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Founding Bon Jovi Member-Turned-Composer's Work On La Jolla Playhouse Stage

Composer David Bryan at the sitzprobe (the first time cast and band work together at a rehearsal) held last Friday at the La Jolla Playhouse rehearsal hall.
Nicholas McVicker
Composer David Bryan at the sitzprobe (the first time cast and band work together at a rehearsal) held last Friday at the La Jolla Playhouse rehearsal hall.

Founding Bon Jovi Member-Turned-Composer's Work On La Jolla Playhouse Stage
GUEST:David Bryan, ComposerChristopher Ashley, Artistic Director, La Jolla Playhouse

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. David Bryan's transition from Bon Jovi keyboardist to Broadway composer continues at the La Jolla Playhouse. Four years ago he won a Tony award for the musical Memphis, now his new musical "Chasing the Song was that is ready for a page to stage production at La Jolla Playhouse. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando recently spoke to composer and rockstar David Bryan, here's that interview: [ AUDIO FILE PLAYING ] BETH ACCOMANDO: On Friday I had the chance to sit in on a sitzprobe for ìChasing the Song.î What's a sitzprobe? That's when the cast and the band get together for the first time. LYNNE SHANKEL: We're gonna work through from the top. We will get all of the big numbers. There are going to be a few little reprises, and things that we don't have yet that we will skip. We will do all the big stuff. BETH ACCOMANDO: That's Lynne Shankel the music supervisor and co-orchestrator for the show. LYNNE SHANKEL: The name of the game is listen. Just listen and learn, and hear everything that is going. This is the one fun day that we all actually get to be in the same room together. It's my favorite day. But also, for the playing aspect of everything, the name of the game is listen. Really, this is the one time you hear the very best of everything that is going on around you, and how your part fits into the texture. This is such an important part of what we're doing, how you rhythmically and harmonically fit into the texture. What is important to hear, what is of secondary importance so we can build in more dynamics as we go. I want to introduce you to the band. BETH ACCOMANDO: David Bryan is excited about the rehearsal, but note that he has been working almost nonstop. BRYAN: I have not had a day off yet, and I don't expect to have one one until June 1. Having Mondays as day offs, the first Monday off was a twelve hour writing session and the second Monday off was an eight hour band practice. And the next Monday is an event coming up for next Monday and more writing. BETH ACCOMANDO: David, your schedule sounds grueling. How long have you been here? DAVID BRYAN: Since 2007. I came here first for Memphis, and then I've been here since April 10. They started rehearsal April 8, and came in and we started putting together the beast. I love making new musicals. BETH ACCOMANDO: Tell me about today's reversal. DAVID BRYAN: We got to the point where we were in the rehearsal room for three weeks, this when we are talking in. Mark everything here and then we move over to theater and do tech. After we have placed everything and go to the lighting and sound and make sure everything is good. And then I go through band practice a couple of times so we get the brand and charts and our parts right, and I am also co-orchestrating with Lynne Shankel. We have a drummer, guitar, bass, our keyboardist who also plays piano, organ and a couple of horns. And then we put them on stage, and we are unique because we have four panels on stage. So this is about chasing the song, creating music about songwriters. We have four pianos and five guitars, two violins, and accordion, and autoharp, wood blocks, finger cymbals, and the ideas now that we have the band, the actors have never heard the band so we put them all together. So they get to hear all of the music. Not just the rehearsal drummer. [ MUSIC PLAYING ]Now that they put all of the pieces in that they are missing, they understand that they can sing to it and enjoy it, that all goes away. [ SINGING ] DAVID BRYAN: It has been exciting getting the music up because I have it all in here. Letting it out to the world, it is really exciting for the actors because now they get to hear what is inside. [ SINGING ] ACCOMANDO: The song went through the DNA process last year. It got to be workshopped and fine tuned, what is that process like for you? DAVID BRYAN: Working backwards as we started, Joe DiPietro and I, it is the same team as Memphis. We came up with this concept where people had asked what about Chasing the Song, what is the next musical? People have the question what comes first, how do you write the music, what comes first the words or the song? I told Joe we need to write a musical about how to write a musical, and how to write songs. So we started there, and with a loose concept, but we wrote our first song two weeks after Memphis opened on Broadway in October 2009. Then we got together and worked at, two guys in a room working back and forth and playing these characters. It's an original musical not based on anything, it is based on what is going on in our heads. We built it there and then got a table reading got actors to read around a table and wait another year and get it and get people standing up. And then you wait another year. And in the DNA series we were here, so we got to put it up and get a staging and see what our story was. You can conceptualize about a musical, but it tells you, you don't tell it. So the idea was first about the girl songwriter, and then it turned out to be it is our main character Edie. But the story is the first woman publishabler in the Brill building in 1963 to 64. She was the female Don Kershner. In all reality there is no such thing as a female publisher. Women did not own publishing companies, or a lot of businesses than. It kind of became, it told us the real important story, a mother and then her estranged daughter that she had to leave and she had leave her husband because he would not have her working. She leaves and her estranged daughter walks through the door and says I'm going to be a songwriter. And she says what are you doing here? She says what you go anywhere else, I tried to but they would not hire a girl. So now we have a story there on top of our other stories. [ MUSIC PLAYING ] [ SINGING ] DAVID BRYAN: Now we have page to stage in this project is not in production, it is almost in production, but we have to keep changing it. We have three weeks of rehearsal, a week of tech and previews, we get to work everyday. There could be seems totally wiped out, this does not make sense or what is the arc of all the characters so we can get it to that position. BETH ACCOMANDO: So this is a pretty energizing process? DAVID BRYAN: It is funny, as I walk here, every day starts at ten so I get up at seven writing and working in the morning. I come into a musical that talks about people coming to work to write songs. So some days I think am I writing or am I in a musical? It's great, I love it. I love to come here, I am so jazzed to get stuff out of your mind and two other people, and it is funny where you think they should just get it but they will never get it because they don't know about the story, they don't know about the songs, to teach them and show them what is behind it, what is going on with the story and how the song is constructed, and then you put down every note and teach where the meanings are. BETH ACCOMANDO: I am Beth Accomando and I am speaking with David Brian composer for Chasing the Song and Memphis, and also founding member of the band Bon Jovi. Both the DNA program and page to stage encourage revision and fine-tuning, are you surprised with any of the changes you have made and are you happy with them? DAVID BRYAN: Yes and yes. It changes once you start to put it on its feet and move kennels around and do stuff, you need music here music there, and does that character need to be this, is it too much and sometimes you can write out an entire character. Sometimes it does not matter, how you change things and what the impact is. You are just doing little pieces and finally you get a run through to see how it all feels. Now the tech is slow, but now sun is our first dress, so we can see it as a whole. We can see it up and running, and then through the preview process we will show it and work five hours during the day, the changes into it, work all night long and do that for three weeks until we know where the holes are. You don't necessarily know how to fix the patient, but you know where it is sick. BETH ACCOMANDO: Do you enjoy the process or the support that the La Jolla Playhouse gives working through this? DAVID BRYAN: Oh, it is a wonderful place. The view isn't bad everywhere, and the biggest thing is that is a world-class venue and a world-class production team that built the sets Broadway ready. It is real stuff, really good equipment and a good support system, real lights and it is a great place with a lot of benefactors here and a lot of money and support and original arts and not original arts. BETH ACCOMANDO: What role does the audience play in this? Do they provide feedback? DAVID BRYAN: We do questions and answers and get feedback about what people understand and don't understand. The biggest thing is, almost towards the end it is a story about songwriters and there is just with songwriters and then they broke up, and you don't really care that much because the turn off the lights and all go home. That is where we found the story, what if the girl song writer, that is her mother. That's where we discover that, I looked at Joe and said there is nothing like family dysfunction. There is nothing like real life dysfunction, the guts as they say, we need family dysfunction. So when we changed that we set the actors there's going to be gigantic holes in the story, just work with us. And the next day we give them pages and she became the mother and daughter and I'll send you look in say wow, we really care. If you don't really care about a character, then who cares? We want to really care about them. [ SINGING ] DAVID BRYAN: Now it is just making sure the arts go from beginning to end and the journey is correct. Sometimes you fix a little piece here in the first act and that affects the second act. And the second act is not so good and that changes in that's not so good, it is a complicated beast of a play. You have dancing and singing, not normal life breaking out into song, there has to be enough emotion to earn that. [ SINGING ] BETH ACCOMANDO: Okay, not to minimize what goes into changing dialogue for a play, but is changing a song more competent and difficult because it involves more elements? DAVID BRYAN: Joe and I co-write the lyrics and I write the music, but he has a feel for the elements of the song if it is slower, faster, if he likes or doesn't like stuff. But for me, it is more like Memphis modernized looking back through time. Memphis was a fifty show, this is 1963 to 1964 where the Beatles come in. I don't study, what I do is the emotion of the character, how much does the person feel him what are they going through, and then I come up with a song. I don't study it, it's just how do I feel I get down and how do I feel, and then we put into the timepiece and I think it is more of a modernized looking back instead of hey, this is a sixty show. Like in Memphis where it will have a contemporary feel because that is where I come from. BETH ACCOMANDO: What can you tell people to expect from this page to stage production? DAVID BRYAN: Well, come check it out. The most fun part about this process of page to stage is that it is exciting because it is living art. It changes, you add color there or take something away there and every day will be different. It is a fun process to see. If you go the first time and then a week later come back and say wow, this whole thing is changed in this has changed, and it is an exciting process because we really need the audience. We can see if they start going like that, they say groups we are boring. If they start with their backs off the chair, you say they care. If they go ìOoh,î we know they are invested. We want the audience to be invested. They are a big part of the process. BETH ACCOMANDO: I am Beth Accomando and I've been speaking with David Bryan, composer for Chasing the Song and Memphis, and Grammy award-winning keyboard player and founding member of Bon Jovi. David, thank you for speaking with me. [ END AUDIO FILE ] MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The page to stage production of Chasing the Song opens tomorrow at La Jolla Playhouse, and runs through June 15.

Just a year after its first concert reading, "Chasing the Song" is now ready for a page-to-stage production at the La Jolla Playhouse. The play was part of the theater's 2013 DNA New Play series.

Composers David Bryan and Joe DiPietro both worked on "Chasing the Song" and also the musical "Memphis." Bryan is keyboardist and founding member of the band Bon Jovi.


KPBS Arts reporter Beth Accomando sat in on a rehearsal recently for "Chasing the Song."

The page-to-stage musical runs from May 13 to June 15.

Artistic director Christopher Ashley will moderate Monday this special event with legendary composer David Bryan. Bryan who will discuss his musical influences, the cross-over from rock ‘n’ roll to musical theater, his work on the Tony Award-winning musical "Memphis" and his new musical, "Chasing the Song."

Behind the Scenes