Guest Blog: Annual Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals Blog #1 - Have You Heard the Story of the Walking Man?
Hello Musical Theatre lovers, aficionados and those who accidentally clicked the BroadwayWorld ad on a different website!
I'm Eric Ulloa, and I am the book writer of the new musical "Passing Through," which is one of three musicals being featured in the 13th Annual Festival of New Musicals at Goodspeed this January
First off, huge thanks to BroadwayWorld for allowing us to bring you this backstage look at the very beginnings of a new original American musical. This process is so fascinating and intricate and we'll be able to share with you our passion for this art form.
Second, let's just get this out of the way...
We get to build a new musical at The Goodspeed where new musicals like Annie and Man of La Mancha and Shenandoah and countless others were born! If you think I haven't spun my dog around my 650 square foot apartment singing "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" (Audra version naturally) then you thought wrong.
Goodspeed is actually where composer/lyricist Brett Ryback and I first began this journey, so this show was truly created on hallowed ground. A few years back, we came to the Johnny Mercer Writer's Colony (Goodspeed Musicals annual writer's retreat) with an idea for a show and an "I want" song. After a productive colony, we were graciously asked back the following year and got to work on Act Two. We spent the time after reexamining our story and striving to find new and exciting ways to create this "traveling" musical (Kudos to Rhinebeck Writer's Retreat for that week of quiet solitude and creation.)
And here we are about to see how this show actually works when actors take over the material and make it their own, steered by our brilliant director and music director, Igor Goldin and Matthew Meckes.
So, what the hell is "Passing Through" and what's the story about?
The idea for this musical came from where all great ideas for musicals come from...listening to NPR in a rental car driving back to the city from Connecticut. Actually though, that's really what happened. I was headed back from a week doing interviews in Newtown (the eventual outcome being my play, "26 Pebbles") and hadn't yet shed the emotion of a very powerful and emotional stay. A podcast about a college graduate who walked across the country in search of answers enraptured me for the duration of its 40 minute run time and at one moment had me pulled over on the side of the road crying into my steering wheel. The humanity of Andrew Forsthoefel's journey across America and the people he met along the way not only sang to me, it belted all the way to the cheap seats in the back. This had to be a musical.
So along comes an introduction to the brilliant, talented, kind, hardworking (it's my article, I'll use all the adjectives I want) composer/lyricist Brett Ryback, and he too fell in love with this story about not only our country at its best, but the human condition and finding one's self at a crossroad. With Andrew onboard (by the way, he wrote a book about this that's real, real good and you should buy it) we've been allowed an even deeper look into his psyche during this journey and discovered details that allow us to take the bones we've created and add flesh and meat to them.
Being that this is a musical, I'm gonna shut up for a second and welcome Brett Ryback to talk about the musical world of "Passing Through." Take it away Brett!
Hi Everyone, Brett here.
Since "Passing Through" is about a physical journey across America, I wanted to take the audience on a musical journey reflecting the different textures and styles associated with each region. I leaned heavily on folk music, both classic and modern, which I personally love listening to, but there's also bluegrass, country, gospel, Native American-inspired melodies, Mexican folk music, and even a little barbershop, a uniquely American creation.
My inspiration playlist contains a lot of artists who play in that sandbox. I'm a big fan of The Decemberists, particularly their album "The King is Dead." Lyric-wise I love how they mix the poetic with the mundane, which is something I tried to capture (I also read a collection of Robert Frost poems to get in that mindset.) I was inspired by the simple melodies and furious banjo strumming of Mumford & Sons, and the folksy story-songs and tight harmonies of The Roches (which if you don't know them, you have to get their album "Moonstruck" immediately.) The playlist also has a handful of John Denver songs, a couple Dolly Parton hits, The Avett Brothers, The Tallest Man on Earth, Benjamin Scheuer (another of Goodspeed's Mercer Colony alumni), Sufjan Stevens, almost the entire soundtrack to "O, Brother Where Art Thou?" and Louis Armstrong's haunting version of "St. James Infirmary."
Thank you Brett, and I'm just gonna say this because I didn't write a lick of this music or these lyrics, but this score is (insert mind blown emoji here). Seriously.
Well friends, that's it for now. We just wanted to introduce our show to you all before we begin this journey and we'll be back before you know it with a new article about the phase of the process we're in.
We now turn our show over to our creative team and actors (with hours and hours of rewrites and new ideas) and see what they do with it, because, in the eternal words of Madame Rose, "Mama's gotta let go..."