Project Blog: September 22, 2009

The Success Story of a Nation

When does an author let go? In the case of musicals, ain't never gonna happen. Something in the universe demands it, like atomic bonding, or gravity itself.  Lousy or fine, grand or not, you and your musical are parent and child; logic and time become as deceptive and complex as string theory. In the case of Shine(!), its example could be Chapter 1 in The Road to Broadway manual:
"Don't Let This Happen to You" or "Who the Heck is Horatio Alger?"

Nowadays I'm often asked where the proverbial edge might be in this fun and inspiring old show, Broadway-bound some 30 years ago. Other than in its craft and heart, perhaps not in the show itself, but certainly in its making.

For such an uplifting show, Shine has a bitter history.  The last of its era, written in the years just before the age of AIDS, it was a project of innocence. But not for long.

In Richard Seff's autobiography, Supporting Player, much of the story of how Shine came to be -- and then came not to be -- is told, at times greatly at my expense. It is truthful from his point of view, but Richard graciously does not share all. Then again, perhaps he never knew. I'm not sure. I used to imagine that one day I might annotate the "meanwhile" scenes of the history of this 1980 almost-Broadway show. But would anyone care how a naive Southern boy most likely destroyed his fresh career in one phone conversation with a brutal Manhattan heiress? Or follow my trek during the months before, like Alice Pleasance Liddell, in the bizarre wonderland of midtown offices, weekend retreats and upper Eastside parlors of the powerful and wealthy showmakers, ever selling his Kander and Rodgers inspired music? Or indulge me in recounting the countless meetings with sometimes majestic, but often arrogant and silly producers, peculiar directors and absurd choreographers, along with a few unnerving midnight command appointments with inebriated Broadway royalty? Or let me re-live long limo rides with movie stars who wanted to sing and dance? Or permit me to spill the beans about the usual (and unusual) sex, drugs, racism, secret financial woes, agent betrayal and casting revenge? Or ... You get the idea. Sounds almost fun. But most of these early 1980s players of my youth are long out of the limelight, over the hill or under the daisies now. Still it remains curiouser and curiouser to me that the real story of this what-could-have-been family tuner is brimming with so much of the inappropriate. But all that's for another time, or never.

*

The three tracks of this recording were made in August of this year. We hoped that if a few moments of the score were given the Broadway treatment denied in the early 80s, we might time travel a bit and glimpse the show as it was meant to be and perhaps show off the traits of the music that had yet to be truly realized.

With the talents of orchestrator and arranger Greg Anthony and a modest budget, we have attempted that, beginning with these highlights.

It's strange but satisfying to hear the young energized melodies that accompanied my life in those long ago difficult days as they narrate Greg's Overture, even more enhanced by the fact that the legendary Thomas Z. Shepard visited and sat with us as we heard these new sounds for the first time.

Partners was written for the original duo of Matthew Broderick and Timothy Hutton who were the planned stars for the original cast. Never used, the song was put back in the score after the regional production in Richmond in 1983. Mostly a vaudeville turn to assist in a scene change, it's a strong buddy song and every musical should have one. (Is that in Lehman Engel's book? I forget.) Stanley Bahorek and Aaron Simon Gross have the fun of premiering this new and even more Kander-esque rag version here with a live orchestra.

Yes! is based on my original Hero Theme that was to begin the show; something that explored minor-major melodic lines. (A mission I considered for the entire score but later employed in Chaplin.) But my classical roots were showing and that all seemed too "adult" for a teenage bootblack and most wanted an "Annie" boy-belter ballad instead. Shine deliberately follows the essence of Alger design and appears simplistic at first glance, but it's not a cartoon. If only it had been, it surely would have been easier. Lee and I wrote several songs to follow the "temptation" scene between Luke Gerrish and Dick, villain and hero. We finally chose this wordy soliloquy, based on that abandoned melodic herald. It gives the actor time; the music becomes large, valiant and challenging, and the boy gets a proper chance to think things through, become a grownup and confront the basic dilemma we all face: Should I be good? Or will I be bad? Horatio Alger in a nutshell, in a very high key. (Bravo! Stan)

"The Success Story of a Nation" is how we billed the show later on. And Shine is indeed about the American Dream: the American dreaming and ambition of its cast of characters and more so of its authors. Live and Learn. A good title for one of Horatio Alger's novels, but also what we continue to try and do with a bright and friendly show with a dark and troubled past.

Shine at NYMF
Shine! Website

Shine at VMT
1983 world premiere