The First Day of Rehearsal. There is Joy in the Air.

Ah, the first day of rehearsal of a new musical!

It is a day full of joy and hope, a day full of terror and fear. It is a day when the jokes still seem funny, the songs still seem fresh, and the authors still seem wise. It is my favorite day.

We’re rehearsing on the stage at our theatre, the lovely New World Stages. Now, most shows start their rehearsal process in a rehearsal room because their set hasn’t been built yet. But since we are retaining our set from our debut out-of-town production, that sucker is built and up and ready to go. And it looks spectacular, which is amazing when you consider that the show takes place in a toxic waste dump in New Jersey (which, of course, is also the setting of most classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals.) Its spectacularness is due mainly to our young, talented set designer, Beowulf Borrit. Of course, when your parents name you Beowulf, you have two choices in life — you can either become a theatre designer or an epic poem. Fortunately for us, Beowulf chose theatre designer. His set rocks.

On this first day of rehearsal (my favorite day! my favorite day!) the actors are learning the music. In a rather remarkable demonstration, David Bryan is singing the entire score (men’s parts, women’s parts, duets) in order to show exactly how he’d like it sung. It should also be pointed out that David is able to sing ridiculously high notes first thing in the morning, so everyone’s a bit stunned. But the actors are all nodding their heads politely and then matching him wail for wail. It’s pretty cool.

And while they’re doing that, I am sitting off to the side, feeling unloved and bored. I mean, while David and the cast are singing their hearts out, not one person is actually focusing on the ALL-IMPORTANT DIALOGUE in the show. Sure, I suppose “learning the songs” is important for a musical, but still, I feel ignored. So I’m blogging instead. Which at least gives me a chance to tell you how we got to this theatrical temple known as “New World.”

David and I finished the first draft of Toxic about a year and half-ish ago. And the first thing you do when you’ve finished a musical is “a reading.” Now a reading consists of renting a rehearsal space and hiring actors and musicians who learn your show. They only have 20 hours to rehearse (or else Actor’s Equity will find you and beat you,) and after this brief process, they present your show to a small gathering of your closest and most judgemental friends.

Now after you do your reading, you realize one of three things —
A) Your show sucks so you just wasted two years of your life writing it
B) Your show is okay but it still needs a lot of work
C) You show is actually pretty good and it’s time to find a theatre

In my humble experience, Option “C” rarely happens. But miraculously, the group of jaded, judgmental friends who experienced Toxic for the first time liked what they saw. They laughed. A lot. They applauded. A lot. Hell, they freakin’ loved it.

Emboldened by our good forture, we wondered where to take Toxic next. Well, since it takes place in the most polluted town in New Jersey and its full of cruel New Jersey jokes, how about New Jersey? And what better theatre is there in New Jersey than George Street Playhouse, adjacent to Rutgers University which is full of students who, we reasoned, would dig this show. So our fearless producers sent the script and demo CD to David Saint, the head honcho at George Street, who called and said it was the funniest script of a new musical he had ever read (God love this handsome, wise man) and he wanted the show to kick off th his ’08/’09 season. Eurkea, we were in. To celebrate, David and I immediately went out and drank way too much champagne had a nice dinner.

So this past autumn, we debuted at George Street and damn it if we didn’t become their biggest musical hit ever. And though we suspected that the young, hip, slightly stoned Rutgers students would like the show, we were delighted and surprised when Toxic was heartily embraced by the bread and butter audience of regional theatres — senior citizens! Every performance, David and I would move aside rows of walkers to get to our seats. And those mutant-lovin’ seniors went nuts for the antics of Toxie and friends.

Perhaps, though, the show’s greatest test came during the second performance. A blind woman came to the show and was seated in the first row, her large seeing-eye dog sprawled out at her feet. Why would that be a “test,” you ask. Well, I answer, in the show, our green hero falls in love with a blind librarian, so there are a couple a few a whole lot of blind jokes. I fully expected that the sure-to-be-offended blind woman would sick her dog on us. But no, it turns out she absolutely loved the show. And I, in turn, loved her.

So here we are in New York, baby, where shows come to make their mark or whither away into theatrical oblivion. Oh, now the actors are on a break from their music learning (yawn,) so I have to go and mingle. But tune in tomorrow, ’cause David is teaching the one and only Nancy Opel a new song we wrote especially for her — “Jersey Girl.” It’s the introductory song for one of her characters, Mayor Babs Belgoody — an incredibly ambitious politician who will do anything and say anything to get elected. She’s just like Sarah Palin, only not stupid.

Till then, your internet pal,
Joe