So we started staging the show last night. This is going to be a very strange animal, this show of ours.
I was thinking last night that my model for this work may be a show I saw at the Rep years ago. I can't remember the title but it was this brilliant revue of the songs of Kurt Weill that did what I'm attempting to do now, weave the songs together in a way that gives each actor a consistent character and through-line over the course of the evening and also develops relationships between actors. There was no concrete story and the actors weren't even literally playing the same characters in every song, but there was an unmistakable through-line there. It was one of my favorite things I've ever seen at the Rep.
Another model may be a show we produced in 1998, Jason Robert Brown's amazing Songs for a New World (two songs from which will be in this show). This beautiful abstract musical features four actors singing a series of songs that are self-contained mini-scenes. But as we rehearsed the show, we realized that each actor had an emotional through-line across the show, and that the relationships among the four was developed over the evening as well. (My background and analysis chapter about Songs for a New World is in my book Rebels with Applause and also on the New Line website.)
It's an unusual form in which to tell stories, but it's also incredibly satisfying and compelling theatre. I hope that Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll will operate in a similar way.
In certain respects, our show is an abstract piece of theatre, exploring ideas rather than plot. As an example, Act I ("Sex") begins with a section about a young man navigating the treacherous terrain of sex and love, a journey he's clearly not prepared for. It begins with a song in which a young couple finds out they're having a baby. Then several married men appear and warn the young man against the trap of marriage. Then another woman calls the young man on his cell phone and engages him in phone sex -- who is she? is she already having an affair with this guy? The world torments and tempts this guy, daring him to bail on his obligations to the mother of his child. Then a Greek chorus appears to celebrate the "joys" of venereal disease... and yet the young man leaves with the other woman anyway, leaving behind this young woman who's carrying his child...
It's not exactly a story in the conventional sense, but it does take the audience on a journey and it does reveal truths about the real world. There are lots of young women getting pregnant and being abandoned by the young men who impregnated them. Why?
As Act I continues, we similarly explore adultery, the nature of love and sex, and the joy of pornography... Act II explores both the right and wrong reasons for using drugs, the human aloneness we all know, and the joy and healing of community.
Maybe the best way to describe our show is to say that while some shows tell stories of literal action and some tell stories of psychological journeys, this is a show that will tell several, intertwined stories of emotional journeys. Even though audiences may not be able to verbalize exactly what the show is "about" after they see it, I hope that it will still be a satisfying, emotional, truthful evening of theatre.
We shall see...
Long Live the Musical!