I am the luckiest fucker in town. The first weekend of Spelling Bee went so amazingly well, it's almost hard to believe. Everybody fell in love with our little show! We had great crowds and a standing ovation every night. The cast and band ROCKED.
Three of us had also worked on William Finn's earlier musical A New Brain, back in 2002, and as it was with that show, it is such an incredible gift to be able to live inside this music for a couple months.
Spelling Bee is both brilliant in its construction and surprisingly insightful. Its message, that "life is random and unfair" but we can all survive it, is very, very wise (and makes it a clear companion piece to A New Brain). So many people spend so much energy bemoaning how unfair life is, instead of just accepting that it is and enjoying the beautiful little moments we are given. To my mind, this is a very Zen show telling us to just stay on the path, whatever crazy obstacles may be thrown at us, whatever baggage/damage we may be carrying with us... and of course, not to take ourselves too seriously along the way...
The lesson implied by this show, though not explicitly stated, is that peace and happiness come only when we examine ourselves honestly and accept how deeply flawed we are. Leaf is our Zen master here. He doesn't need to win. He needs only to do his best. Each time he comes to the mic, he's not concerned about getting the word right. He just enjoys the experience and energy and excitement of being here. In bigger terms, Leaf isn't concerned about where he's going; he just knows there's adventure ahead.
I know a lot of theatre people think musicals are somehow lesser, less "legitimate," less "serious" -- these folks are missing so much. So much joy and richness and beauty and complexity. How on earth could the addition of music make something less? Great words can be thrilling in the right hands, but words can never equal the power and beauty and emotional heft of great music. Because it is abstract, music delivers something words never can.
I think it's that abstract nature that scares some people -- people who want to control and be controlled, people who are uncomfortable with profound or overwhelming emotion. Music is powerful stuff and that largely unexplainable power unnerves some folks. But that's their problem, not ours.
This production of ours is really something special. It's not just funny -- and believe me, it's really funny, I can't remember the last time I heard an audience laugh that much or that loud -- but it's also so beautiful and sad and complex. The audience falls in love with these kids every night. And though the brilliant writing gets a lot of credit for that, our cast also gets a shitload of that credit. The secret to their success is that they never laugh at these characters, never comment on them, never stand outside them. It's a wacky, outrageous show, but these nine actors bring such reality and depth and richness to these characters that the audience gets emotionally involved from the get-go (exactly as it was with Bat Boy). I actually hear sniffles from the audience during "The I Love You Song" -- that only happens with an outstanding, insightful, truthful group of actors. I can't thank them enough for giving our show such emotional depth.
I think too many people underestimate the value of joy these days. I know this show has brought us all much joy, and I hope we've passed that on to our audiences. Judging from their reaction every night, I think we have. I so love my job.
Thank you, spellers! You all very much rock.
Long Live the Musical!