Watch the Underdog Prevail

Wednesday night

It's the night before our preview as I type this. We had an outstanding final dress rehearsal. The actors are killing it! Still, I really have no idea what people are going to think of Bukowsical. I know I like it. But I'm pretty weird. People may absolutely love the audacity and transgressiveness of it. Or they may find it utterly appalling. Or both. We've been here before -- with The Wild Party, Love Kills, and so many other shows -- and I'm kind of used to it now.

So I thought it would be fun to do a blog post that extends from tonight up through opening night, chronicling the response to our show. So here it is.

Thursday night

We had our preview and it went great -- a couple tiny mistakes, nothing to worry about. We had a small-ish house, but I prefer that for a preview. The show went well, but it didn't have the spark I know it will have tomorrow night. I think the cast feels good, and though the audience was a bit timid, they were laughing quite a bit, and the actors tell me they could tell from the audience's faces that they were fully engaged.

I was worried for the first fifteen minutes or so. I think we really shocked the hell out of the audience with the opening number ("too drunk to fuck," "fucking a whore," "shit on her face," etc.). It was an older audience and I'm not sure they all knew what they were getting into. I think they were sort of horrified. And then the second song, "Art is Pain," is so intensely mean that they were differently horrified by that. When Marcy came out in her liquor bottle costume, they loosened up a bit, but it wasn't really till the gross-out humor of the drunken love duet "Chaser of My Heart" that they really started laughing -- I think they finally understood the rules for the evening and were ready to get on the ride with us. They enjoyed the rest of the show.

A brief side note -- usually after our preview, we go across the street to Applebee's for dinner. Long story short, it took us an hour to be seated and another hour to get our food, with a third of the restaurant empty. A really bad experience. No more Applebee's for us.

I feel really great about the show. People are getting it.

Friday night

Wow! What a fucking night! First off, I knew the Bukowsical writers, Gary Stockdale and Spencer Green, were coming tonight, with their friend Michael, the show's original producer. But I didn't tell the actors -- that really freaks them out, knowing the writers are in the house. I kept thinking that I ought to be nervous about them seeing our production, but I really wasn't. Whatever my worries about its reception, I know I took us down the right path and I know we did justice to this clever, wonderful show.

But the most dramatic part of the evening was the repeated tornado warnings. By curtain time, the rain had not yet gotten to us and the radar (thank god for iPhones) was showing that the storm was consistently to the north of us. So I actually asked the audience if they wanted to go to the basement or go on with the show. They wanted very adamantly to go on. So we did. Though I spent the whole show checking the radar. And meanwhile, several New Liners were on the first floor, preparing our after-party, so I had them checking on things as well. We got two more warnings after the show began, but they stopped about fifteen minutes in.

Despite the weather, we had a big house tonight and the show was on fire -- the cast was electrifying and the audience was laughing like crazy. Everything really came together exactly as I expected, and I could not have been happier. I knew we were in good shape as soon as I checked in our Opening Night Tweeters -- they were loving the show. (To read their Opening Night Tweets -- which are hilarious! -- go to Twitter and search #NewLineBuk -- and be sure to click "All" at the top.)

There was one glitch -- two of our eight mics decided not to work, but luckily, both actors have big voices, they projected their guts out, and the band adjusted enough, that we didn't miss a single lyric.

After the show, I was thrilled to discover that the writers were really happy with our production. One of them paid me the most amazing compliment -- he said he had learned a lot about their show from watching our production. How cool is that? They had so many compliments for us. They loved my staging, particularly the number that I felt least sure about "The Derelict Trail." They loved Robin's choreography, the band, the vocals, the set, and they loved Zak as Bukowski and Kimi as One True Love.

The writers came to the after-party with us and they were so cool. I think all the actors got to talk to them, and they paid all of us even more compliments. I talked to a lot of other people at the party and they all totally loved the show. They really embraced it, they loved its intelligence and its subversiveness.

It was a perfect Opening Night. Well, except for the tornado.

Saturday night

A smaller house tonight, and so they were a bit timid, but people were laughing and enjoying it. Shows like Bukowsical are tricky to sell. We make a big deal out of Opening Night, because that helps jump-start word-of-mouth, but we don't get real big houses the first weekend. After the reviews come out and word-of-mouth has a chance to work, the crowds will pick up. Judging by the response so far, I think this show may actually do better than we expected.

Oh, and we had a heckler tonight. A real jackass, sitting off by himself, surrounded by empty seats, who did his best to let the cast know, all night, repeatedly and loudly, that our show wasn't pure enough Bukowski for him. It's not supposed to be pure Bukowski, dumbass. That's the point. He actually sat in the audience and flipped off the actors over and over. But the most telling moment came late in the show, when Chris and Ryan come out as Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke, and this ass clown says fairly loudly, "They don't even look like the real guys!" No, they don't, dumbass. I think he came into the show intending to hate it, so wrapped up in his desperate need to prove that he's smarter than us, that he completely missed the monster dose of self-aware irony at the heart of the show's premise. He needs to get a clue and grow a set.

I was in the back of the house and didn't really know what was happening til afterward. The actors were a bit thrown off by the heckler, but the show was still great and people seemed to really enjoy it. At the end of the finale, several of the actors flipped off the heckler -- exactly as Bukowski probably would have done.

As we do after every "first Saturday," we went to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner after the show. And we were delighted that the writers (who have been exploring St. Louis all day) came to join us, so we got some more hang time. They're both really great guys, really funny, really smart, and I'm so glad that we gave their show a production they're proud of.

All in all, a pretty great weekend and a great launch of Bukowsical.

With a lot of the less commercial shows we produce, other companies around the country often find our website and ask how to get production rights to shows we've done, so we steer them to the writers or their agents. Because we resurrected High Fidelity and Cry-Baby, other companies are now producing those shows too. It's incredibly cool that we get to produce these wonderful shows, but it's ever cooler that we can give these misunderstood gems a longer life, getting produced around the country, and occasionally, even in other countries. I feel like it's a service I can give to this art form that I love so deeply.

I'm not sure if that will happen with Bukowsical. A company would have to be very brave and have a genuinely adventurous audience to produce this. It's an exceptionally entertaining show, but it's as R-rated as any musical I've ever seen. Still, hope springs eternal. I would love to see this great musical have a further life.

Sunday afternoon

So Hell Week is over and we've opened the show. I sort of have four days off now. There are a few things I need to deal with, but nothing big. Reviews will start coming out, maybe today. After listening to that audience Friday night, I bet we get pretty great reviews. And really, Zak is fucking genius in the central role, and he's got a hell of a strong cast around him -- brilliant, fearless comedians with amazing voices.

I can't wait to get back...

Long Live the Musical!