[title of show]: A Personal Chronicle

4 09 2010

My long history of creative inspiration from [title of show] is really inseparable from any review I may write of its production. A delightfully self-referential musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical, [title of show] has made its way from the NY Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) to off-Broadway, to a popular blog and YouTube series, to Broadway – and now, to its LA premiere at Celebration Theatre. I suspect I am not the only one who has traced her creative path through the work of Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics), Hunter Bell (book), Heidi Blickenstaff and Susan Blackwell.

I first saw this endearingly scrappy little musical at the Vineyard Theatre in fall 2006; I was participating in the Duke in NY Arts program at the time, interning at the NY Musical Theatre Festival and just beginning to navigate my way through the (admittedly intimidating, but thrilling) city and world of musical theater. As we waited to enter the Vineyard one night, my friend Julia Robertson and I decided to write a musical for our study away program’s open-ended final project. [title of show] was quirky, inspirational, and just the impetus we needed to start. The Duke in NY group met and chatted with the cast afterwards (Heidi is a fellow Blue Devil), and Julia and I left the Vineyard eager to write that original musical!

Flash forward to winter 2008: Intern the Musical premiered at Duke University as Julia’s and my senior distinction project. The thrill of putting up an original musical comedy was intoxicating. Our advisors John Clum and Anthony Kelley brought down Anthony Lyn, resident director of Broadway’s Mary Poppins, to see the show in the last week of rehearsal; he offered incredibly valuable feedback to the creative team and worked with our actors to polish the show for our premiere. Three days before opening, I penned a new finale: “A Hope That Lets You Soar,” which quickly became one of my favorite compositions and summed up the collaborative ensemble experience of Intern. Family and friends trekked to Duke for the opening, and my life mentor Manny Azenberg even flew in from NYC for our little show. Intern played to a packed house every night that weekend, and some friends came multiple times to see our work. If there was any doubt in my mind about whether I’d venture into a PhD program in English or Theater after graduation, Intern the Musical sealed the deal: I needed to keep up this creative and collaborative aspect of my life.

That summer after Julia and I graduated from Duke, Intern the Musical made it way to NYC for a little reading through NYMF’s Arts and Business Council internship program. (How fun to be a former NYMF intern myself, sharing a musical loosely inspired by Julia’s and my own theater internship experiences with a host of new interns!) Throughout college, I had kept up with [title of show] via the cast’s blog and YouTube series – and through the sheer force of imagination, talent, and drive to be part of it all, [tos] had just opened on Broadway. In a strange way, [title of show]‘s success felt like a personal success. Julia and I reunited at the Lyceum to see this little show that had been such a part of our personal inspiration to write Intern. And yes, we waited at the stage door to say hello afterwards and pass off a cast recording of our own musical. How could we not?

Since moving to LA to start a PhD in Theater, I have kept composing, and [tos] has remained an important touchstone for my work. The show – and its creators – keep popping into my life when I most need a little creative encouragement and inspiration. I ran into Hunter Bell at the Mark Taper’s production of Parade last fall, just as I was gearing up to compose a new family musical for the Morgan-Wixson in Santa Monica. Then last night, my friend Christopher Albrecht and I made our way to Celebration Theatre for the LA premiere of [title of show]. And who should we spot in the audience, but Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell? What a serendipitous encounter!

The LA production of [title of show] comes at the end of a whirlwind summer for me, which included summer dissertation research as well as premiering a 15-minute musical off-off-Broadway (Rat Poison Love in the West Village Musical Theatre Festival) and workshopping a new family musical (Thank You, Mr. Falker at the Morgan-Wixson). It also comes at a juncture in my life with an almost overwhelming number of scholarly and creative opportunities in store. Scary and exciting. (Die vampire, die.)

This “little musical that could” is at once like and unlike any other, continually interwoven with my personal creative journey these past four years – and yet I know that my story is not unique. I am not the only one who can trace her creative path through [title of show] – and this makes [tos] all the more special. I look forward to seeing how Jeff, Hunter, Heidi, Susan, and their creations continue to inspire my ongoing journey – and others – in the years to come.