Whew. Yesterday was a long rehearsal day as we spent the day putting the second act of Southern Crossroads: The New Orleans Adventure together at Wayside Theatre. The story is working very well, but that story only works if the songs selected from a range of Old Time, Gospel, and traditional tunes by our music director Steve Przybylski work. Let me tell you, Steve's genius is fully on display here, as is the musicianship of our cast. Whether they are pounding away at the upright bass or the banjo, or blowing the trumpet or harmonica, or whatever they have in their hands, these folks do a remarkable job. When their voices take flight in some of the a capella sections it takes your breath away.
Yes, you can say I'm biased as I'm the co-creator of the piece. But this wouldn't be possible without Steve's approach to the music. Normally when you are creating a musical, the songs and story work together because the creators find the musical moments in the story and a song is written to bring that moment to musical life. In this case it's different. Steve and I talk about the story, which is based on The Greene Family Singers, a fictionalized family of singers that play their music for a living in Depression Era America, the characters and situations they meet along the way, and then Steve selects songs that in his mind fits where mine, as the book writer, is going. Somehow, he's more in tune with where I'm going than I am. I then use those songs as the both the skeleton and the meat for the story. Some songs are pure performance for the family, as they play takes place on one night that they are performing their music. But many of the songs offer us opportunities to advance the story with direct movement or commentary. At times it feels very Brechtian, at times it crosses over to more conventional musical theatre story telling.
The music is the magic in this piece. As Wallace Greene says in the story, "Playin' and singin' is like breathin' to us. Long as we can play and sing we got some hope." I couldn't agree more.
We put Act 1 together today.