Sing what you say

“All day the records play.”

So it’s the fourteenth anniversary of my famous musical wedding to Joy Dewing. As I sit here in a rather sterile white room staring out at a colorless sky, I’m struck by how completely changed our lives are. This morning I created a Pandora station to play me classic show tunes, which is somewhat like what Sadie Sadie Married Lady did. And, thanks to the latest major purchase, we’re owners of an icebox with a ten-year guarantee. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, well, you’re like all the neighbors.

Our Wedding: The Musical! was an expression of who we were that Sunday in 2003. Our guests saw no traditional ceremony; they got to see a musical comedy on a New York stage. Because that’s what we did: We created musical theatre entertainment – Joy sang, and I wrote. Those simple verbs summed up our lives.

There are usually some in attendance who know the bride, but not the groom; or the groom, but not the bride. (Which reminds me that, when I was 14 or so, I wrote half a musical called The Gride and the Broom.) So I thought of Our Wedding as sort of an introduction to who we were. It contains tons of biographical material – for instance, when my sister was a child, a dog knocked her down and broke her two front teeth. When people inquire whether it’s possible for someone else to perform Our Wedding I think, sure, if two people have lived the lives described in the show.

We forced all our family and friends to perform. Perhaps “forced” is too strong a word. Coaxed? Some were performers, too, and had no trouble singing on stage. Matthew Hamel, who sang the “I now pronounce you” bit is an example. Another cast member went on to appear in two Broadway shows. But back to the forced folk: By giving them sheet music and tapes that they had to learn and sing on an off-Broadway stage in front of people, we were informing them of what the life of a musical theatre person is like. That time of “going to school” when you’re hearing a new song you know you will soon learn and sing is golden to me. You react to the song, having prayed it’s well-written, and immediately start thinking creatively about how you’ll render it on stage.

The other week my favorite early-career performer sent me some unfamiliar music to record, chorus parts by Menken & Schwartz. So I got to be part of that discovery process. But that was just me making a recording and emailing it. The singer’s many miles away. I’ve got to be in the room where it happens. I don’t mean to sound like a troglodyte, pining for the day when you couldn’t email sound files with talented young adults in person. It’s just that my mind is brought back to an experience I regularly enjoyed. Nay, loved.

Better to focus on wonderful things that remain: the joy of being married to Joy Dewing, the love that continues through good times and bad, placid seas and wild upheavals. And the word “love” now appears on countless post-it notes all around me. No, this is not on my storyboard for my musical-in-progress. It’s little missives left by our five-year-old daughter. Last night’s read “Daddy, I love you, but I’m me.”

Does that sound cryptic to you? Is the prodigiously wise one in the family reminding me that I don’t get to dictate what others do? After Our Wedding showcased Joy’s fabulous singing voice, there was nothing I could do when she decided to stop performing. In 2003, everyone who knew Joy was well aware of the extraordinary combination of power and warmth that Joy employed every time she sang. In 2017, a rather small percentage of the people who know her are aware of this fantastic talent.

Instead, Joy has literally made it her business to be aware of the talent of others, as a big-time casting director. Her reputation as someone who encourages and believes in early-career performers spread like gangbusters throughout the theatre community. She was far more celebrated as New York’s favorite casting director than she’d been as a perfomer. A butterfly metamorphosized into a bigger butterfly.

The day after our tenth wedding anniversary was the last day a Joy-cast show played on Broadway. And, another tenth anniversary has been on my mind lately: It’s now been ten years since a paying audience attended a wholly new Noel Katz musical. I seem to creep along, creatively, like a caterpillar. This is another thing nobody would have predicted at Our Wedding.

But this brings up the question, how long should it take to write a musical? Are we looking for fast food, or something that turns on a spit for an extended time? The gestation period for Such Good Friends was far longer than your ordinary elephant. And Our Wedding? Well, the proposal was in December of 2001, and I don’t know when we decided to make our ceremony into an original musical comedy. But then, once October 12 was chosen, there was a finite period of creation. The show had to be ready to go. Those singing relatives needed time to prepare. And, while working on my songs, everybody said how much they loved their numbers, which, of course, I’d specifically crafted for them, and what they could do.

All but one: Joy listened to the art song I’d crafted for her to sing as the climax of the show and said No, that’s not quite it. She sent me back to the drawing board, and I kept coming up with more rich harmonic textures, ones that were very different from the rest of the show. And she kept saying No. And then I wrote This Man Loves Me, a very simple dollop of soul. And she said Yes.

Which is just what a fiancé wants to hear.

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