kevin Mucchetti — but has taken on a life outside of academia.

Just weeks after a sold-out off-Broadway premiere at the 2017 New York Musical Festival July 12-15, “Dorian Gray: The Musical” was condensed into a “Homecoming Concert Event” at Norristown’s Centre Theater. The July 28 and 30 performances featured a talkback with the show’s creative team and members of the cast.

The Centre Theatre is where the rehearsals for the NYMF production first began in May, and Dayett made it a point to keep the production based in the area. “New York is very expensive. We don’t need $70,000 to put on a high quality production. The actors in Philadelphia are just as good as the actors in New York. Philadelphia used to be the launchpad for Broadway shows,” he said.

Dayett added that he wanted to give friends skilled in multiple facets of the theater arts — such as fellow Villanova masters graduates Christen Mandracchia, who directed “Dorian Gray,” Lauren Davenport (stage manager), Courtney Boches (costume designer/actress) and Brie Knight (actress) — a chance to show a larger, wider audience what they could do to. “Once you go through the (Villanova) program, you know the intensity of it. We are taught how to wear many hats in the theater program. I’ve often joked: set builder by day, playwright by night and Victorian coat maker by midnight,” he said.

According to Dayett, the NYMF is attended by lots of prospective producers and investors and has a reputation for the discovery of new talent.

In Wilde’s 19th century gothic tale, a painted portrait allows Dorian Gray to remain young and unravaged as he spirals into a lifestyle of dark secrets and dangerous indulgences. “When you read the novel, it doesn’t flow like a play does. It has potential to be great musical. I said (to Mucchetti): ‘Kevin, you’ve given these characters soul’,” Dayett said.

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