Si Kahn has spent 40 years as a composer, lyricist and book writer for musical theater. He has had full productions at the Goodspeed Opera House’s Norma Terris Theatre in East Haddam, Connecticut; the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) Festival of New Musicals in New York (staged reading); the Berkeley, Milwaukee and Tennessee Repertory Theatres; the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in Nashville; the Playgroup in Knoxville; Piccolo Spoleto Fringe in Charleston, South Carolina; Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska; Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Main Stage West in Sebastopol, California, where he has been the official Artist in Residence since April, 2011.
Si’s most recent work Mother Jones in Heaven, about the legendary Irish immigrant social justice agitator, termed “the most dangerous woman in America” by a U.S. district attorney in 1902, had a four-week production at Main Stage West in May 2014, starring Mary Gannon Graham in the title role. A review in The Best of San Francisco Bay Area titled “A Triumphant, Dazzling ‘Mother’” reads in part:
There have been some really remarkable shows presented in Sonoma County these last few seasons; one might almost call it a Renaissance, a Golden Age of local theatre. Surely leading the pack is the powerful and eloquent one-woman musical event, Mother Jones in Heaven. In its California premiere at Main Stage West, it’s the newest work of American folk artist, composer and activist Si Kahn. As Artist in Residence, he has had three other musicals produced at MSW, and promises more to come.
He has struck pure gold with Mother Jones in Heaven. It’s a look back on the life of Mary Harris Jones, a ferocious Irish-American labor leader and community organizer that workers affectionately called “Mother Jones”. In Heaven, Mother reveals the moving story of her life to a quartet of musicians, a “Heavenly Band of Angels”, as they all linger together in a celestial Irish pub. Songs like fiery gems are strung together on a powerful storyline. The effect of the lyrics, melodies and performances by Graham and the band transcend mere words and music. Full of humor, sorrow and rage, the show possesses a fierce beauty, stirring the heart and mind.
In February 2015, Warehouse Theatre in Cornelius, North Carolina will present Si’s musical Precious Memories, about the lives of coal mining families in Eastern Kentucky. The musical stars singer and old time banjo player Sue Massek as Bell County, Kentucky traditional singer and activist songwriter Sarah Ogan Gunning. Sue is one of the founders of the award-winning Kentucky feminist-labor string band Reel World, which celebrates its 37th anniversary this year, with all the original members still in the band.
Developed at Main Stage West, Memories was featured at a reunion of women coal miners in Jonesborough, Tennessee on August 3, 2013, and was performed to open the first ever Northern Appalachian Folk Festival in Indiana, Pennsylvania on September 5th of the same year. The original cast recording will be released in early 2015 by Strictly Country Records in the Netherlands. The full script of Precious Memories will be appear in the Appalachian Journal, published by Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, in early 2015.
Silver Spoon features arrangements and orchestration by four-time Emmy winner and five-time Tony nominee Larry Hochman, who recently won the Best Orchestration Tony for Book of Mormon. The musical is a romantic comedy set against the background of the 1969-1970 grape boycott led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, in which Upper East Side stockbrokers fall in love with Brooklyn-dwelling Jewish garment worker trade unionist Communists. Si is the musical’s composer and lyricist, with a book by long-time Boston area playwright and Berklee College of Music faculty member Amy Merrill.
Silver Spoon had its world premiere production at the Nora Theatre Company/Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts in June 2010, following readings at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (produced by the Nora) and at the York Theatre in Manhattan. Dan Gewertz, theater reviewer for the Boston Herald, wrote of the Cambridge production:
The new musical ‘Silver Spoon’ is modest in size. There are just four characters and four musicians. The sets are simple, the political landscape specific. Yet there is a large, classic, Broadway musical at the heart of “Silver Spoon,” and it frequently busts out in witty, big-hearted ways…From the first note, the writing grabs you with its witty edge…It’s like watching a nifty Frank Loesser musical from the ’50s.
On October 8 and 9, 2011, Main Stage West presented previews of Si’s musical Joe Hill’s Last Will, starring six-time Grammy nominee John McCutcheon as the Swedish immigrant labor agitator, songwriter and martyr Joe Hill. The play, which combines Si’s script with Joe Hill’s songs, had its initial reading on April 22, 2009 at historic civil rights/labor Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square, produced by Amas Musical Theatre as their contribution to New York’s Immigrant Heritage Week. John McCutcheon will tour internationally with Joe Hill’s Last Will in 2015, the 100th anniversary of Joe Hill’s execution by firing squad at the Utah State Penitentiary in Salt Lake City.
Currently in redevelopment, Some Sweet Day tells the story of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, and documents the first time in U.S. history that African American and white sharecroppers and tenant farmers joined together and formed a union to fight for better wages and working conditions. It was featured in the National Association for Musical Theatre (NAMT) Festival of New Musicals in 1991 and toured nationally for a dozen years, including a production at the Goodspeed Opera House’s Norma Terris Theatre. A new production will open at Main Stage West in 2016 as part of Si’s Artist in Residency.