Alright, folks, the time is almost upon us! The Lewis and Clark musical is done and you can see it this Saturday, October 29th, at 6pm at The Creek and the Cave!
Hang on, let me back up. I wrote a musical about Lewis and Clark with my friend, Patrick J. Reilly. It’s a poorly researched musical about the Lewis and Clark expedition. We started working on this project back in December of 2015.
I remember the evening of December 5th very clearly. I was working on the script for the first scene, which needed to explain what the entire show was about as well as establish the poorly researched and completely made up politics of the early 1800’s. Patrick came over and sang a love song he had written for Meriwether Lewis to sing to Sacagawea. That was all we had, one song and one scene.
Our goal was to have our SFD (Shitty First Draft) finished by the end of January 2016. I always like to get the SFD out of the way as fast as possible because that means 1) I’ll have a finished script and 2) This is the worst that finished script will ever be.
Somehow, thanks to a mixture of tenacity and obsession, we finished our SFD by New Years Day, a month ahead of schedule. For the next three months we edited and fine tuned the script, making it as tight and as funny as possible. Our original plan was to make this a short, 45 minute show. The plan was to write three short acts of about 15 pages (or 15 minutes) each. We failed at this. As the ideas kept growing and developing we ended up writing a 78 page show with a run time of approximately 90 minutes. So…we accidentally wrote a feature length musical.
In February of 2016 I started writing the music for the show. I should mention that after we finished an early draft of the script, with the lyrics to 15 songs already written, Patrick asked me, “Hey by the way, do you know how to write music?” I told him that I had studied music theory for pretty much all of school, from fifth grade through college. Nearly eleven years. That being said, I have never tried to write music for something of this scale.
In middle school and high school I played the clarinet and saxophone in concert and jazz bands. I also played saxophone in a rock band and ska band in college. When I was 13 I took guitar lessons with a guy who looked like he invented the term “Phish Cover Band” and later I picked up the banjo which I played with a two-man band in front of a pizza place in Durham, NH.
Here’s the thing, though. All of my experience with music is from at least 7 years ago. Yes I still play music from time to time, learning a Bowie song on guitar or picking out a banjo tune in my bedroom, but I haven’t tried to sit down and write music in a very, very long time.
Also, I’ve never composed original music with the exception of a couple of music theory class assignments. In college I got very interested in arranging music, which just involves listening to a song and writing it out, usually for a different instrumentation. Maybe you’ve heard of my famous arrangement of The Munsters Theme Song for Tenor and Alto Saxophone, or Breaking The Law for Clarinet Quartet. You haven’t? Ok, well never mind.
Anyways, beginning back in February of 2016 I started composing original music for a 90 minute musical. At first I had no idea how to do it, but then I realized that composing is just like arranging except that instead of listening to a recording of an existing song, you just have to listen to the way it sounds in your head. It’s super easy.
Actually that’s not true at all, it was insanely difficult.
The only recordings I had of any of the songs were a series of recorded voicemails between Patrick and I where we would sing the songs to each other. Here is one of those voicemails.
So yeah, that’s what I was using to compose the music. Oh, did I mention that I don’t play the piano? Yeah, I don’t play the piano but decided to write the entire show for piano because it’s essentially a one-instrument orchestra and I knew I could never afford to get more than one musician for this show.
It took me about a week to finish writing “Hello There, Mr. President” which was one of the easier, shorter songs in the show. At this rate, I figured I could write the 15 songs and all the transition music in about 4 months. Somehow I managed to get faster and more competent at composing, my trained musical ear returning for the first time in 7 years, and I was able to write the music in about 8 weeks.
We had two readings in my apartment, just to hear how the script sounded out loud. We took the notes we were given and used the following month to edit and improve the script. By late June we felt ready to perform the show for an audience.
Fortunately we had a cast, most of which was made up of friends of ours, but unfortunately no one’s schedule lined up and rehearsing was going to be impossible. We put the show on hold until the fall, since everyone said they’d be more available after the summer. We used this time to make various improvements on the script and the musical score.
Finally, in late August, I reached out to the cast and managed to figure out a rehearsal schedule that would work with the eight actors and the wonderful piano player that I found on Craigslist, Chie Monoe, who by the way is the real MVP of this entire experience.
We began rehearsing in late September and slowly but surely the show has been coming together! Patrick and I set the goal of performing this show in front of people before the end of the year, and when it started to look like this wasn’t going to happen we decided to modify that goal. Instead of staging a full production, we will be doing a live reading of the show.
What is a reading? Great question! A reading just means that our actors will be on-book for most of the show. Yes, they will be holding scripts, but they won’t just be sitting around a table reading out loud. This is still a performance with costumes and music and sound effects!
I cannot tell you how excited and how nervous I am for this show. A year ago, this wasn’t even an idea. In fact, a year ago at this time, Patrick and I were working with some friends on a Halloween show where we would sing the songs from Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That Halloween show was so much fun that we all became incredibly depressed when it was over. That’s what made Patrick and I want to write a musical. To recapture that energy we had last October. We had no idea how much work was going to go into this show, but honestly that was probably for the best. We might have chickened out if we understood what we were getting into. In an almost poetic twist of fate, our live reading of Great Frontier will take place almost exactly a year from our Halloween Little Shop/Rocky Horror show.
I hope you can make it to this. I’ve never written a musical before and this has been, without a doubt, the most rewarding creative experience I’ve ever had.
The show is happening on Saturday, October 29th at 6pm at The Creek and the Cave in Long Island City, Queens (just one stop away from Grand Central Station on the 7 train). It is absolutely free to attend, but be forewarned, we set up free tickets just to have a record of who is actually coming and we sold out about a week ago. That being said, if you come to this show, we will find a place for you to sit or stand and watch it. See you Saturday!
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