Donner Party: The Musical
An original short musical written by Jonah Kagan and Isaac Goldberg produced as part of the Brownbrokers Mini-Musical Festival at Brown University.
Brownbrokers is a student-run theater group at Brown University. Together with Brown’s Theatre Arts and Performance Studies faculty, Brownbrokers develops and produces a full-length, student-written musical every other year. Founded in 1935, it is one the oldest undergraduate producing bodies devoted to new student-written musical theatre, both comedic and dramatic, in the United States. The group is run by The Brownbrokers Board, an organization of self-elected students from the Brown student body. In addition to the biennial full-scale production, Brownbrokers produces smaller events such as the annual miniMUSICAL Festival and staged readings of the musicals in consideration for production the following year.
Founded in 1935 Brownbrokers has been producing original student-written musicals on the Brown University Department stage for over 75 years. In 1934, a Pembroke College student and composer named Carolyn Troy ’35 wrote a song titled “Patch Up Your Heart.” Wanting to produce a musical revue on the Brown and Pembroke campuses, she teamed up with friend Burton K. Shevelove ’37 (Burt Shevelove) and together with a few other Brown undergraduates, they founded Brownbrokers. By 1935, student interest in staging a musical revue led to the hiring of Leslie Allen Jones ’26 to organize the new endeavor. Serving both Brown and Pembroke College, the group fused the “broke” of Pembroke with “Brown” to create the Brownbrokers name.
Brownbrokers’ first production was titled Something Bruin and opened on May 10, 1935. The revue included 23 original numbers. Burt Shevelove was cast in this inaugural production. The success of Something Bruin led Sock and Buskin to provide Brownbrokers with the resources and space for an annual production. Road to Bruin and Man about Brown, the 1936 and 1937 productions respectively, parodied both life at Brown and the national politics of the day. In 1943, there was no Brownbrokers show because of World War II, but Brownbrokers returned with Scuttlebutt in 1944, a navy-themed revue.
Under the guidance of the Brownbrokers Board, the productions began to transition from themed revues to book musicals in the 1950s and 1960s. Barney n’ Me and Fiddle-De-Dee, the 1956 and 1957 shows, had librettos and lyrics by Alfred Uhry ’58, future Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and Oscar Award winner. In 1958, Down to Earth was the first Brownbrokers show written entirely by students from Pembroke College. The annual productions continued with two exceptions. In 1962, Sock and Buskin instead produced William Inge‘sBus Stop in the usual Brownbrokers slot. In 1974, due to a low turn out for auditions, Brownbrokers instead produced a pre-written, non-musical play titled Play it Again, Sam.
In 2008, the Brownbrokers development and production process was rebuilt to operate on a biennial basis. The first production under the biennial system was Leavittsburg, OH, with book, music and lyrics by Nate Sloan ’09. Brownbrokers second production under the new system, We Can Rebuild Him by Deepali Gupta ’12, received its world premiere in Providence, RI in March 2012.