BYU Developed Musical Premieres in NYC

BYU alum Erik Orton, center, and Nicole Riding, left, and others pose with Berlin Airlift veterans after a photo shoot.

The Berlin Airlift has been called one of the greatest humanitarian acts of the 20th Century.  BERLIN, a new musical, explores the exciting and compelling true stories of the individuals involved in this dramatic historical event.

Written and produced by BYU alum Erik Orton, In 1999 BERLIN was presented in a workshop format at BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center.  Two years later it was featured again at BYU in a reader’s theatre format as part of the Theatre and Media Arts Department’s Writer/Director/Actor (WDA) workshop. 

Based on the famed Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, BERLIN tells the story of the united efforts between Americans, Germans and others to preserve the city as a foothold of freedom in post World War II Europe and follows the journey of Ernst Reuter, a professor/politician exiled by the Nazis, who returns to Berlin with his wife and daughter to help rebuild Germany immediately after World War II.  That process, however, is stunted as relations cool between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies and a power play begins for control of Germany’s capital.  Described by historians as the first battle of the Cold War, BERLIN tells the story of one of the greatest humanitarian acts of the twentieth century.  Without the unprecedented effort and sacrifice made by the U.S. and British Air Forces coupled with the unwavering commitment to freedom displayed by the German civilians (led by Ernst Reuter) thousands would have starved under the Soviet Union’s blockade tactics. 

“Ultimately it’s about forgiveness and redemption,” says Orton.  “Former enemies come to love each other and in a very real sense even give their lives for each other.  It’s about love overcoming the ruin of war.” 

Within the cast of twenty-one professional actors are four LDS performers:  Nicole Riding recently concluded performances with the National Tour of Les Misrables where she played the featured role of Eponine; Tregony Shepherd performed on Broadway and the road in both Les Misrables and The Phantom of the Opera; Norris Chappell, Jr. and Shannon Cook were in the original workshop production of BERLIN.  Ms. Cook has relocated temporarily to NYC from Las Vegas to participate in BERLIN.

“It’s a thrill to see it all coming together,” says Orton.  “I walked through the building tonight and in one room lights are being focused, in another the choreographer is running a production number, in another room they’re fitting costumes and in another they’re staging the final scenes.  Everyone’s working so hard and wonderful results are coming from it.”  Orton, who works as a theatrical manager for Broadway tours, is happy to see this culmination.  “This has been a long time in coming.  There have been a lot of disappointments along the way, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  It’s all part of the process.” 

Backed by a creative staff of Broadway veterans, this world premiere production of BERLIN seems poised for good things to come.  “There’s already been interest expressed [in the show] by prominent members of the theatre industry, but right now we’re just focusing on getting this production open,” says Orton.  Dr. Robert Nelson, Department Chair of BYU’s Theatre and Media Arts Department and Dr. Eric Samuelsen, head of BYU’s playwrighting program will attend BERLIN in its opening week.  Both faculty members supervised the WDA workshop in which BERLIN was developed in 2001.  BERLIN will play for a limited run of sixteen performances at Theatre 315, located at 315 West 47th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. 

Performances run Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8pm, September 10-27 and Tuesday September 23 at 8pm.  Matinees are Saturday September 13, 20 and 27 at 2pm.  Tickets are available via Ticket Central:, by calling 212-279-4200, the main box office at 416 W 42nd Street or at Theatre 315’s box office 2 hours before performance.  All tickets are $15.  For more information visit

Stephanie (played by Nicole Riding) and Lt. Hansen (played by Chris Hall) find love in war torn Germany.

LDS Creative Team

Erik Orton–BYU Alum, Playwright/Composer, Engagement Manager for the National Touring production of Les Misrables, Associate Company Manager for the Broadway production of Jane Eyre (2000 Tony Award nominee for Best Musical), the Associate Company Manager for the Broadway production of FOSSE (winner of the 1999 Tony Award for Best Musical)Music Assistant to Stephen Flaherty during the initial workshop of the Tony Award nominated Seussical the Musical.  

Nicole Riding–BYU alum, played Eponine in Nat’l tour of Les Miserables

Tregoney Shepherd–LDS, played Madame Thenardier in Broadway production of Les Miserables and The Confidante in Nat’l Tour of Phantom of the Opera

Shannon Cook–BYU alum, recently finished recording “Saints United Voices” with Gladys Knight, was in the original BYU workshop; is flying out from Las Vegas to be in the show

Norris Chappell–BYU alum, was in the original Berlin workshop at BYU.  Recently play Daniel in Savior of the World at SLC’s Conference Center Theatre.

Matt Toronto–Associate Choreographer, played Action in the 2002 Nat’l Tour of West Side Story

Amy Dalton–Associate Music Director, recently left working for the Director of Cultural Arts at the Church Office Building in SLC to move to NYC.  Berlin is her first project in New York City.

Heather S. Jones-Public Relations, currently working with the United Nations delegations in organizing cultural and instructional projects and programs throughout NYC. Prior to this handled marketing projects for the Government of Dubai – Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing. Berlin is her first theatre project.

2003 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.