The day that you return

June 30, 2014

A few days after seeing Tick, Tick…Boom I happened to be driving south of 14th Street and it occurred to me that I kept passing places that were important to Jonathan Larson’s life. But this same journey also hit places that were important to my early life, and on came a rush of memories. Now, I’m certainly not maintaining he and I lived parallel lives – I mean, how could I possibly know what it was like to turn 30 in 1990? – but I’ve long loved giving tours of lesser-seen parts of my home town. And so, a travelogue.

Sixth Avenue between Canal and Houston

Driving up this weirdly wide thoroughfare, I thought: Where have I just seen this place? Of course, I was thinking of Tick, Tick…Boom, a show presented without any scenery. But something in the writing created the image in my mind of Larson, running from his keyboard to the roof, catching a glimpse of the Hudson, smoking a jay. Now, I don’t know exactly where he lived (“on the edge of Soho”) but I thought, maybe Here. By which I meant the little arts complex known as Here, where my first two Second City adventures had played. Under the sure-handed stewardship of Kevin Scott, a bunch of funny actors assembled with the idea of creating a funny revue in ten weeks or so. Now, I’ve written some of my shows in less time, so I know it can be done, assuming everybody can think of plenty of stuff to laugh about. But the first meeting took place right after September 11, 2001, so how daunting was that quest to create zany insouciance?

Much has been written about the emotions experienced by the original cast of Rent, who, immediately after hearing of the death of Jonathan Larson, had to go out there and present his work to a downtown audience. Rent, at least, is a moving piece, imbued with the tears that come from sickness and early death. Sometime around Thanksgiving, 2001, the cast of We Built This City On Rent Control ran onto Here’s stage and got people to laugh, and to feel it was finally O.K. to laugh. All I did was two songs, and one had a tune I’d used before, but man I’m proud to have been a part of that.

While I was looking to the right, on Sixth, for Larson’s place of work, a lowly-regarded greasy spoon, Joy was looking to the left for the place we got married. The Soho Playhouse is still standing, and if you’re saying “Wait, you got married in a theatre?” have I got a story for you. And an original cast CD, which you can still buy for $20 bucks (e-mail me). I’ve written about Our Wedding here and there. And here and there. And so has The New York Times, Peter Filichia, and Jeffrey Sweet.

East Fourth between Cooper Square and Second

What caught my eye was a sign for Upright Citizens Brigade, New York’s foremost comedy factory. I was among UCB’s first ten students in New York, long before Amy Poehler was famous, but would have been thinking about my life in improv on this block anyway thanks to some mad times I’d spent performing at the Kraine and some Fringe venue on the La Mama side of the street with The Chainsaw Boys. Now that I think of it, The Red Room, a few stories above the Kraine, was where I’d actually performed with the original UCB – as an actor. The Chainsaw Boys used me as musical director and composer, where I’m a little more comfortable. And paid.

So many tiny venues on one thin block. The place seemed mine alone until Joy pointed out that one of those venues was New York Theatre Workshop, where Rent premiered. So, at the time of his death, it probably seemed like Larson’s block. But anyone with a sense of the larger history of the block would say the city should name it for Ellen Stewart.

Tompkins Square Park

This was our destination that day. I knew it contains a playground Adelaide’s enjoyed in the past, and she did again. But over a quarter century ago, the place was associated with a riotous protest involving the poor squatters in the surrounding buildings and the gentrifying yuppies trying to force them out. Gee, sound like any musical you know? For me, as a New Yorker, the plot of Rent seemed rather dated, not because of the La bohème parallels, but the fact that it was revisiting some East Village events and issues from eight years before. I know few people in the world are the least bit bothered by this, but take it as a warning: it’s hard to write a musical about current events because, chances are, it will take so long to make it to the stage, they won’t be current anymore.

111 Second Avenue

Last week I made reference to the devastating experience of being one of the babies thrown out with the bathwater when the BMI Workshop cleaned house following the death of Lehman Engel. I didn’t take my dismissal lying down, but enlisted the support of one of BMI’s most famous composers. He signed a letter that I wrote telling them they’d be foolish to give up on the 22-year-old me. This did nothing. But there was nothing for me to do but get on with my life and my projects. Around that time I met Blaise (not his real name), a preternaturally talented young playwright and fascinating intellectual. He had all sorts of theatre projects going, each needing a limited amount of music. Working on those helped me put the workshop behind me. I was now out-in-the-world, doing it. Eventually, we conjured up an entire musical. It played at 111 Second, with young actors that would grow up to join the original casts of the Tony-winning musicals Jersey Boys and Spring Awakening. After rehearsals, they might have popped over to Life Café to discuss Pablo Neruda and Susan Sontag. Here they talked of revolution, lit the flame, sang about tomorrow, and – wait, those were other students. Sorry. La vie bohème!

 


Why do I do what I do

June 25, 2014

Jonathan Larson was a talented musical theatre writer who never lived to see any of his musicals take their finished form. He also didn’t live to see his 36th birthday, the victim of an aortic aneurism that had been misdiagnosed. His reputation rests primarily on Rent, the musical he was readying for an off-Broadway run when he died. Bolstered by a slew of news stories about this incredibly untimely demise, Rent went on to win every conceivable prize and get great gobs of praise for being the first (or, perhaps, last) great American rock musical. I cried when I saw it, but merely because I wished its creator had lived to do all the last-minute fixes that would’ve/could’ve/should’ve made Rent into everything practically everyone else said it was. Larson never lived to see how a repetitive ballad called Without You plays in front of an audience: it bogs down the second act, outwears its welcome – fast, and has the unintended effect of causing us to lose sympathy for the character singing. Had he seen that, he might have fixed it, and countless other problems that hamper one’s enjoyment of a piece that seemed oddly dated the day it opened.

Odom, Miranda, Olivo

A fellow Pulitzer-winning dramatist, David Auburn (Proof), was, a few years later, tasked with completing a more modest and more interesting effort, Tick Tick…Boom. During Larson’s life it was a cri de coeur about his own existence as one of a zillion undiscovered talents toiling in Manhattan. It was also a celebration of his birthday, at first called 30/90 because he turned 30 in 1990. Later, he performed it himself as a cabaret act called Boho Days. The cabaret world is filled with people talking about their own travails, so Larson’s solo piece registered not a blip on the cultural landscape. Post-tragedy, though, much of the same material could be refashioned to tell a completely different story, that of a searching and artistic soul taken from us far too soon. We hear he wants to be the voice of his generation, using real rock & roll in the theatre, and write a “Hair for the 90s.” All of that gains poignancy from our knowing that Larson achieved all those goals after his death.

The Encores summer series, led by Jeanine Tesori, will always be a square peg in a gargantuan round hole. It seeks to celebrate Off-Broadway, but can you do that, properly, in a 2,750-seat theatre? All sorts of virtues Tick Tick…Boom had in its tiny West Village house are, quite understandably, lost in the mock-Muslim temple on 55th Street. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s charisma and energy fill the place. Leslie Odom, Jr. (stuck with the weakest songs) and Karen Olivo seem on at times/off at times. But the show is asking us to consider the not-world-shattering problems of one frustrated artist: such an intimate exploration requires the focus you can only get in a small theatre.

Which makes me think of other off-Broadway musicals that, later in their lives, aren’t allowed to be small. I once saw a not-at-all-little Little Shop of Horrors and never got that creepy-funny feeling you’re supposed to get as you find the plant has grown to surround the audience on the theatre’s walls. The Fantasticks trades on the charm of being a little show. Put it in a large space, you dwarf it. Even Man of La Mancha seemed out of place in a Broadway house.

Encores’ other “Off-Center” offerings this year aren’t off-Broadway musicals at all. Pump Boys and Dinettes was a Broadway musical, eligible for Tonys, while boasting a tiny cast of acting musicians. More oddly, there’s the New York premiere of Faust, an always-intended-for-Broadway musical that closed out of town. What’s next, then, Prettybelle? (One can only hope.)

But Tick Tick…Boom successfully dramatizes what it’s like to be a musical theatre writer, and for that reason alone regular readers of this blog should get up and go. Experience the anxiety of the show that’s been worked on for five years finally getting a workshop. Watch sometimes understanding/sometimes unsupportive friends and lovers throwing an insecure creator for a loop. The agony of silence from powers-that-be and the message of encouragement that lifts you out of your funk. Friends asked me whether I saw any of my life on stage and boy, did I. Right now it feels redundant to describe to you certain highs and lows of my career because Tick Tick…Boom presents such similar stuff in such an entertaining way.

In a shear coincidence, before seeing the show, I was thinking about the time, back when I was 22, when I was informed I wouldn’t be continuing in Lehman Engel’s BMI workshop following Lehman’s death. I’d been there for four years and learned so much and of course wanted to learn more. I persevered, and went on to write five shows that got produced during my twenties. The central number of Tick Tick…Boom (and I believe it to be Larson’s best piece, ever) is a long story-song called Why. In it, Jonathan (the character? the writer?) details growing up and discovering a love of musical theatre that’s never left him. The chorus goes

I thought,
Hey, what a way to spend a day
Hey, what a way to spend a day
I make a vow, right here and now
I’m gonna spend my time this way

Tick Tick…Boom asks you to consider the fragility and brevity of life. Not a particularly fun subject for a musical, but I, for one, feel galvanized by the idea that, in the past, the present, and whatever’s left of the future, I got to spend my time this way.


Seeing stars

June 19, 2014

Who are these people?

The day after the Tony Awards, I ran into somebody who said he was looking forward to checking my blog to see what I said about it. At the time, I hadn’t seen the telecast. That night I was too busy doing theatre, in a Broadway house, no less, and put myself into something of a spoiler cloak before I could watch it on Tuesday, the tenth.

Before getting to the meat of my screed, I’ll say a few of the obvious things you could say any year. I had a college poetry professor, Kenneth Koch, who said “Poetry is exactly that which cannot be translated.” And I’ll echo that about theatre: it’s exactly that which cannot be televised. Everything you experience, seeing a show, is related to the nature of a live event. The audience looks wherever it wants. The TV camera chooses a view, capturing what the director wants. I love watching a baseball game on TV where something so unexpected happens, the broadcast fails to catch it. That’s rather rare. But stage shows are built on unpredictable moments, and when you see television that’s shot in a theatre, you’re getting an inevitably false simulacrum.

Sometimes, the falseness is intentional. After Midnight is a well-reviewed revue starring Fantasia Barrino and Dulé Hill, not, as the telecast would lead you to believe, Fantasia Barrino, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle. You see, during the run, these divas took over for each other. Audiences get one famous soul sister, not three. Similarly – and more obviously – Carole King, the real person, does not appear in the musical about her, Beautiful. I’m glad that was a tad clearer, but I bet somebody phoned Telecharge and ordered seats because they were hoodwinked into believing one show had three queens of R&B and the other one King.

Which, as practically everyone acknowledges, is the real purpose of the TV special: to serve as an advertisement for Broadway shows. But, because of the nature of theatre, year after year there are segments that don’t do such a good job as selling tickets. This has nothing to do with the quality of the show: It’s just that Broadway on television is a reflection in a funhouse mirror.

The 21st Century Tonys seem obsessed with telling one kind of joke, over and over again. The idea is that since our corner of show business has welcomed so many homosexuals, it is somehow unmanly to perform in a musical. Previously, there was a good original comedy song about how theatre is not just for gays anymore. This year was more of a celebration of unoriginality. Hugh Jackman sang witless parodies of old songs, I guess, to show us he could sing. Then he cracked many jokes about how he, a he-man X-Man in films, is, this night, wearing tap shoes. Hmmm. Which takes more muscularity, I wonder?

So, the putative Celebration of Broadway began with a recreation of an amusing dance sequence … from a movie. How I long for the day when a sizable chunk of the Oscars recreates bits of stage works that have never been films. I guess we could say that, in some of their ill-considered musical numbers, Oscar has tried to be like Broadway, and failed miserably. One regularly looks to the Tony telecast for a rare chance to see musical numbers on the small box.

And After Midnight seemed like what the doctor ordered, a revue featuring old-fashioned musical comedy tropes, like might have gone on at the Cotton Club in the jazz age. But, the moment Fantasia came on, I was distracted by her dress, which showed an unusually large swath of cleavage. I hope nobody gets offended if I say ‘twas a beautiful sight to see. And SO wrong. So not how anyone dressed in the jazz age, and what was worse, marred by – I kid you not – a tattoo. A distraction on top of a distraction, that tat for tit.

Who?

Soon enough, on came the first presenters, Anna Gunn and Orlando Bloom, and so began my nettlesome sense of alienation. I hereby cheerfully admit I’ve never heard of Anna Gunn. Not someone I recognize at all. Now, if I’d tuned into an award show honoring Jai Alai players, I’d fully expect to hear names I’ve never heard before. But this is Broadway. I think I know a little about Broadway theatre, but maybe not. So I looked up Gunn on the Internet Broadway Database and it turns out she did one play.Orlando Bloom, who was in some movies I didn’t care for, made his Broadway debut this year, in a play I’d forgotten ever played. A TV star and a movie star with one Broadway credit each.

We all know what’s happening, here: Some set of geniuses is trying to get more people to watch this perennially low-rated TV special by parading a bunch of names and faces the TV-watching audience knows. And you know I know the name and face of Cal Ripkin, Jr., but he’s somehow not invited to the Jai alai awards. How is this, then, a celebration of Broadway? It becomes a celebration of stars from other media. And so we get Tina Fey, who used to work a couple of blocks from Broadway, LL Cool J and T.I., who’ve spent time in New York, Kate Mara (I’ve no idea who she is), Emmy Rossum (I guess because she’s named for an award) and three guys named Zach who all made their Broadway debuts this year.

If anyone were interested in actually celebrating Broadway, the Tonys would hire presenters who’ve done more than one or two shows. How about Cherry Jones (14 Broadway credits), Victoria Clark (10), Judd Hirsch (10) or Michael Rupert (9)? Each has performed on The Street more times than Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman combined. My daughter’s taken to calling the latter “the hopping man.” And me, well, I guess I answer to the description, “hopping mad.”


Just being with my girlfriends

June 13, 2014

Not that anyone’s asking me what I want for Father’s Day, but it’s the same thing I was hoping to get on Mother’s Day: a little time to myself. During which I would write some songs, maybe relieving me of this constant sense that I am way far behind on my latest project.

For weeks I kept staring at the calendar, loving the Mother’s Day plan. My wife was going to travel with our daughter to see her mother in Delaware, leaving me with time home alone. That would offer me the rare opportunity to compose at the piano, letting its din resound around the house, no neighbors to disturb. I relish such a time because I’ve lived my entire adult life in apartment buildings, only fleeing to the suburbs six months ago. What little composing I’ve since done usually happens on the tiny keyboard attached to my tiny computer, played pianissimo so as not to wake my daughter. Most days, I’m with her, and when she goes down for a nap, I rush to my office. So you see why the home alone scenario is so important to me.

Work – to be done – tends to pile up. When given a chance to be productive, I better produce, you know? And when too few chances are given…well, let’s just say I stared a lot at that date in May, really looked forward to Mother’s Day. And then, of course, my mother-in-law announced some home improvements she was having done weren’t completed on schedule, so there’s all sorts of nails and saws scattered about her house, making it an inappropriate place for our toddler to – er – toddle in. So, rather than having the three generations of women down in Delaware, she was coming up here. And who could object to that, right? Mother’s Day is about the moms, not the dad who’d carved out a certain amount of time to work on his musical and suddenly the crevice got filled in.

My daughter and I are used to seeing the big cats at the zoo lying around, asleep, because certain creatures do snooze an extraordinary number of hours. Without casting aspersions, I’ll just say I’m related to a lioness. And a good host knows to let sleeping cats lie, so there wasn’t a single opportunity to touch the piano Mother’s Day weekend. Or Memorial Day weekend, when the queen of the forest returned. But soft! What ray of hope appeared on the calendar in June? I read the words All Girl Party and knew, instantly, that I wasn’t expected to go. (I’m that smart.) Wife and daughter were expected to attend an afternoon fête a stone’s throw from South Street Seaport, thereby affording me some hours of alone time.

At this point, I was getting to be a bit of an asshole about keeping that time sacrosanct. Any suggestion of any chore I could accomplish while wife and child were gone was met with an overly sharp “No!” I had a set of lyrics ready to set. I’d hummed tons of motifs into my phone-recorder. I had a game plan for what I was going to write that day. It also happened to be the only day off, in the long final stretch leading to the June 8 opening of Bat Boy, which the smartest among you recently enjoyed. Now, mind you, I don’t go around talking about my job in a complain-y way, but some further context is needed. Songwriter Laurence O’Keefe was generous enough to visit with the cast before they went on Monday night, and he graciously answered their questions. If I were a kvetch, I’d have asked “What’s with all the impossible key changes?” There’s a point in the score where you’re chugging along in whatever key has six flats, only to turn the page and find you’re in whatever key has seven sharps. (Both in minor, by the way.) Suffice to say, a high degree of difficulty for me: I was the musical director and would be playing piano for the show.

But here too, there’d been a ray of hope. We decided our band would consist of me on a real piano, plus a keyboardist whose machine would produce a wide variety of fun and/or terrifying sounds. As I got to know the score, it seemed to me I had the less hard part. The difficult sixteenth note figures and runs go to the Key 2 player. So, that calmed me, knowing that we had a guy who was going to come in with his own keyboard, program it and could play it. And then, ten days before the opening, he dropped out.

IMG_2090

my daughter, my dad

And so began a mad scramble to get a replacement on short notice. We went through the heart rise-and-sink of thinking we’d found someone, only to learn a day or so later that there was a schedule conflict he couldn’t extract himself from. And you know, besides the pressure of saving the show, there was the pressure I’d imposed on myself to keep all those June 1 hours to myself. The day came: I played with my daughter all morning (wife wanted to sleep in on a Sunday morning) and managed to do laundry too. Since this was a party, there was a long period of sacrosanct dressing-and-putting-on-makeup time. I thought they’d never leave. But, once they did, I started flinging notes at staves as fast as I could. Get it down, get on with it: move this barge forward. And then, as luck would have it, South Street Seaport was closed for renovations, so my family returned earlier than they might have. When they did, I was on the phone with the keyboardist who eventually played the show. He explained, calmly, that he was just a keyboardist with a keyboard. We’d need someone else to program it. And we’d definitely need a sound person to deal with the volume of the amps. Well, we got the second guy to program, and I brought in an assistant musical director who made the show much better; he did what he could with the amps.

As I write this, I’ve yet to look back on whatever it was I composed during those fraught hours. And I’m telling you all this because it’s another window into the life of a musical theatre writer. Life gets in the way, sometimes, and you don’t have time to create much. During my twenties, when I wrote Murder at the Savoy (then called Pulley of the Yard), The Heavenly Theatre, The New U., On the Brink, Not a Lion (then called Popsicle Palace) and The Christmas Bride – all produced in New York – stuff rarely interfered. I’d stay home all day, writing, and some of those shows poured out in a short amount of time. During my teens, though, I’d stare at the appendix to the Cole Porter and Harold Arlen songbooks. They listed all the songs they’d composed every year, and, sometimes, for some reason, there’d come a year in which they’d come up with nothing or near-nothing. That’s something I keep reminding myself of.

This Father’s Day weekend I’m taking my daughter to visit my Dad. As my wife can’t be with us on Saturday, it’s a lot of work for me. If I compose a single measure I’ll consider myself lucky. And if I don’t… Well, I just reread the first sentence in this paragraph: I have a daughter; I have a wife: I have a father. We’ll all be together on Father’s Day. If I don’t compose a note I’ll consider myself lucky, too.


Dripping

June 8, 2014

I learned so much, with my musical director’s cap on, from the process of rehearsing Bat Boy, which opens tonight at 8 and also plays tomorrow at 2 & 8. Free. (Just come to Circle-in-the-Square on W. 50th and take a seat.) It’s my long-awaited reunion with director Justin Boccitto, who staged and devised my revue, Things We Do For Love in 2011, as well as the estimable Alan Langdon.

Perhaps you’ll say “This could only happen in theatre school” and perhaps you’re right but you can’t be sure your show won’t be produced at a theatre someday where actors make intensive investigations of characters, situations and setting. On Bat Boy, graduating students created intricate biographies for the characters. We had lengthy group colloquies about West Virginia: its economy, politics, religion and mind-set. And a societal fear of a stranger was explored. Is the presence of a creature, half-man, half-bat responsible for a thinning cattle herd? Fake science and superstition vs. real science vs. a mad scientist.

The theory – and I hope you’ll come and assess whether we’ve proven it – is: the more seriously you take your comedy, the funnier it will be. It’s reassuring to me just to be there: As you can tell from this blog, I take musical theatre writing extremely seriously. Great to be among like minds.

We’re doing Bat Boy with a cast of sixteen, and a good amount of doubling up on roles. Each actor knows their objective and super-objective, the tactics they use – including utilizing various colors of the singing voice. If the music pauses, they know why it does; everything is justified.

Addressing the cast, director Justin Boccitto reminded everyone that a theatre song instigates change. All that listen and all that sing must undergo some sort of metamorphosis by song’s end. That’s a great challenge to thespians, identifying their evolution. It’s an even greater challenge to us writers. Check and see: Are your characters, whether hearing or expressing, in the same spot they were when they started the song?

An example comes to mind: Whoever You Are, I Love You, a searing ballad from Promises Promises. The late Hal David’s lyric begins and ends with the same line, and Burt Bacharach’s notes are identical. The in-between is rather lovely (I was thrilled to work with the lady who first sang it on Broadway, Jill O’Hara, many years back). But, in the context of the whole show, it just sits there. Now, the intention might have been to show a character in stasis, but gee that’s uninteresting to watch. Put it in your cabaret act (if you can sing it – it’s one of the hardest numbers to sing in the history of musicals) and it’ll get quite a hand. In Promises, audiences sit on their hands.

I’d been guilty of this lack-of-change crime in a song from a show I’m now writing. It’s back to the drawing board on that one.

From my musical director’s chair, I get inside the music in a way I wouldn’t from just seeing the show (as I did, thirteen years ago). I’ve also an eye on the orchestration. And there’s something else I can see: when bar numbering does something unexpected. This tells me that a last minute change was made. For example, if the score skips from Measure 12 to Measure 17, it’s an indication that, at some point, there were Bars 13-16 that got cut. A last-minute addition might necessitate adding lettered bars, 18a, 18b, etc. stuck in between 18 and 19. Stuff to wonder about.

A lot of the time, I suppose I’m in songwriter Laurence O’Keefe’s head. Bat Boy is challenging to play because of his aversion to letting any feel, accompaniment figure or key go on too long. Like an amusement park ride full of sudden jolts, the score never lets the listener relax and get settled. The variety of sounds, colors and grooves astounds me every time. Gets the mind racing about the myriad ways to accompany vocalists Best of all, this abundant intricacy is in service of a hysterically loopy story. Helps one believe in the the-more-seriously-you-take-it-the-funnier-it-will-be supposition, because O’Keefe’s score does just that.

And, I must confess, I can see a bit of influence it’s having on my writing. Before I knew I was going to do Bat Boy, I was writing a number, That Look To Me, in a rather simple, old-fashioned rock style. Once I got my fingers on O’Keefe’s chord sequences, I began to get a bit braver, with wilder harmonies, and unexpected melodic twists and turns.

Musical directing involves playing a score over and over again, yielding a deeper understanding of what’s going on, musically. Reminds me that, in my teens, I’d frequently check out musical theatre scores from the local library (surprisingly, they had a lot of Harold Rome) and play through every note. Of course I realize that most of you reading this don’t play the piano. The next best thing, I suppose, doesn’t need mentioning: listening, repeatedly, to cast albums. But we all do that already. Or do we? I occasionally hear new scores where it sounds like the writers have never heard a musical in their lives.

But there’s a downside to just listening to cast albums: You get a false sense of what the show’s like on stage. Many a cast album that sounds terrific (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, House of Flowers, Baby) distracts one from understanding how static the show is in the theatre. I sometimes hear from people in the hinterlands who say they have very few opportunities to see musicals on stage. I’m a spoiled New Yorker, who could, conceivably, see a different musical every day of the year. And this brings up another Frequently Asked Question: Does one have to be in New York in order to write musicals? The Frequent Answer might be that one has to see a lot of musicals – someplace – in order to refine one’s craft. And, as this imaginary conversation continues, there’s usually some mention of how expensive it is to live in New York and buy tickets to all those musicals.

So, to repeat, here’s a word about tonight and tomorrow’s performances of Bat Boy:

FREE

Your ticket price cheerfully refunded if not thoroughly entertained.


O mistress mine

June 3, 2014

Meetiversary is a neologism I only recently became aware of. For Joy and me, this is the day. Seventeen years ago-and looking back it seems ridiculous I waited so long to propose, and then essay parenthood. The length of our engagement, though – 21 months – was dictated, a little, by the time it was going to take to write an original musical for our wedding ceremony. That imponderable – how long does it take to write a musical – is much on my mind these days. I’m hell-bent on completing one by the end of the summer, but now that I commute from a suburb, and spend most of my time learning about life from our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, progress is slow.

Lunch today was a picnic in Central Park with two young performers who’ll begin pounding the pavement next week. And I was reminded of Joy when I met her, a Washingtonian (DC) working towards the day – eight months later – when she’d move to New York and join their ranks. Today Joy’s a Broadway casting director; her company just celebrated its second anniversary. And, far more than any casting director I know or have heard of, she cares about the auditioners, sees to it they’re treated well, have the best try-out experience possible. One might surmise this is due to her remembering what it was like to be in the aspirants’ shoes.

But there’s a more general principle involved: the idea that we should all be kind to each other. Putting on a new musical is a high-pressure cesspool for everyone involved. Your artistic aspirations for your piece, when up against reality and forces beyond your control, are bound to be compromised. The overwhelming majority of auditioners won’t be hired. Joy, too, experiences rejection when she isn’t hired or when actors she wants for roles turn her down. So, she exhibits an experiential sensitivity to this riddled-with rejection realm. On the flip side, she has the pleasure of informing the chosen ones they’ve gotten the job. Tomorrow, she’s flying off to Los Angeles just to see the performers she cast in the national tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

I shouldn’t make it sound like all of Joy’s work is on shows that play outside of New York; it’s just that I miss her so much when she’s off to see them. (They’re cast here, though.) In town, right now, are two long-running off-Broadway musicals her company cast: Fifty Shades and the Drama Desk-nominated Til Divorce Do Us Part. I hasten to point out that the subjects of her shows have nothing to do with our lives. It’s merely coincidence that I go around interpreting dreams wearing a coat of many colors.

And, as so many of us are thinking about the end of a Broadway season jam-packed with an unusual quantity of new musicals, I want to say something about the one Joy cast, Soul Doctor. It had a lot of previews, opened, and ran two months. It sold very few tickets, and a pitifully small percentage at full price. The surprising thing is that it stayed open that long, losing money every week. Now, this season, another new musical opened, and ran just three months. It also sold very few tickets, and a pitifully small percentage at full price. When it finally shuttered, a few weeks ago, all sorts of people I know went “I can’t believe it closed! It barely got a chance! What a tragedy!” But let’s step back for a second. If a show’s a proven money-loser, selling, on average, only a third of its seats, how is it unbelievable that producers put it out of its misery? If “in-the-know” show-folk were puzzled that Soul Doctor endured so long, how come there’s any puzzlement as to why The Bridges of Madison County didn’t endure longer than it did? Argue about artistic quality if you wish, but examining the business side of Show Business, Bridges and Soul Doctor look surprisingly similar.

Two years ago, Soul Doctor, in its off-Broadway incarnation, was Joy Dewing Casting’s first client. As recently as the summer of 2012, it seemed impossible for a new musical to make a profit off-Broadway. Now, here lies Here Lies Love. Also, Murder For Two, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 and Heathers, to name a few. A surprisingly vibrant scene and I find it admirable when shows resist the push to move to a bigger house on Broadway. Some shows simply belong in a smaller house.

Just like some people. Joy and I moved to a little house in the suburbs last November, and our little family is very happy here. I have a tiny office all to myself, windows on all sides. Joy has a garden. And it’s hard to ignore the inherent metaphor. If the first Joy Dewing Casting client made it to Broadway in a year and a quarter, God knows what the seeds she’s planting now may soon grow to be.

We’re neither pure nor wise nor good;
We’ll do the best we know;
We’ll build our house, and chop our wood,
And make our garden grow.
And make our garden grow.