Composer Joy Son and I met in the Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop — and never got to write together. We stayed in touch, however, and when we finally had a chance to collaborate, it was a blast. Joy can simply write anything and make it fresh and beautiful. Each song we produced was different, fun, and like nothing I had ever done before.
So, when we finished writing “The United States of Us,” one of my first reactions was panic. I wasn’t writing with her! I needed to come up with another idea for a show! Now!
Fortunately, it was Pledge Week on PBS. [There’s a phrase you don’t ever hear.] This meant that they showed a documentary about Broadway, this particular one being about the contributions of Jews to musical theater. Apparently, there were some. Who knew? I was watching the section on “West Side Story,” and my mind drifted into thinking about Shakespearean musicals. There basically have been four successful ones on Broadway: “The Boys From Syracuse,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “West SIde Story,” and “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” I have seen other smaller adaptations [check out Dave Hudson and Paul Libman’s “Muskie Love” for a hilarious setting of “Much Ado …” and the more recent “Desperate Measures” for two good examples], but the one that jumped into my mind was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
I had been a fan of this play since my first exposure, the Mister Magoo version. My writer brain jumped into What If? mode. What if Titania, after spending the night with Bottom, decided to stay with him? What if they had a child? What if she chose to live as a human with her family? What if she had to return to the Fairy Realm? What if later she decided she wanted her child back?
What if we set it in modern-day NYC?
By the end of an hour, I had put together the basic premises of the show and pitched it to Joy. And she said yes.
More conceptual breakthroughs would come. We decided to free up the plot and not be an analog of the original play. Alec, the central male lead, became a mixture of Bottom, Oberon, Theseus and Egeus. The mechanism of the magic changed, and every alteration of a premise sent the plotlines careening in directions Shakespeare never anticipated.
Joy’s score was earthy for the humans, ethereal for the fairies, funny and romantic and heartfelt. Once again, it was a blast working with her, and you can hear the results on the Musical Theater page.
I can’t wait to write with her again.