Sunday, April 21, 2013

Unexpected Magic

I am a planner. Most of my trips follow a carefully premeditated play-by-play. (Ask any of my friends; I'm sure they can produce ten-page copies of my itineraries!) Sometimes, though, the less you plan, the better things turn out.

Take, for example, the time my friend Michelle and I were backpacking through Europe and decided, on a whim, to travel late at night to a town we'd never heard of. That little town--Perugia--turned out to be the best hidden gem of our entire trip! (Think underground tunnels, sprawling vistas, medieval architecture, delicious pastries. . .)

Or take the time my friend Liz and I were standing in front of the Metropolitan Opera House with nothing to do but take pictures and a gentleman walked by and offered us two $150 tickets to "Il Trittico" for free.

Or the time I threw caution to the wind and mixed cookie dough instead of brownies with my ice-cream at Cold Stone. (I've never looked back since.)

Or take last week. . .

POP QUIZ: Which of the following am I MOST likely to have experienced within the past few days?
  1. Deciding to visit NYC. . .and ending up on a Manhattan-bound Megabus that same night
  2. The delicious indulgence of a burger and red velvet concrete at SHAKE SHACK
  3. [Briefly] playing the keyboard for a Broadway performance of CINDERELLA
  4. Attending the Manhattan LDS temple and chatting at length with the temple president
  5. Running into some friends from Franklin, MA in the middle of 57th Street, Manhattan
  6. Scoring a $27 rush ticket to the darkly-quirky but weirdly-infectious MATILDA, third row, center.  (Thanks, Minchin. I've had your songs stuck in my head all weekend. . .)
  7. Cracking up after being chased down by a woman on the street who told me that my aura had "grabbed" her. “You have the vibrancy of youth, the wisdom of years, and the courage of a soldier," she said. ?!?
  8. Attending a soul-soothing Juilliard Lab Orchestra concert at Alice Tulley Hall
  9. Spending two concurrent nights sleeping on a bus
  10. ALL of the above in a one-day trip
  11. NONE of the above. (Any given item is totally improbable.)
K. I'll stop there before I use up the whole alphabet. :-) Do you have your final answer?

Aaaaand the correct answer issssssss. . .(drum roll). . ."K!"

[End of blog post.]

JK! The correct answer is "J," of course. And yes, I was exhausted when I finally dropped into bed for a quick nap at 10 AM on Thursday after a solid 37 hours on the go.

How did all of these events fall into place within a single day, you wonder? Here's the general timeline:

(As you read each of these time stamps, please imagine them popping up on a screen, accompanied by dramatic music. Okay, okay--my 84-year-old roommate, Kay, has been watching a lot of NCIS lately. . .)
  • 9:30 PM, Tues: I'm sitting, in my pajamas, at home in Franklin. I decide I want to go to NY, so I hop online and buy cheap tickets.
  • 11 PM, Tues: I inform the world of facebook that I am stepping onto a NY-bound Megabus.
  • 11:15 PM, Tues: A fellow composer responds to my post and suggests that I sit in an orchestra pit. I think, "What the heck?" and contact the music director of CINDERELLA, explaining that I am orchestrating my own "legit" musical and would love to listen "up close."
  • 11:30 PM, Tues: The music director responds a few minutes later with a friendly, "Sure!" and reminds me that I'll need concert black.
  • 11:35 PM, Tues: I inform the world of facebook that I did not bring any concert black with me. Bummer! (I didn't bring anything, in fact, besides a purse and a book.)
  • 12-2 AM, Wed: I do some quick research on my phone and decide to rush MATILDA and drop by Juilliard for a free afternoon orchestra concert.
  • 5:00 AM, Wed: A friend from Franklin messages, "Hey! We're driving to NYC this morning. Can we bring you some concert black?" I accept their kind offer, and the pit experience is ON. (This also means I'll be able to visit the Manhattan temple since I'll have a skirt to wear!)
  • 5:30 AM, Wed: I stake out under an awning in the rain at the MATILDA threater with other die-hards. We wait four and a half hours for the box office to open, bonding over crazy music theatre stories. I read three-quarters of an Anne Tyler book.
  • 10:30 AM, Wed: I take a nap on a couch at the LDS meetinghouse. :-)
  • 11:30 AM, Wed: I retrieve my concert black and change.
  • 12:30 PM, Wed: I attend a beautiful concert at Juilliard featuring Mozart and Strauss. Music was exactly the balm I needed after an emotional week in Boston post-marathon.
Now here's where it gets really good:

At about 1:45 PM, I walked downtown to the theater on 54th where CINDERELLA is playing and approached the stage door. 

 A man stuck his head out. “Are you Erica?” After guiding me through the inner sanctum (where I had several near-collisions with shoulder-padded princes!), he introduced me to the musicians in the orchestra. (I will admit that I slipped away and wandered off by myself for awhile to “explore.”  It was quite the maze back there.) The assistant conductor was particularly friendly. After stashing my things in his locker, he set up a chair for me in the pit and handed me a copy of the pre-preview orchestral reduction for the show.

I was thrilled! I got to follow along and note exactly which lines of dialogue had changed during previews, which songs had been cut, which sections of underscoring had been re-arranged. What could be more useful for a playwright and composer? And I got to fall in love all over again with the score itself, thanks to the brilliant orchestrations of Danny Troob (orchestrator of Beauty and the Beast). In one rather embarassing moment, as the orchestra swelled, I felt a tear escape down my cheek. (I blame it on the fact that the show contains two string players above the technical maximum.)  ;-)   CINDERELLA doesn't claim to be anything but confectionary, and I've never been very moved by the story, but that afternoon, something about the whole experience was magical. And the music was creating that magic. (You have to love a musical that is underscored almost non-stop from start to finish.)

And if the experience was already surreal, it was about to become even more so. About three-quarters of the way throught he show, the keyboardist turned to me and whispered, "Have you ever played on Broadway?"

I smiled and shook my head, “no.”

He grinned. “Well, that's about to change.”

Then, my friends, he lifted his hands OFF that keyboard and STOPPED PLAYING!

Before you got your driver's license, were you ever cruising down a freeway in the passenger seat when a mean-spirited driver took his hands off the wheel and ordered you to take over? Didn't your life flash before you for a second as your gripped the wheel? Well, in this case, my “freeway” was an in-session Broadway musical, my “wheel” was an amplified keyboard, my “driver” was the keyboardist sitting next to me (although he certainly wasn't mean-spirited!), and I was the teenager in the passenger seat. Can you guess how I felt?!

I nearly had a heart attack, but yes, I can now say that I've played in a Broadway pit orchestra (if only for a couple of pages!). :-)

I came away from the experience with lots of interesting trivia: Did you know, for example, that some of the vocal tracks for CINDERELLA are pre-recorded and that the conductor controls the sound effect cues? Did you know that the show is considered a “revival” even though it's never technically played on Broadway before? And did you know that pit members spend a good chunk of their time making faces at each other, texting, and engaging in secret “play off”s? I have a sneaking suspicion that sitting in the pit may have made for a more entertaining experience than watching the actual show from the house.

This whole trip was just the spring break vacation I needed. I'd been considering visiting my friend Mara in Sweden this week and hopping over to St. Petersburg for a day or two. Well, Sweden and Russia would've been great, but New York wasn't too shabby either.  And for well under $100, it was a good trade-off.

Thanks, NYC! You continue to be the city where unexpected magic happens.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Beating the Clock

I feel like most of today's events should have been backed by a track of really intense chase music:

"Dun, duh-duh-duh dun. . .DUN, DUN!"

I was running to beat the clock all day long, and against all odds, I did it! I am now sitting safely on my Boston-bound Megabus, looking out the window and bidding New York a temporary farewell. (Well, technically, I'm alternating looking out the window and watching the screen while I type. . .so I apologize in advance for any typos! And yes, for those of you who are curious, I *am* cleanly showered.) ;-)

Here is a quick list of today's time-defying accomplishments:

1. Made it to the Imperial Theatre box office by 10:00, even though--once again!--I slept in (this time until 9:15). Glad I've developed good pedestrian-dodging skills! Asked, breathlessly, if they still had any student rush tickets for the opening night preview premiere of "Nice Work if You Can Get It," and, amazingly, they did! (The show is an original musical that frames some of the Gershwin brothers' most famous songs, a la "Crazy for You." Read about it here.)

2. Made it all the way from 46th to 96th street, on foot, in less than an hour.

3. Finished my Italian (aka "Spanish") homework. Check!

4. Took a scenic walk through Central Park and got to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in time to spend two solid hours taking things in.

I've been to the museum so often now that, this time, I decided to limit myself and soak in the European art and musical instrument galleries. A gray-haired lady approached me as I entered the first gallery and asked, brusquely, "Do you want this?" She started shoving something into my hands. I was confused. "Do you or don't you?" The woman was growing impatient. "Take it!" I nodded and obeyed as my mysterious Met angel disappeared.

Looking down at my hands, I saw that the woman had handed me--not a bomb or a million dollar bill!--but an audio guide to the museum. I ended up having a great time with that thing. :-) I learned all sorts of facts about the development of each instrument family in the orchestra and about the Steins and their patronage of late impressionist/early modern art. Did you know that the family's collection of Picasso paintings had to be smuggled out of Germany at the onset of WWI? Good stuff!

And now my schedule really starts getting crazy. Ready? Here we go. . .

5. Got back to the apartment just in time to field a call from my former missionary friend, pack up my things, and make it all the way to Times Square to meet him. We didn't find each other until about 6:30, and even though we began walking together towards my workshop, I had to sprint two full streets at 6:55 (the workshop begins promptly at 7:00). I slipped inside just as they were closing the doors!

6. Left the workshop at 7:50, giving me exactly ten minutes to bolt ten streets to the theater where I'd be watching "Nice Work if You Can Get It" at 8:00. Did I make it? I did, at a rate of one street per minute. Not bad!

7. Slipped out of the show during the 10:50 curtain call to walk four streets and two avenues to the stop where my bus was scheduled to leave at 11:10. Stepped onto the bus just before it pulled away!


And how was "Nice Work if You Can Get It?" It was fun--very much in the vein of "Anything Goes" (big band music; ridiculous storyline). In fact, they re-used the same director and orchestrator from "Anything Goes." Whereas "Anything Goes" packed some major star power, though, Matthew Broderick didn't quite cut it for me. (He's 50 years old, after all--not really the typical young hero. I don't know that he ever was the typical hero; he was terribly miscast as Harold Hill, for example, in the movie remake of "The Music Man.")

The chorus numbers were appropriately splashy, though, and the music was, well, Gershwin (read: "catchy and brilliant"). Unfortunately, the plot fell short. It felt like an oddly-modernized, wanna-be Golden Age story, and I wasn't really drawn in until the second act which ran a lot more smoothly than the first. It was definitely a first preview sort of night--the orchestra missed some notes, Broderick forgot some lyrics--but I guess that's part of the fun of live theater: It's not edited and airbrushed; it all happens in real time!

As for the musical presented today at the ASCAP workshop, I was pleasantly surprised--not so much by the content (I didn't care for that, actually), but by the musical language. This show was far more sophisticated musically than any of the earlier shows had been. The style seemed little too blatantly Sondheim-esque (one melodic phrase was lifted directly from "Sunday in the Park With George!"), but--hey!--Sondheim's great, and this guy obviously knew what he was doing too.

I've come away from this workshop experience realizing that I need to make heavy revisions to "Weaver"--especially in the first act. The opening number is particularly long and confusing, and it doesn't establish the central characters and the central conflict quickly and clearly enough.

I've got some interesting ideas brewing. :-) Stay tuned!

Showerless in Manhattan

Things happen in this city--crazy, wonderful things that could never happen anywhere else. You brush shoulders in a crowd with Sutton Foster (Anything Goes, The Drowsy Chaperone, Thoroughly Modern Millie), you're moved to tears by the simple beauty of an honest story, a toothless man from Alabama takes your picture, and then, suddenly, you're sitting feet away from Andrew Lippa (composer of The Addams Family, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and Lynn Ahrens (Anastasia, Once on This Island, Ragtime).

Only in New York!

I woke up yesterday morning with a jolt--not because my alarm had gone off, but because it hadn't. Light was already streaming through the windows of my temporary third story home on 96th street! I looked at my watch. (Yes, I still wear a watch; I'm old-fashioned like that.)


I'd been planning to take my place in the early rush line for the new musical Once around 7:30 or 8:00, and I wasn't going to miss my chance to grab a cheap ticket! There was no time to shower, so I threw a hat over my hair (secret: I wear this hat way too often--especially when I haven't had time to wash my hair!), and I dashed out the door.

Luck was a lady that morning, because I made it to the line just before 20 or 30 others descended, and I was the last person to get a rush ticket. Hurrah! (My apologies to everyone standing in line behind me.) After strolling through Central Park, perusing 5th Avenue--they gave me free chocolate in the Lindt store!--and ogling the displays in 57th street's Steinway store, I headed back to the theater for the matinee performance of Once.

It had just started to rain, so the entire audience was huddled under the theater awning. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice, "Where are we supposed to be? Do you see the box office?" I turned to the woman standing next to me, looked away, and then did a double take. It was Sutton Foster!!! Or was it? I snuck another glance, trying not to be too obvious. Yup! Her hair was down and she wasn't wearing any make-up, but it was Sutton Foster alright. We jostled shoulders as she and her friend disappeared into the crowd. (Maybe just a liiiiiiiittle bit of her talent rubbed off on me in the process. Maybe???)

As the usher lead me to my seat, I realized that I was sitting in one of the private boxes, and I felt a rush of girlish excitement. The box was draped with--yes!--red velvet curtains, and I had a great view of the stage. The show began before any of us really knew it had started. As the audience filtered in, the cast members--every one of whom plays an instrument!--mingled with the audience members while dancing, playing, and singing Irish folktunes. Then, suddenly, the lights were down and one of the tunes became the opening number of the show.

The first scene was riveting: Guy (a discouraged Irish musician) comes face to face with Girl (a solemn, starry-eyed Czech immigrant whose English is charming and whose Czech is close enough to Russian that I understood bits and pieces). The dialogue was clever and unpredictable, and the music--although not traditionally jazzy or hummable--wove an atmosphere of sweet melancholy. I loved the fact that I genuinely admired and respected the female protagonist and that, even in the end, she remained true to her morals. The love story was subtle and understated (more about the love of music, in some ways, than about human relationships), and I was grateful that it refused to be cookie-cutter. The ending was perfect (happier, at least in my eyes, than any other ending would have been), but it still left me in tears.

NOTE: Before I tell you what happened next, let me emphasize the fact that my eyes were red and puffy from crying. Let me also remind you that I'd rushed out the door without taking a shower that morning. In short: I was gross. Got that? Okay.

So as I walked across the street after the show, an old, toothless man stopped me and asked, "Hey, Miss, kin ah take yer picture?" When I asked him why, he said, "I'm frum Alabama, and I'm collectin' pictures of all the purdy socialites in New York City." I shrugged in a bemused way, and he zoomed in within inches of my nose before snapping the shot. "Thank yeh!"


A few minutes later, as I was ordering food from the Shake Shack to share with my friend, Stephen, the cashier said, "Ordering a lot of food today, are we?" "It's not just for me," I explained. "Oh, I always encourage models like you to eat more," he said. "You're on vacation from modeling school, aren't you?"

Wha. . .?!?

Lessons learned here: 1) Shower less. 2) Cry more often. Beauty is a mysterious thing.

After those bizarre encounters, I met up with Stephen at the Gershwin Theater to enter the Wicked lottery. . .for the 15th time! (When I'd told my mom earlier that I was meeting up with Stephen to try for lottery tickets, she started laughing. "Stephen Schwartz?!?" Ha! If only.) Long story short: I didn't win the tickets. . .but it ended up being a good thing. I had a great talk with Stephen (one of my music buddies from the good, old ASU days), and then I headed to the ASCAP workshop to discover that two of my Broadway idols, Andrew Lippa and Liz Ahrens, were on the panel. Thank heaven I didn't miss that workshop to see a show!

Had I not gone to the workshop, I would also have been deprived of the chance to get to know a delightfully dazy woman from Arizona. When she saw me analyzing a Debussy piece and working on my Italian homework, she turned to the man sitting next to her and said, "We've got a smartie sitting next to us! Look at her--writing her guitar chords and practicing her Spanish!"


"Speaking of smarties," she went on, "my husband's a cardiologist. I'm drawn to men--and women too, of course--because of their minds. But you know what usually happens to people like that!" I shook my head. Her face got serious. "They just, you know, SNAP. They snap! My husband's crazy." She looked thoughtful. "But he's still a nice man." Later, I asked this woman if I could borrow a pen to take notes with. "Oh, sure!" she said, "But I'll need it back. This is a Japanese pen from my hotel. I can't stay with my daughter in Harlem anymore because she's married. You know how that goes. Are you married? No? Have you ever been to one of those Asian hotels? They're so strange! They give you these free little slippers, but they won't give you free pens. Crazy, right? I had to keep bugging the man at the front desk until he gave me this."

I accepted the pen a little nervously. . .and then forgot to give it back! Oops. I guess it's my souvenir: A hard-earned pen from a Japanese (?) hotel.

After watching an hour of a stirring musical called "The Cost of Living" (a show about the difficulties of living in New York as an Asian immigrant) and an hour of incredible feedback from Lippa and Ahrens, I headed to the Grand Stand in Times Square to meet a church friend from New York and a former missionary friend from Kiev. Sadly, my phone ran out of batteries, and after waiting forty-five minutes at the Grand Stand, I hadn't seen either of them.

Then it started to rain!

I was ready to admit defeat. But as I was heading back to the subway station, I just happened to bump into Allison--my friend from New York. (In the crowds on 42nd street, that is a bonafide miracle!) We grabbed s'more concretes at the Shake Shack--Shake Shack should start rewarding me for my recent patronage!!!--and then ended up wandering around the midtown/Central Park area for the next three hours, just catching up.

It was a full day from beginning to end. Who knows what today will hold? Anything can happen in New York--especially if you're brave enough to skip your morning shower. ;-)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Today's Top Twenty

Life is never boring in the Big Apple! At various points today, I have:

1. Passed Lauren Molina in a hallway. (Laura Molina is a big Broadway actress--in name, not size! In size, she's actually pretty tiny. Today she was wearing large amounts of eyeliner.)

2. Felt a lot like Karen in Smash.

3. Inhaled a Shake Shack burger.

4. Watched as dozens of hopeful actresses sat in a hallway waiting their turns to audition for the role of Mary Jane in Broadway's Spiderman.

5. Looked down across Lincoln Square from inside the LDS church building while practicing the piano.

6. Popped popcorn.

7. Eaten the whole bag (of popcorn).

8. Considered the possibility of signing on as the keyboardist with a Broadway national touring company.

9. Sat in a room and talked, one on one, for over an hour with Todd Ellison (Broadway legend and music director of Spamalot).

10. Analyzed a Debussy piece and finished some Italian homework during a workshop of a show that I didn't particularly like.

11. Chatted with a producer and listened to the sage advice of Dean Pitchford (lyricist of Footloose and Fame).

12. Vented on the phone.

13. Sat on a fence (a literal, not a figurative one! It was on 46th street.)

14. Been re-inspired to write a wholesome, uplifting Broadway hit.

15. Witnessed a fist fight that took place right in the middle of traffic.

16. Learned that the guy who wrote "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" still makes $250,000/year from that one song alone. Holy moley! (I wonder if I could do that well with a variant like, say, "Almonds Sizzling in a Closed Grill". . .)

17. Accidentally shattered a bottle of liquid makeup which, it turns out, is as about as clean-up resistant as wall paint!

18. Learned that Elphaba in Wicked used to sing a typical "I Want" number before leaving for Shiz--a number that Stephen reworked for five workshops before his son finally pointed out that the song just didn't work.

19. Made plans to visit the Metropolitan Museum and see the matinee performance of "Once" tomorrow.

And, finally, I have. . .

20. Gone to bed! (Or I will. . .soon. . .)

'Night, all. :-)

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Run-in with Stephen Schwartz

Stephen Schwartz spoke to me today!

I'm as giddy as. . .well. . .as I always am when I run into a Broadway celebrity. (Imagine a scientist meeting Stephen Hawking or a tween meeting [insert pop icon], and you'll start to get the idea.) My giddiness shot through the theater roof and left me completely speechless when Bernadette Peters signed my playbill in 2010. The next year, as I walked into the Strouse home and shook the hand of the man responsible for Annie, I couldn't do a thing but smile and pray that his razor-sharp composer's ears wouldn't pick up the sound of my pounding heart. And now here I am in 2012, running into Stephen Schwartz. . .literally! That's right; the man whose genius gave rise to a little show called Wicked actually bumped into me tonight, looked deeply into my eyes, and said, with great feeling, "Excuse me."

True story.

I was sitting on my backback at the time, successfully blocking the aisle between chairs in a little room on the 10th floor of the Ripley-Grier studios in NYC. The room was packed with music theater enthusiasts, and there weren't enough chairs to go around. As half of the workshop auditors shuffled uncomfortably on their feet, I set down my bulging backpack (I'd just stepped off the bus from Boston) and--with an apologetic look that masked my secret, inner satisfaction--plopped down on my makeshift seat. The woman in the chair next to me glanced a few times in my direction. I wondered if she was going to ask me to move. Finally, she turned and said, "Okay--I've got to ask: Are you the actress from Newsies?" I grinned inwardly as possible responses flashed through my mind. Part of me wanted to rise from my awkward perch in a dignified way and proclaim, "I am! Offer me your chair, you commoner." Instead, I smiled and shook my head. "Oh. Well, you look like her. Great show, by the way; you should see it if you get the chance."

I was soon glad that I wasn't sitting on a chair, though, because my middle-of-the-aisle seat gave me both a perfect view of the workshop and the aforementioned opportunity to brush knees and exchange pleasantries ("Excuse me!" "Sorry!") with the man of the hour. The panel consisted of Stephen Schwartz, Dick Scalan (the lyricist for Thoroughly Modern Millie--my all-time favorite musical and the first one I ever saw on Broadway!), and a producer who shall remain nameless. . .mostly because I don't remember his name. :-) In my defense, I wasn't the only one who didn't catch it! The elderly ladies in my corner kept poking each other and whispering loudly, trying to figure out who the producer was. They never did.

The show being workshopped was a clever re-imagining of Jane Austen's Emma, set in 1964. The tunes were catchy, the dialogue was snappy, and the actors were incredible (all seasoned Broadway veterans). As Stephen Schwartz pointed out later, it was the best free show in town! I don't think I stopped grinning from beginning to end. As it turns out, though, what I thought was a nearly-perfect book and score was actually a solid concept that suffered from cluttered execution. The panelists suggested clarifying the character arcs, steering away from musical pastiche, and re-storyboarding (yes, Broadway recognizes that verb even if Webster doesn't!).

During the panel discussion, Stephen--we're totally on a first name basis after brushing knees, right?--related a story from the early workshopping phase of Wicked. "We had a lot going on in the show back then," he said. "There were secondary characters. . .magical creatures. . .you know. Glinda and Elphaba did all sorts of things in little scenes on their own, and it just wasn't working. After awhile, we finally made a sign for ourselves that said, "It's the girls, stupid!" We had to remind ourselves that when Glinda and Elphaba were onstage together, they made theater magic. When they weren't, the show died." All three panelists agreed that a musical can't just be about an idea, a historical setting, or a political agenda--it has to be about a shared human experience, and it has to zoom in on a particular relationship. If it doesn't, the audience won't invest.

I wonder if my new buddy, Stephen Schwartz, might be able to get me into a showing of Wicked. (At this point, it seems like a personal "in" might be more successful than the lottery! I've entered 14 times now and never won.)

I left the workshop inspired to re-work Weaver. As I walked towards 42nd street, I discovered, to my delight, that both Crumbs Cupcakes and the Shake Shack were within easy walking distance of the studio! It was a good discovery and also a very, very bad one. I think I might have impose a single trip limit during my week here! After perusing 8th street, I crossed over to Broadway and said hello to Times Square.

I've missed you, you big, noisy city!

I felt a sudden rush of fondness as I stepped onto the subway with a huge crowd of theater-goers and headed uptown to the apartment where I'd be staying with a church friend and her roommates. (Mama: You'll be happy to know that my commute takes me directly from Times Square to Adrienne's apartment, no transfers or long walks involved!)

I ended the evening by researching current Broadway shows, looking up free things to do in the city, and chatting with the four amazing girls in this apartment. They're all friendly and fun. . .almost as friendly and fun as my own roommates in Boston. ;-) Now I'm drifting off to sleep with the sounds of the city reminding me that, in New York, things never really slow down. My own pulse is starting to match the pulse of this city again, and the excitement is invigorating.

So where should I live this summer? Although I've been in a dedicated, long-term relationship with Boston, when I returned to visit the Big Apple today, all of my old feelings rushed back. Sitting on the top deck of the Megabus and watching each familiar street slide by, I remembered my first Megabus entrance to New York last summer. I was an outsider then, and everything was unfamiliar. This time, I was making a triumphant, top deck return to my home turf!

I love you both, Boston and New York, in separate but equal ways. *Sigh* What's a girl to do?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Road Back to NYC. . .

It's me again! (Cue peppy Act II intro music)

Although I'm no longer living in New York. . .(Cue cheesiness). . .New York is still living in me. (Cue audience response: "Awwww. . .")

I've recently been working on a musical of my own called The Weaver of Raveloe, and I'd like to hope (wish? dream?) that this project may someday draw me back to the Big Apple. (Cue brief dream sequence)

You still with me? Here's my little promotional blurb for the show:

"Accused of murder and abandoned by the woman he loves, Silas flees his hometown. He becomes a reclusive weaver in a village with secrets of its own. Silas' story intersects unexpectedly with that of prominent villager Godfrey when a child forces both men to confront past ghosts and re-discover the importance of human connection. Tales of love, loss, and healing intertwine against the backdrop of pre-industrial England in this adaptation of George Eliot's beloved classic."


Aren't you longing to see the show in full production now? :-) BYU recently gave it a workshopped reading in October through the WDA Workshop, and the students involved did a fantastic job. (Cue applause)

You can hear some of the demo recordings on my facebook page. Be sure to "like" the page so that I can keep you updated as things (hopefully!) progress.

In the meantime, here's a full show synopsis for interested readers. Enjoy!

SYNOPSIS (The Weaver of Raveloe)

ACT ONE – WINTER (Rural England, early 1800s)

On the edge of a gloomy lake near the English village Raveloe, Silas Marner is working on an unfinished tapestry (MOONLESS NIGHT). Godfrey Cass, the well-to-do son of a squire, enters on the opposite side of the stage. A church bell chimes in the distance, resurrecting unwanted memories for both men.

As Silas stands and walks through the village, distributing his woven goods, the villagers speculate about Silas' mysterious origins, his hoard of hidden gold, and his strange episodes of suspended consciousness. Godfrey commissions a tapestry from Silas for the Squire's Christmas ball, and the weaver returns home to count his gold. His mind wanders back to the time when his childhood friend, William, became jealous of his love for a pretty young woman named Sarah and framed Silas for murder (ONCE UPON A MORNING). Godfrey recalls the wife, Molly, and the daughter, Eppie, that he abandoned upon discovering his wife's disreputable past. No one but Godfrey's brother, Dunstan, knows that he is married to Molly, and Young Godfrey bribes his brother into silence. Expelled from the town of his youth and rejected by Sarah, Young Silas leaves his old town and retreats to the outskirts of Raveloe, determined that all human love is false (THE LIFE I USED TO KNOW). The ghost of Sarah's memory follows him, holding a lighted lantern.

In the village square, Mrs. Winthrop and her eight-year-old son, Aaron, distribute herbal remedies to the villagers (MRS. WINTHROP HAS THE CURE). Mr. Bates, the local shopkeeper, attempts to woo Mrs. Winthrop and warns her not to associate with Silas. Aaron sees the Squire riding into town, and the villagers gather to witness his grand entrance (MOST IMPORTANT FELLOW). Soon, friends of the Squire's—the Lammeters—arrive from London, and Godfrey invites their daughter, Nancy, to be the guest of honor at the Squire's Christmas ball.

Meanwhile, Dunstan has lost everything gambling, and he blackmails his older brother into lending him a large sum. The two cross the frozen lake to visit Molly, and Molly sends Godfrey away before he can see Eppie (DUNSTAN AND MOLLY). Eppie converses happily with her Uncle Dunstan and gives him a cracked teacup as a parting gift. Later, when confronted by two creditors, Dunstan uses Godfrey's money to pay one and steals Silas' hidden stash to pay the other (FATE DEALS THE CARDS). He then disappears mysteriously. Silas discovers that his gold has been stolen and sinks into a depression.

On Christmas Eve, the Squire throws a lavish ball. The Lammeters introduce a shocking new dance to the guests (THE WALTZ), and Nancy and Godfrey pairoff. Meanwhile, Molly decides to reveal Godfrey as a coward and a hypocrite (REVENGE). She and Eppie make their way towards the Squire's home, but before arriving, Molly collapses in a fit of drunkenness and hysteria and dies in the snow. Silas mourns the loss of his gold while Godfrey laments the fact that he must keep his past a secret from Nancy (IF ONLY).

As the rich congregate at the Squire's, the poor have gathered in an old inn to celebrate the holiday. Mrs. Winthrop convinces the villagers that money isn't required for merriment (SING OUT, YE MERRY MEN). Alone in the night, Eppie follows the light of Sarah's lantern to Silas' fireplace where she falls asleep (LULLABY). Silas discovers her, and she leads him to her mother.

Back at the Squire's, the Lammeters inform the guests that an industrial revolution is on the horizon, and they all conjecture wildly about the future (THE SPINNING MULE). They are interrupted by the sudden arrival of Silas and Eppie. Godfrey finds Molly's body in the snow and claims not to know her or her child. Silas decides to raise Eppie as his own daughter (LULLABY - REPRISE). As the first act ends, we see Godfrey carrying Molly's body offstage. The ghost memory of Dunstan has appeared, and he exits after them, holding a lighted lantern.


The second act opens on a nighttime scene. The ghosts of the past have begun haunting Silas and Godfrey in dreams (THE NIGHTMARE). Eppie and Nancy comfort them, and Godfrey's romance with Nancy begins to blossom (NORTH STAR) as Silas slowly learns how to parent a headstrong little girl. Eppie makes friends with Mrs. Winthrop's son, Aaron, and Mrs. Winthrop introduces Silas to the rest of the Raveloe villagers (IT TAKES A VILLAGE).

Godfrey and Nancy marry but are unable to have children. Godfrey watches Eppie grow from a distance, tortured by a growing sense of guilt and regret (THE STRANGER). A budding romance evolves between the now-sixteen-year-old Eppie and a very awkward Aaron (THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL). Meanwhile, Godfrey continues hiding his past life from Nancy, and the two begin to drift apart (I BELIEVE). Sensing that her husband is concealing something, Nancy devotes her time to caring for the bedridden Squire. She discovers that her parents have lost all the money they invested in a London cotton mill and are now returning, destitute, to Raveloe (THE LAMMETERS ARRIVE).

As Nancy and Godfrey walk to the village square to meet the Lammeters, a terrible thunderstorm arises (THE STORM), and the villagers rush to the local inn for shelter. Godfrey becomes separated from Nancy. Through the rain and fog, he thinks he sees the ghosts of Molly and Dunstan. They back him over the edge of the lake, and he cries out for help. Silas hears Godfrey's cry and jumps in the lake after him. The rest of the villagers rush to the scene and help pull the two men back over the embankment. Godfrey is clutching a large leather satchel that once belonged to Dunstan. The storm has destroyed the dam separating the lake from the river, and Godfrey has seen his brother's skeleton in the mud at the bottom of the lakebed. A column in the Squire's home topples, tearing the tapestry in two. Molly and Dunstan disappear. Godfrey overturns Dunstan's satchel, and Silas' stolen gold spills out alongside a broken teacup. Eppie remembers giving the teacup to her Uncle Dunstan as a child and realizes, at last, that Godfrey is her true father (GODFREY AND EPPIE).

Nancy and Godfrey return home to find that the Squire has died during the storm. Eppie and Silas arrive soon afterward to confront Godfrey and demand the truth. Nancy is shocked by the revelation about Eppie, but she eventually comes to terms with the reality of the situation, and Godfrey offers to accept Eppie as his daughter. Silas is furious (RIGHT). He falls into a trance, and the ghosts of Sarah and William confront him as representations of his best and worst self (MOONLESS NIGHT - REPRISE). He ultimately determines to forgive William and Godfrey and to allow Eppie to make her own choice. She can remain with Silas and care for him in his old age or leave the village and accept a life of privilege with Godfrey. Eppie decides to stay with Silas—the only father she has ever known (TWO FACES).

Godfrey turns to Nancy for support as Silas and Eppie leave together (FINALE). Their cottage on the edge of the lake has been completely destroyed, but Silas and Eppie find comfort and stability in their reaffirmed relationship. The villagers enter and lead the father and his daughter to a new home in the village. They form a tableaux as a large tapestry depicting the scene falls to cover the stage.


Oh, wait. That's the end. I mean: ". . .and they all lived happily ever after. . ."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Aftermath of a Hurricane

While the rest of New York City is going stir crazy waiting indoors for Irene, I've been enjoying the quiet time and the chance to bid Manhattan an almost reverent farewell. Commenting on my recent attempts to do and see everything before I left, a friend said, "You do know that New York City will be around once you're gone, right? It'll still be the city that never sleeps." Well, guess what? The city that never sleeps is officially sleeping! Broadway is dark. The streets are deserted. New York has settled into a solemn two-day silence--whether in observance of my departure or Irene's arrival, it doesn't really matter. ;-)

I always look forward to the chance to reflect--to synthesize what has gone before and to prepare myself for what is coming (and I'm not talking about a hurricane here!). Otherwise, events just fly by without seeming completely real. Ironic, isn't it, that I'm finally dealing with the aftermath of a figurative hurricane of experiences just as an actual hurricane is setting in?

So much has happened this summer that I still haven't been able to fully wrap my head around it all. So much is coming, too! Just next week, for example, an eight-week workshop of my musical, The Weaver of Raveloe, will begin at BYU. (I'll be tuning in for the weekly sessions via Skype.) I've been slowly re-working the first act, but it still had a long way to go before I felt like it would be ready for a serious reading. So yesterday, I decided to take advantage of being stuck indoors with no piano lessons to teach (my students had to cancel since mass transit was out of commission). I hunkered down with a gallon of water, some granola bars and applesauce, and a single can of black beans (don't ask--it was 69 cents at the grocery store!), and I spent the entire day revising.

It's amazing how much clarity distance can bring sometimes. I had set aside the script for long enough (and seen enough Broadway shows in the meantime) that I knew exactly what I needed to do to improve the flow and overall dramatic impact. There are still miles to go--and I'm a little nervous about placing my baby on the chopping block in front of a roomful of critics!--but I'm excited about the experience.

Lest I become too focused on theater-related pursuits, a new semester at Longy will begin in just over a week, providing me with lots of classically-based opportunities. I'll have the chance to compose works for two pierrot ensembles and a chamber orchestra this fall. The dean and one of the professors of voice at my conservatory will also be performing one of my art songs as part of the upcoming Septemberfest. In addition, I'll be tutoring students in keyboarding and theory, volunteering at the Cambridge Center, implementing an Experiential Education project, teaching several piano students, and working long-distance with Charles and Richard. One hurricane is always followed by another! It's a good thing I enjoy weathering the storms.


I just had my final room check and received back the money that I paid for my initial deposit from Sister Antonia. When I asked if I could take her picture, she became very flustered, removed her apron, and began smoothing her hair. I told her she looked lovely. "Give me a second to look for the camera; I'm not sure which bag it's in." "If you don't find it, that's okay. . ." she said. To my satisfaction and her disappointment, I did find the camera. I'm also hoping to take pictures with the other nuns and with the lunch ladies sometime.

I love those cafeteria workers! Last evening, I went down to the basement to throw out my trash. As I passed the cafeteria, two workers ran out and started gesticulating and speaking in 100-mile-an-hour Spanish. I shrugged helplessly, wondering if I'd done something wrong. One of the ladies (she couldn't have been over 4 ft tall) finally put her fingers together and pretended to bite. "Comida? Food? Sand-vich?" I smiled and nodded, and they bustled into the kitchen to get me a sandwich. Someday I'm going to learn Spanish!

I'm lucky that I didn't purchase any show tickets for Saturday since Broadway was dark over the weekend. Luckily, the Friday finale of the Mostly Mozart Festival went forward, and I was able to hear truly stirring performances of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and Mozart's Requiem. I also went to Billy Eliot earlier in the week and came away absolutely floored by the talent of the 11-year-old lead! The only shows that I wanted to see and was never able to were War Horse and Wicked (I waited in the lottery line eleven times for Wicked and never got tickets!). I don't mind, though; it just gives me all the more reason to return to the city!

In conclusion, New York, I know that splitting up is going to be hard on both of us. Try not to miss me too much, okay? You've shut down this weekend, and that's alright, but please get back on your feet soon.

Watch for me. I shouldn't be gone too long.