Under Fire

by Barry Harman & Grant Sturiale

What is the proper role of journalists in time of war? Must they remain uninvolved and objective, no matter what injustices and atrocities they witness? Does being a reporter remove the onus of doing the right thing?

UNDER FIRE is a new musical based on the political thriller of the same name which starred Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy. Taking place in the late 1970's in Central America, it is about the difficult choices journalists of integrity face when covering the insanities of wartime.

Set in the country of El Mirador (a thinly disguised Nicaragua), UNDER FIRE chronicles two parallel stories which eventually merge.

The first is the progress of the rebels, peasants who fight the brutal injustices of the dictator Tacho. Through narration by Pedro - , a young teen who joined the rebel forces after his parents were murdered by La Guardia (Tacho’s soldiers) - we learn the rebels are led by a shadowy figure named Rafael, a man who has never been photographed. The spirit of the rebels is mirrored in their music - which echoes groups like The Buena Vista Social Club and The Gipsy Kings.

The second storyline concerns three American reporters who come to El Mirador to cover the conflict. First is Russell Price, a hotshot photojournalist who will do anything to get a good picture, and who determines to find and photograph rebel leader Rafael. He is joined by his mentor and best friend, Alex Grazier, an older, respected journalist who is torn between pursuing an offer to become a network TV anchor and his love for reporter Claire Strider Claire is determined to remain working in the field, rather than accompany Alex to live in New York.

Eventually, the fates of the rebels and the reporters become intertwined. As the rebels advance, the Americans grow sympathetic to their cause, determining that Tacho is an unapologetically corrupt leader. Complicating matters is a growing attraction between Claire and Price. Sensing he is losing Claire, Alex decides to leave El Mirador and take the anchor job in NY.

This leaves Claire and Price on their own when they are approached by the rebels to meet Rafael, the elusive rebel leader. When they do, they face a difficult choice. Rafael has been killed in battle, and his comrades want Price to fake a picture to make it seem as if the rebel leader is still alive, to help their cause.

Though it goes against journalistic ethics to fabricate a story, Price and Claire have become sickened by the crimes of Tacho's regime. Act One ends as Price takes the picture, and he and Claire begin an affair.

The second act deals with the ramifications of Price and Claire's decision. The picture of Rafael, “proof” that the rebel leader is still alive, encourages the rebel forces and the tide begins to turn in their favor. At first, Price and Claire rejoice in finally taking action after years of merely reporting from the sidelines.

But then Price's pictures taken at the rebel camp are stolen, used by Tacho's spies to target the rebel leaders for execution. To make matters worse, Alex returns to El Mirador, intent on doing a TV interview with the rebel leader, expecting Price to lead him to Rafael.

Eventually, Price and Claire reveal to Alex that the picture of Rafael is a phony, and that the rebel leader is dead. Alex is furious at their forsaking journalistic integrity in place of partisan politics. But when faced with ruining the careers of the two people he cares for most, he too opts to keep the cover-up going.

Having reached an understanding, Alex gives his blessing to Claire and Price as they begin their new relationship. He accompanies Price out into the field, to find a story with which he can return to New York. The capital city has become a war-torn no man's land, and the men become lost. Alex approaches La Guardia soldiers to ask for directions, as Price watches from afar, taping the scene with his video camera. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Alex is forced to his knees and shot through the head by Tacho’s soldiers!

A horrified Price escapes, with proof of Alex's gisly execution in his camera. At first, Tacho tries to claim the rebels killed the American correspondent, but Price manages to get his video to the local TV station, and the truth becomes known. Ironically, it sounds the final death knell for Tacho's regime, since the American government can no longer support him. Tacho flees to Miami, and the victorious rebels ascend to power.

A sober Price and Claire weigh the outcome. They did the worst thing reporters can do, they knowingly perpetrated a lie. Clearly, that was wrong.

"Now ask me if I'd do it again..." The question hangs in the air, as a new day and a new chapter begins for the liberated country of El Mirador.

Gary is approached by Tyler Toolman, who reprimands him for signing up for the talent show, and insists that he’ll never find an assistant. GARY is refused by the popular Cheryl Samatasinghar-Stein. Penelope offers to take the spot as his assistant. Gary politely declines. The next day, Gary receives bad news. According to the rule book, there can only be one magic act in the talent show. Since Tyler signed up first, Gary  is  disqualified. Tyler taunts Gary, forcing him to perform an illusion. Gary obliges, but unfortunately fails.

Back at home, Gary discovers that his father Mort was an amateur magician. Later that night, Gary is visited by the ghost of his father. Mort recommends that Gary finds himself an image by attempting Harry Houdini’s Chinese Water Torture Cell Illusion.

At the talent show Tyler performs his creepy act. He is interrupted by Penelope, who chases him off the stage, running him over with her wheelchair. Gary performs a few successful illusions, climaxing with the Chinese Water Torture Cell. However, it fails. Gary is revealed floating  in the tank.

The scene shifts to limbo where Mort introduces Gary to famous magicians including Gary’s idol, Harry Houdini. Houdini lectures Gary to believe in himself. Gary awakens back in reality. Cheryl now having seen a different side to him attempts to seduce him. Gary sees through her scheme and rejects her. Gary makes Cheryl disappear in a puff of smoke, so he and Penelope can finally share a tender kiss.


Download or open The Full Script in Adobe Reader.



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Barry Harman: 

made his Broadway debut with ROMANCE/ROMANCE as bookwriter, lyricist and director.   The show received five Tony nominations, four Outer Critic Circle Awards and a Drama Desk nod.   With composer Grant Sturiale, he wrote the off-Broadway musical OLYMPUS ON MY MIND, receiving an Outer Critics Award (Best Lyrics) and two Drama Desk nominations (Best Direction & Best Book).  He and Mr. Sturiale collaborated on two children’s musicals which have toured nationwide:   STARBLAST and FABLE COUNTRY, and their musical UNDER FIRE debuted at the 2009 New York Musical Theater Festival, where it won the Theater for the American Musical Award.    A Harvard graduate, Mr. Harman began his writing career in prime time TV, winning  Emmy awards for shows his work on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY and the HBO Family Special “How Do You Spell God.” 

Grant Sturiale:

Mr. Sturiale garnered an Outer Criticʼs Circle Award nomination for his score for the Off-Broadway musical OLYMPUS ON MY MIND (written with librettist Barry Harman). Their show UNDER FIRE won the Theater For The American Musical Award in 2009 at the NY Musical Theater Festival. Mr. Sturiale won the award a second time in 2011 with KIKI BABY, written with Lonny Price and Ellen Fitzhugh. An evening of his work as a composer was presented in April 2010 at Lincoln Center produced by Arts And Artists At St. Paul. Also active as a musical director, he conducted the Radio City Christmas Show for 10 seasons and will serve as Associate Conductor to Alan Gilbert for the NY Philharmonic’s presentation of Sweeney Todd in March 2014.