Q&A; Jeff Bowen

The first offering of the 2008-2009 Broadway season, NYMF and Vineyard Theatre hit [title of show] – the musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical – has taken its bag of tricks to the Great White Way, having opened on July 17.

The show features a talented cast of four – Jeff Bowen, Hunter Bell, Heidi Blickenstaff, and Susan Blackwell – along with their on-stage musical director Larry Pressgrove.
Jeff Bowen, composer and lyricist of the play’s tuneful score recently answered some of musicOMH’s most pressing questions regarding the show.

What makes [title of show] special? What makes it stand out amongst the crowd of modern musicals?

For me, it’s the specificity and the heart. Not that other shows don’t have that too, but [title of show] trusts there’s no need for a helicopter or a monstrous barricade to give you goosebumps, but it is ideas, humanity and humor that are the true special effects of a musical theatre.

With [title of show] opening on Broadway just recently, can you talk a little bit about how the piece has changed between its various incarnations?

Because the show loosely documents its own journey, the script has changed to include some of the more recent events that the production has experienced.

The germination of the idea to bring [title of show] to Broadway rests in part with the The [title of show] Show podcast on YouTube. How did that idea come about, and why was that series important to the show’s stint on Broadway?

Hunter, Susan and I watched the DVD of The Secret in the summer of ’07 because Oprah told us to and we decided to put out into the world the idea that [title of show] was going to Broadway to see if the world would say it back. It did, and so we began to document our journey of trying to get the show to Broadway via an internet web series. The series gained a new demographic and it was one of the catalysts to getting the show to the Great White Way.

How would you defend the show against critiques that it’s target audience is too “insider” and that there are too many inside jokes? Is it important to love theatre to enjoy the show?

I usually find it sad when people on the inside of the theatre say the show is too insidery to appeal to the outside world because it exposes a part of them that believes their lives as artists are uninteresting to anyone but themselves. We say that you need to know as much about theatre to enjoy [title of show] as you need to know about boxing to enjoy Rocky. Good storytelling, in my opinion, is about specificity; details are what truly transport the reader/listener/watcher to another world. A vague wash of average ideas is not the kind of storytelling we’re trying to share with [title of show].

I don’t think it’s important to love theatre to enjoy [title of show], but I do think you’ll enjoy it if you know how to love.

Many Broadway celebrity voices are featured within the show. How did those little moments come about?

When Hunter and I were developing the first draft for submission to NYMF, we decided that, on paper, celebrity voice-overs would perhaps legitimize us to the judges. Subsequently, the voice-overs ended up being an excellent device to use for the blackouts and scene shifts, so we kept them.

What advice would you give to the Jeffs and Hunters out there who want to get their makeshift shows to Broadway one day?

Firstly it would be to never think of your show as “makeshift.” You have to believe that your show is next great piece of musical theatre history.

Are there any shows in particular – current or closed – that you can think of that had a significant impact on [title of show]?

Honestly, I think every musical I’ve ever seen or listened to has influenced the show on some level. We never set out to be like any other show, but others have compared the “art-verses-commerce” theme to Sunday in the Park with George, the “putting-yourselves-on-the-line-for-a-dream” to A Chorus Line; the “puttin’-on-a show-in-a-barn-with-your-pals” to Babes in Arms; and the “balancing-success-with-friendship” to Merrily We Roll Along.

There’s a song in the show that you and Hunter sing that says that you’d rather have the show be “nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” Are you worried that that song may come to fruition? Would you really be satisfied being nine people’s favorite show?

It’s more important to rock someone’s world than to serve up a mediocre fare of what you think people want. We would absolutely be satisfied. If we didn’t believe every word of that song each night, we would’ve never gotten as far as we have.

You play yourself in the show. Is that a difficult task?

The first third of the [title of show] is the most challenging part of show to play for me because I have to harken back to a time when I was way more on the outside of the theatre world and much more naive. The show takes place over a period of roughly four years and there’s so much we have learned, acquired and let go of in that time. The last second of the play is basically happening in real time, so whatever I’m feeling in that moment is the feeling you’ll see if you’re in the house that night.

Even though we are playing characters with the same names as the writers and the performers of the current cast, they are indeed characters.? Hunter and I never set out to write a documentary. The format is similar to the characters of “Jerry Seinfeld” on the show Seinfeld and “Larry” played by Larry David on the show Curb Your Enthusiasm.

If you could play any role of your choosing in any show, what would it be and why?

That’s a nearly impossible question. There are so many great roles in so many great plays. I feel like every time I’m reading a play there are moments when I’ll mutter a line to myself the way I would say it (male or female) – so for that matter, I think I’ve played all the roles that I’ve ever read.

What does being on Broadway mean for a little show that can like [title of show]?

I think [title of show] is a reminder that there’s room for original works on Broadway and that “little” is a subjective word.

What’s next after [title of show]? Are you working on anything new?

I have a feeling that we’ll be doing some more [title of show] when we’re finished with [title of show]. But beyond and along side of that, we have a few things on the burner.

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