Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Making of "Down At Mama Jones'"

Four years ago, composer Larry Kerchner gave me a CD of ten tunes he wrote. That artistic endeavor, penned in a creative frenzy, was the birthing ground for what I hope will become a First State first on Broadway.

Larry, like Broadway icons Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter, writes both music and lyrics. To put that fact into perspective, in the famed duo Rogers and Hammerstein, Rodgers wrote the music, Hammerstein the words, Kander the music, Ebb the lyrics, Lerner more words and Loewe more music.

A Wilmington based artist, Larry's resume includes two Grammy nominations, years as head composer for Ringling Bros., work on The Tonight Show and commercials with McDonald’s, Coke and 7-Up. We first met years ago at Candlelight Dinner Theater when our kids were in “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Those ten fully-orchestrated tunes came to life through a high-energy eight-member jazz band, resplendent with intricate sax and trumpet solos and profound - but not complex - lyrics. To me, a writer, there was a theme that drove this twelve cylinder race car.

I have had had some success taking songs from Gershwin, Porter and Judy Garland's signature standards and writing musical revues around them. After hearing the CD perhaps a zillion times and being rendered speechless by it's originality, I asked Larry if I could have the privilege of writing a musical engendered from his lyrics.

My first concept was a show entitled Capone: The Rat-A-Tat-Tat-Tat Musical. The world loves gangsters, right? In preparation, I got a DVD of one of my fave childhood TV shows, “The Untouchables,” and set the scene in a glitzy speakeasy bordering Capone's South Side and enemy Bugsy Moran to the north. It was to be set on Feb. 13, 1929 -- the next day having singular significance to the racketeers' careers.

Larry was happy that I was taking the project but nixed the Capone idea, as the music centered around the late 1930s to the 1950s.

Back to the drawing board.

If you Go...

'Down At Mama Jones'

Aug. 25, 7 p.m.

Brandywine Hundred Library

For musical theatre lovers, expect lively discussion about every aspect of mounting a show from concept to completion.

(302) 494-3133 producer@delaware.net

Around this time, fellow Brandywine High grad Sue Cerceo was looking for a project. I gave her Larry's CD and within a few hours she was back to me exclaiming “This music is awesome ... and, just as important, it's new! Broadway needs original work!”

If you saw the Tony Awards, you know there is a dearth of "new" on Broadway and an abundance of revival material. What we're making is not only original, with great music, dance and storyline, it will also be Delaware's first completely homegrown Broadway musical.

Sue's connections in musical theatre are as capacious as are Larry's in musical composition. She had been Wardrobe Supervisor for an eight year tour of "Les Mis," hitting every major city in America and Canada. She has toured with “Phantom,” “Wicked” and most recently “Hair Spray.” She created the wardrobe head position at The Academy of Music and most recently worked at that same venue with the tour of “Grease.”

Over the past two months, Sue and I collaborated on an entirely new storyline. Our setting is a glitzy New York City nightclub called Mama Jones' and the title is “Down At Mama Jones'.” Larry's sizzling title tune opens the show.

The three of us plan to showcase the production regionally and mount a tour. Sue has sent the CD to Broadway friends and many wish to take part. One such colleague is Charlo Crossley, late of the “Hairspray” tour and previously one of Bette Midler's backup trio, The Harlettes.

For a preview behind the scenes look at that making of a musical, we are starting a documentary package of “The Making Of 'Down At Mama Jones',” starting right here in northern Delaware. For those who love musical theatre, there will be lively discussions and interaction.

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