'Chasing The Song' Musical Goes 'Page To Stage' At Playhouse
Play Progresses Through La Jolla Playhouse's Development Programs
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.
La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley says nimbleness is key when developing a new play.
"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.
"We are radically changing the story of our musical, Edie and Jennie are going to be actually mother, daughter," Ashley announced to his cast just days before their first performance.
"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,'" added writer 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."
"That’s where we discovered that and then wow, now it really meant something," David Bryan said.
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.
"Words and Music" (1946)
"Breaking Glass" (1980)
"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. She's the female Don Kirschner. And then 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," Bryan explained.
"I was really happy after the DNA process," Di Pietro added. "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. But Ashley insists the process is still about change.
"It’s a play about change, it’s about a moment when the culture was changing absolutely in the early 60s," Ashley said. "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.
"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.
"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.
"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. 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.