A Life in Art

In New Musical, Jonathan Fadner Scares up Roosevelt Island Ghosts

Jonathan Fadner’s new musical brings ghosts — Roosevelt Island’s own — to MSTDA. Streaming performances promise brightening the holidays.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island News

Given recent history, it’s no surprise when promising light pierces the pandemic’s cloud cover by way of MSTDA. And Jonathan Fadner’s new musical does exactly that.

Ghosts All Around Us promises warmth, insight and community, just when we need it most.

Jonathan Fadner Ghosts musical creator...
Jonathan Fadner (Photo by Irina Hage, Irina Island Images)

A 40 year journey from Escondido to Roosevelt Island…

“I am originally from Escondido California,” Fadner tells us, and that immediately strikes contrast. As any 3,000 mile transplant would.

After growing up in Southern Cal and and now approaching his fortieth birthday, Fadner’s geared up for pulling off “a Roosevelt Island Dickensian Musical.”

“Whatever that means,” he adds, acknowledging the implicit whimsy.

And here’s something else: “Growing up, I didn’t even really know live musical theatre existed.”

So, how did the Fadner Musical Ghosts All Around Us find its way from sunny Southern Cal to here? With a dash of Charles Dickens…

Synergies and Jonathan Fadner’s Musical ghosts…

This musical did not start with a request from Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance, but that sparked something.

Realistically, it probably began with Charles Dickens because he’s responsible for iconic Christmas ghosts that give Fadner’s musical its wheels.

But there really is a path from Escondido to Roosevelt Island. And the back story is less about ghosts than real people and inspirations.

Fadner’s first exposure to musical theatre didn’t happen until he was seventeen when he saw Man of La Mancha, his first live show.

“I loved it ,and it opened my eyes to something I didn’t really know existed,” he says.

By then, he’d played the guitar for six years and started on the piano, mostly self-taught. But this burst of personal growth coincided with tragedy.

That same year, he lost his father, and to his credit, Fadner found inspiration within the sorrow.

“My dad dying made me reconsider my life choices and follow something that I had recently fallen in love with. After I started down this path, I worked very very hard, and continued to get better, and still continue.”

Jonathan and Kimbirdlee Fadner perform live at Famous New York cabaret…

About “this path…”

More than a decade before the idea of Fadner’s musical Ghosts set off its first sparks of invention, his 3 Movements for piano, written for Peter Gach, broke the ice at Palomar College.

Fadner was still in California, and in 2007, he also paired with Gach in Symphony for 2 Pianos, which they performed together.

His resume stretches out with compositions and performances leading up to a lucky partnership with Kristi Towey and Main Street Theatre and Dance Alliance.

Leading up to that, though, was a strategic move, taken with his life partner, Kimbirdlee Fadner, a vocalist and actor. The pair started their own company, Common Man Musicals.

“CMM came about,” Fadner says, “because Kimbirdlee and I wanted to make theatre in New York where we had just moved a few years prior. 

“There are so many talented theatre people in New York, and a very limited number of places where there’s production opportunities,” he realized. 

“So, we just made our own.”

Coincidentally and launching a direct line leading to Fadner’s musical Ghosts All Around Us, he’d just begun working with MSTDA’s Children’s theatre.

“…and loved the space and the community and felt like there was a lot of room for more things happening around there.  So, I asked Kristi about partnering up to produce new works, and we just self produced 4 One Acts Musicals, followed by cabarets of new songs, and eventually full-length musicals.”

More reading…

A line of Fadner musicals leading up to Ghosts…

CMM’s partnership with MSTDA brought original musicals to Roosevelt Island and The Howe Theatre. Those include…

Then, in this troubled year…

“I pitched writing a holiday show for MSTDA and Kimbirdlee and Kristi (MSTDA executive director, Towey) asked me to write something that was centered on the diverse Roosevelt Island community, so that’s where I started.

Jonathan Fadner with his musical ghosts cast: Kimbirdlee, Jack and Charlie Fadner with Sienna Schott and Mackenzie Chestnut. (Photo: Irina Hage, Irina Island Images)

It takes a village…

Fadner’s musical Ghosts All Around Us relies heavily on his imagination, MSTDA’s talent and training, but there’s more. And it won’t appear on the stage.

Roosevelt Island theatre depends on generous grants from RIOC’s public purpose funds, Towey told us recently, but streaming it is possible only “…thanks to a huge boost from Mosaic Church donating equipment and expertise used in their services.”

Meeting COVID-19 demands, Ghosts goes live before a limited audience in Good Shepherd Community Center on December 11th thru the 13th. But it will stream to wider audiences simultaneously.

Look for details soon.

From Escondido to New York, Jonathan Fadner’s Musical Ghosts All Around Us…

Because he came to Roosevelt Island voluntarily, we can’t say we stole his gifts, but the results are the same.

Premiering works that gather enough support that they inch toward Broadway is rare for any community. For one as small as ours, it’s magic…

Magic that will brighten and warm the first and only COVID Christmas in New York, this year.

And Jonathan Fadner get the last word on Ghosts…

“Something that hopefully all ages of our MSTDA community can have a big part in, and the show can grow from year to year along with the rest of the organization.”


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