Twelve years ago, at the Soho Playhouse, you could see an original musical I wrote and also see a wedding, mine to Joy Dewing. For they were one and the same: an actual, legal wedding and an actual, entertaining musical comedy. Our guests were treated to the sort of pleasure we were most adept at creating. In a phrase I find myself using way too often these days, we were playing to our strong suits. Joy’s rapturous voice served as the pièce de resistance; my easy way with lyrics and music on display throughout.
I just read David Sedaris on weddings:
guilt-tripping friends and relatives into giving up their weekends so they could sit on hard church pews or folding chairs in August, listening as the couple mewled vows at each other, watching as they’re force-fed cake, standing on the sidelines, bored and sweating, as they danced, misty-eyed, to a Foreigner song.
I’m reminded that the genesis of Our Wedding – The Musical was a list of things neither of us wanted in nuptials. The hurled uncooked rice: painful, wasteful, bad for birds. Stuffing cake down the bride’s mouth: the deadly sin of gluttony, the ruination of a paragon of beauty. Even religion: the great disuniter, alienating those with different traditions. We’d have none of that.
A successful musical unites us. We’re a crowd, brought together in assembly, laughing and crying and reacting as one. The storyteller modulates his tale with the needs and expectations of the audience in mind. Sitting next to us at Hamilton was an older couple, and I wondered how they’d react to genius Lin-Manuel Miranda’s irreverent and dense raps. Somewhere in the middle of the first act, the man exclaimed “No show should be this good!”
And a few days later, after the cast album came out, I took Joy on a car tour of Upper Manhattan to show her where Washington had his headquarters and the still-standing homes of Hamilton and Burr. Of course, she played the appropriate tracks on the car’s speakers. We considered hitting Weehawken on the way back, but she was worried about whether I could drive with tears in my eyes.
It’s common interests like that – and most would find these geeky in the extreme – that form a basis for a marriage, a romance, an enduring passion. And really, who but Joy, all those years ago, would agree to the unusual idea of creating an original musical to get married in? I think it’s key that we both had this litany we didn’t want in a wedding. The emphasis became: how best to entertain our guests? Many were traveling to New York, a place they rarely visited. Naturally, they associated it with The Theatre, and here we were, two theatre people, strutting our stuff.
The closest friends, and just about all the blood relatives, would perform my songs in the show. The parents flew in from Phoenix, Los Angeles, Bethlehem, and I honestly can’t remember where my mother-in-law was living at the time, maybe Kansas. The friends from Hartford, Washington, D.C., Oakland, Baltimore and another place I’m not remembering. (What’s happening to my mind?) Each had musical comedy material specifically tailored to their talents. My niece, the flower girl, was four years old. So her solo didn’t last all that long, nor did it have great range. It had wordplay, but it’s not clear she understood it.
Our Wedding, as a piece of writing, had a tremendous head start. Most musicals get performed for strangers. We’d put together a guest list. Which means that everybody in the audience knew us really well. But now I’m remembering that some of the most enthusiastic compliments came from professionals who didn’t. James Barron, reporter for The New York Times hadn’t previously met me, and I barely knew the recording engineer for the original cast CD. Both bubbled over with elation at what they’d seen. And the CD – still available for $20, free shipping – is treasured by so many total strangers. Buy it, now, before you trash your old CD player! But back to the challenge of creating it. There was no need to build up sympathy for the characters: I could rely upon a certain amount of good feelings coming across the footlights. Friends and family love you. And they’re going to be fascinated to meet your parents, and greet them with open arms, ready to applaud.
Also, we’ve all been to weddings, and know something of what goes on in them. I knew that those in attendance would have certain expectations, and reveled in the opportunity to play with those expectations. So, the four bridesmaids began a canon of traditional advice. Before the audience could settle in, thinking they’d heard this sort of thing before, and tune us out, the vaguely classical music breaks off into sixties rock and the quartet got down and dirty. What do I mean by that? Well, I’m not going to spill the beans here. Buy the CD!
But I’ll share some of the solo I wrote for myself since it deals with that list of expected nuptial traditions:
Rice and shoes and borrowed blues – what do they say?
You’re too wonderful for empty cliché
No “Here Comes the Bride” on wedding band…
We’re not going to start with a hollow token
“Till death do us part” need not be spoken
If a wedding must entail
The breaking of a glass, the lifting of a veil
Then I can’t marry you
So toss ‘em out – The crinoline and crepe
Contracts, pre-nuptials – all that red tape
Don’t toss a bouquet, it leads to spats.
And, for heaven’s sake, don’t take the name, Joy Katz…
I won’t marry you in the tired, traditional way
Who could ask you to honor me?
And you sure as hell won’t obey.
So, the song came true. I’ve spent a dozen years not honored and not obeyed. Nevertheless, I confess: I love my wife.