“Old Wicked Songs,” a musical drama written by out playwright Jon Maran, has returned to the area where it premiered over a decade ago, running through Dec. 5 at Bristol Riverside Theatre.
“Songs,” which features music by 19th-century composer Robert Schumann, follows Stephen Hoffman, a disillusioned piano prodigy who travels to Vienna in a last-ditch effort to rekindle his love for the instrument. Once there, he studies under an older and abrasive vocal professor with whom he has little in common.
Maran, who also wrote 2009’s “The Tempermentals,” which chronicles the founding of the first sustained LGBT-rights organization in the U.S., said that “Old Wicked Songs” is based on his own experiences.
“I was a student in Vienna so there’s definitely an autobiographical aspect to the play about my experience, how I went there and fell in love with the city,” he said. “And then, I started to see some of the darker aspects of Vienna. And it was just such an education when I was 20 years old.”
After premiering at the Prince Music Theater, “Old Wicked Songs” went on to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1996, win a L.A. Drama-Logue Award and grace stages in more than a dozen countries.
Maran said despite the acclaim his play would achieve, it took time to get anyone to believe in it.
“I couldn’t get anybody to do this play for quite a long time,” he said. “Everybody turned it down. Once it got done in New York, it just got done everywhere after that.”
He added that the reaction of Philadelphia audiences helped propel its success.
“It was sort of startling, to be honest,” he said about the response to those first performances. “Both of the men played the piano and they were in this intimate room. You thought you were in the middle of this whole experience. We were all sort of surprised at the strong reaction we got, which helped us get into New York after that.”
The play’s appeal stems from pulling the audience into the struggles and conflicts between the two main characters.
“It’s a big journey play. It’s two men who go on a very large journey,” he said. “Both of the characters have not dealt with their past and what happened previously. Even though it’s quite intimate, it’s also sort of oddly operatic at the same time. The song cycle of the play is about a young man who falls in love passionately and then he loses that love and he has to deal with all of the grief that one has to deal with and the mourning process in order to move past it.”
“Old Wicked Songs” runs through Dec. 5 at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol. For more information, call (215) 785-0100.