Jeff Goode and Richard Levinson Are 'Savin' Up For Saturday Night'
It's almost show time at The Honky Tonk Bar and Fill, a one stop gas station and dance hall in the tiny town of Ready, U.S.A. The band is warming up on stage, as the bartender limps over to the dressing room and pounds on the door. "Showtime Eldridge!"
And so begins Savin' Up For Saturday Night, a world premiere country-western dance hall musical, with book by Jeff Goode (The Reindeer Monologues) and music & lyrics by Richard Levinson (Songwriter, True Blood). The show will open Sacred Fools Theater Company's thirteenth season (September 18 - October 24, 2009) and is directed by Jeremy Aldridge (Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara) and choreographed by Allison Bibicoff (Xanadu on Broadway).
Lovin' ain't easy in this one-honky-tonk town, and when the bandleader and the bartender fall for the same dance hall girl, you can bet all heckfire's bustin' loose. You're in for an evening of non-stop toe-tappers, cat fights, and love quadrangles.
Featured as the cast's troubled trio are Bryan Krasner as Doc, Brendan Hunt as Eldridge and Natascha Corrigan as Lucinda, with Courtney DeCosky (Patsy), Dave Fraser (Roddy) and Rachel Howe (Sissy). Dancers are Ceasar F. Barajas, Mike Kluck, Gregg Moon, Don Baker, Rhonda Diamond, Gina Tucci and Natasha Norman.
This musical's genesis is unique in that the songs were written before the book instead of simultaneously. Did you always have in mind that the songs would eventually turn into a musical?
Richard: Yes, but not as I was writing them because they were all written for different reasons, and I'd written so many songs over a period of years. Eventually I saw that I actually had a catalogue of country songs that I could group together. I'd met Jeff several years ago at No Shame Theatre and we had worked on some short projects together. I gave him some of the songs to look at and told him I had this idea. We were both busy, but a year and a half later he called and asked what I was doing with those country songs. He had an idea for them and he came back very quickly with an outline of a script. We've had some rewrites and polish work since then but our story is 75% the story he created right away.
Jeff, what did you hear in the songs that gave you the story idea for the musical?
Jeff: I listened to the CD Richard sent me and they're great songs. I liked them all. They were solid, and the idea of writing a show where the score was already tight was really appealing to me. As I listened to them, an atmosphere came to me. Many of them are dance songs so I started thinking about a dance hall and a honky tonk (a place where music is being played and people are dancing). I could also see the three main characters begin to emerge.
You could see the characters in the music?
Jeff: Yes, I had a vibe from the songs to begin with but then the characters jumped out fairly quickly. One of the first songs in the show is called "Dr. Bartender" and that really defined a character for me that was easy to expand upon. Several other songs didn't sound like they were really story-related but sounded like something Eldridge, the band leader, would sing. And then, in some of the relationship songs about a dysfunctional relationship, I saw this girl who was the best dancer in the place that everybody wants. Once I saw those three characters, I knew that there was a story that could be told using these songs as an anchor.
Did anything about that story surprise you?
Richard: No, but what really surprised me was that I recognized all of the people. Jeff made their individual stories very clear. I know Eldridge, the band leader. I've worked with that guy many times before, and Doc is the kind of person that I think will be familiar to a lot of people.
Jeff, your plays often have an edge or deal with subject matter in a satirical way, yet this musical is a bit more mainstream. Will people who know you be surprised by it?
Jeff: I think one of the things that I'm good at is character, and the only thing that really makes this show different is that I've selected a set of characters that are in a part of the country that I haven't written about that much before, but my way of working with characters is similar... the way the humor comes from the characters and situations rather than just the dialogue.
Our core audience for this show is a little more mainstream. Compared to some of my work there's very little obscenity. We wanted this show to appeal to a wide audience so you think about who those people are - how they're going to feel, how they're going to approach it - so if it's challenging it's still going to be within the realm of what that audience is going to like and find interesting.
You're a writer whose work actually gets produced on a regular basis across the country, not just in LA. What do you think is the key?
Jeff: I think a lot of writers don't get produced because they start to write what they really want to write without thinking if someone else wants it. That's one of the first things I think about. I have all kinds of ideas ready to go that I look at and ask myself, who is the audience for this? Why spend a year or two years working on something that isn't going to get produced?
Generally it's people who know you and have worked with you before who will take a risk on your work, so having a good relationship with them is important. Then when you ask them to read something new, instead of it going onto the stack, it actually gets read because they enjoyed working with you the last time, and this one also happens to fit their theatre perfectly because you know their situation. As my career has gone on, that group of people has gotten larger, but when I was younger, it was one theatre.
That's one of the first things I learned from John Patrick Shanley. I did an internship with him when I was in college on Beggars in the House of Plenty at the Manhattan Theatre Club, and it was something like his sixth show there. I think he started out with them as an usher. Well, Beggars wasn't quite there yet and during the process he said Manhattan Theatre Club lets him do these shows because they know he'll deliver the goods. (But he said it with a Brooklyn accent). And that's important. That's one of the reasons people don't take risks on playwrights they don't know.
How did you ultimately end up at Sacred Fools with this show?
Richard: I've been a member of Sacred Fools Theater for about three years and done a number of things there, like Louis & Keely, and really enjoyed working with the company. We sent the script to Jeremy, who also directed Louis & Keely, and he felt it was 80% of the way ready and we should go for it. Then the Sacred Fools submission deadline was coming up. They liked it and were considering it within the context of the entire season, ultimately opening with it.
How did adding a director to your creative team impact your collaboration?
Richard: It's been very interesting for me. Jeremy is very visual and has a real commitment to the relationships between the characters and how that will be communicated to an audience. He's really wonderful at it and he'll see things in the script I never saw before. Both Jeremy and Jeff have been very helpful in the collaboration process creating this musical.
So this has been a growth process for you as an artist as well?
Richard: No question about it. The process itself is very gratifying for me, very hands on. I'm having a terrific time putting the components together and I think the final product is going to be great fun to watch.
Jeff: I've written a lot of different types of shows, things that are funny, things that are hopefully beautifully written or clever, and I do think this is a really fun show. It's exhilarating watching the dance numbers and songs, and the actors are great too. (And, we're even serving beer during the performances too).
Savin' Up For Saturday Night runs September 18 - October 24 at Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90004. Tickets are available now at http://www.sacredfools.org/.
Photo credit: JJ Mayes