The Bare Essentials

I saw another Broadway show a few nights ago that has been super hyped-up, has lavish costumes and sets, a famous composer, "name" actors, and what is clearly a very large marketing budget.  It was quite an eyeful...and earful...and mostly left me feeling tired, unaffected and puzzled.

It made me start thinking about what a gift it has been to me and Helen on 86th St. to have nothing.  Yes, you heard me right.  It's a gift to have no celebrity writers, producers, directors, choreographers or actors involved in our show, no elaborate sets, fancy costumes or props, no multi-media screens or projections, no orchestra, and no money to mask any of the flaws or growing pains that a new production goes through as it is being developed, previewed and fine-tuned.

I got plenty of nothing, and nothing's plenty for me.

Why, you wonder?  Because when your book, music and lyrics are as exposed as ours are, and as unadorned, you better make sure your storytelling is spot on.  You'd better be sure that each character action is justified, each plot turn makes sense, and that you are going to be able to engage an audience with the bare essentials.  So those bare essentials better be pretty darn good.

So how do you do that?  You focus on what matters.  You make the who, the what, the where and the "why do we care" of your musical as crystal clear as you possibly can.  You focus on truth, authenticity, and on trying to capture a slice of the life experience.  You focus on making sure your audience invests in your characters, their struggles, and their trials and tribulations.  You focus on writing smart and interesting lyrics that hold the audience's attention, and music that captures the mood, the emotions, intentions and the tempo of the character's inner lives and the scenes.

Because when you can't promise flying superheroes, splashy multi-media designs, and "stars," you have to promise substance.

It all comes down to a something I quoted way, way back in the beginning of this blog.

"When all else fails, try being good."


I wrote this last night and then headed off to the Judson Memorial Church to see a new piece called From the Fire (A dramatic oratorio created in honor of the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire) created by the prolific Elizabeth Swados and Cecilia Rubino. 

With mere space, five benches, a multi-talented cast of over thirty college students, gorgeous compositions, innovative staging, a compelling story, and passionate and committed performances....

...I proved my theory right.

As I was transported to another time and place through ingenuity and artistry, I thought to myself...

"When all else fails, try being good."

And did I mention that Helen Associate Designer Niluka Hoatling was at the technical helm of this production?  Bravo, Niluka!  To think you have been juggling Helen logistics while technically overseeing this astounding show.

We love you, Niluka, and are so proud of you!

Learn more about this gorgeous production here...and try to catch one of their last two performances.  You'll be glad you did.

FROM THE FIRE - Promo from Jaime Lebrija on Vimeo.