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Behind the Scenes: 'Chasing the Song' Goes Page to Stage

May 23, 2014 6:28 a.m.

Last year La Jolla Playhouse debuted a play development program called DNA New Works Series. Chasing the Song was given a concert reading through that workshop and now it returns to the Playhouse for a Page to Stage production. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando checks in on the plays progress.

Related Story: 'Chasing The Song' Musical Goes 'Page To Stage' At Playhouse

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: Last year La Jolla Playhouse debuted a play development program called DNA New Works Series. Chasing the Song was given a concert reading through that workshop and now it returns to the Playhouse for a Page to Stage production. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando checks in on the plays progress.

TAG: Chasing the Song continues its Page to Stage run at the La Jolla Playhouse through June 14.

La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley says nimbleness is key when developing a new play.

DNA: Hang with us, ride the bronco that is the rewrite.

That’s Ashley at a DNA New Works rehearsal last year for Chasing the Song. The musical, directed by Ashley, was about to have its first concert reading but then something changed.

DNA: We are radically changing the story of our musical, Edie and Jennie are going to be actually mother daughter.

JOE DiPIETRO: Chris and I looked at each other and said can we do this and we’re like you know what? We’re here this is what it’s for so let’s do it.

That’s writer Joe DiPietro.

JOE DiPIETRO: So I was literally giving them pages every hour and sometimes pages would make the last half of the play not make sense with what we were doing in the first act now, they were great and it really worked and we really saw what the relationship was at the center of the play.

DAVID BRYAN: that’s where we discovered that and then wow now it really meant something.

David Bryan co-writes lyrics and composes music for Chasing the Song, a story about songwriters dealing with changes in the music industry on the brink of the British invasion. Bryan says the play was designed to answer questions about how someone writes a song but told through the story of a mother and her estranged daughter.

DAVID BRYAN: So the idea at first was about the girl songwriter and then it really turned out to be, Edie is our main character, our lead character, the story is the first woman publisher in the Brill building in 1963-64. and this estranged daughter walks in the door and says I’m a songwriter.. SO now we have a story there on top of all of our other stories.

CLIP Jennie? What are you doing here…

JOE DiPIETRO: I was really happy after the DNA process.

Again Joe Di Pietro.

JOE DiPIETRO: But the DNA process had minimal staging, minimal choreography, and once you start opening that up, once you start seeing how someone moves onstage, it’s a whole different thing.
That’s where Page to Stage comes it. It provides costumes, sets, lighting, and choreography. It’s still not a full blown production but it’s getting much closer.

CLIP Song Com’on…

But Ashley insists the process is still about change.

CHRISTOPHER ASHLEY: It’s a play about change, it’s about a moment when the culture was changing absolutely in the early 60s… But also the Page to Stage process is all about change, and it’s about new pages and about the process of making a play… We are really insistent that nothing gets in the way of rewriting. Nothing gets in the way of discovering a new idea and we will always follow a good idea and never be hindered by the fact that we already got a staging.

DiPietro appreciates what the Playhouse offers a writer.

JOE DiPIETRO: Essentially it’s a working lab for a full production of a musical meaning we get to put a full musical on every night and then the next day we get to go in and tinker with it. You get to sharpen lines and we can throw out a song or add a new song. Musicals are perhaps the most complicated of all the art forms out there because there are so many elements that have to work, there’s the music, the lyrics, the story, the dialogue, the design, the choreography, the staging, everything has to work and if one of those elements are not in sync you’re in trouble.

Even though DiPietro is the writer, he admits changing a line of dialogue can be easier than changing a song.

JOE DiPIETRO: Because you can rewrite a line in 12 seconds but with a song you actually have to have a tune, you have to structure it, you have to write lyrics that match it plus then you also have to orchestrate it and hear how it sounds on actors, how it sounds with back ups, things you can’t hear in your mind where a line you can sort of do.

Bryan, who was a founding member of the band Bon Jovi, enjoys the new challenges of working in musical theater.

DAVID BRYAN: It’s exciting because it’s living art, it changes. You add a little color there and take a little thing away there and every day it’s going to be different. It’s a fun process to see, it’s an exciting process cause we really need the audience

Ashley says that anyone attending should be prepared to be a part of that process. You not only can you witness a work in progress but you might even be the catalyst for how it changes. That’s not a role every theatergoer gets to play. Proving that watching theater at La Jolla Playhouse is an interactive experience.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.