VOICE OF THE CITY began as a discussion between composer Elaine Chelton and librettist-lyricist Kenneth Jones when they were members of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, the Tony-honored Manhattan program that matches composers with lyricists and promotes excellence, craft and discipline in musical theatre writing. Collaborating with each other for the first time, Chelton and Jones sought to work on a traditional musical in the Rodgers & Hammerstein mode — the kind of show that always gets revived but never seems to get written today.

Poring over short stories, fairy tales, newspaper articles and more, they settled on O. Henry's New York City-set short story "Springtime a la Carte" (1910), the slight tale of a Manhattan typing girl named Sarah who is waiting for a farmer to whisk her away from the city. Characters and new plot elements — including a new suitor in the city — were invented for the romantic musical comedy, giving Sarah goals beyond merely "waiting." The title was changed to VOICE OF THE CITY to better reflect what Sarah becomes and how she is influenced by the city folk and urban setting. ("Voice of the City" also happens to be the title of an unrelated O. Henry story.)

Pieces of VOICE OF THE CITY were presented in the BMI Workshop, leading to two private Manhattan readings, the involvement of director-choreographer Karen Azenberg (which continues) and the show's first public Equity reading in the York Theatre Company's Developmental Reading Series. More revisions followed the successful reading, leading to an invitation to further develop the show in a two-week workshop at The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton rehearsals under the direction of Azenberg (and the musical direction of Sean Michael Flowers) led to two public performances at the The Loft Theatre, The Human Race's home in downtown Dayton. Audiences embraced the musical fable and area critics provided encouragement. The Dayton Daily News said the script-in-hand staged reading "may just be the best cash you'll spend this season," and Dayton City Paper called the work "a dandy diversion," "delightfully refreshing," and crowed that "Jones' charming lyrics and Chelton's lilting melodies combined on the whole for a gem-filled score that grew more infectious with each scene, as if Jerry Herman had a hand in it."