The pair have written a new musical, “Bastard Jones,” that is aiming for a spring premiere at The Cell in New York. The comedy is based on The History of Tom Jones, Henry Fielding’s 18th century novel which follows “an outsider’s quest for acceptance.” The book’s titular character, played by Albert Finney in the 1963 film, “Tom Jones,” is repeatedly rejected for being illegitimate. Both Acito and Engelhardt feel that plot point will particularly resonate among contemporary audiences given the struggles the LGBTQ community and other minority groups are facing under President Donald Trump’s administration.
“In 1749, being illegitimate made you a second-class citizen. We’re channeling our rage at social injustice into a door-slamming sex farce,” Engelhardt, who likened the music she’s written for the show to “Candide, Spring Awakening and Meat Loaf,” told The Huffington Post. Added Acito, “Substitute any oppressed minority with the word ‘bastard’ and it’s the same story, different characters.”
The writers have launched a GoFundMe campaign in an effort to cover production costs. They’re also planning to donate all royalties and proceeds from the show to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund, an advocacy group for homeless LGBTQ youth.
Acito, who wrote the book for the 2015 Broadway musical, “Allegiance,” told HuffPost that his debut novel, How I Paid For College, was inspired by his own decision to leave home after coming out as gay in high school. “Were it not for a friend’s mother who took me in, I easily could have ended up on the streets,” he explained. “I look at any displaced person—homeless, immigrant, refugee—and I don’t see ‘other.’ I see myself.”
Watch Acito and Engelhardt talk about the project in the video above, then head here to read more about the fundraiser.
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CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Engelhardt as a Grammy-nominated artist. Her band, The Bobs, actually received the nomination.