Since 2004, the New York Musical Festival (NYMF) has introduced audiences to three weeks’ worth of new American musicals in the midst of the hot city summers. Some of those musicals have gone on to be successful productions regionally, on and Off-Broadway, and internationally. Some of those musicals are new, never before produced or fully staged, and some have had a life before NYMF. This is the case for Georama: An American Panorama Told On 3 Miles Of Canvas, the story of John Banvard, the first millionaire artist and, in the mid-19th century, the most famous living painter in the world. Georama was first produced in 2016 at Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, directed by West Hyler. The NYMF production won the overall design award in the 2017 festival.
Hyler was struck by Banvard’s story from his first encounter with it in a McSweeney’s article. “His life was the perfect crystallization of the American artist and eerily relevant to the political, commercial, and artistic culture that we are currently living in,” says Hyler. The musical, written by Hyler and Matt Schatz, has a country-folk vibe. Set in the Midwest in the 1850s, Hyler describes it as “Big River meets Sunday In The Park With George. It’s a story about an artist fighting to stay true to his voice, despite the winds of commercialism and competition that buffet him. It’s the story of an America where the Mississippi River ran wild, and primeval forests filled the landscape, and we had a choice to make between truth and lies.”