(I have the great pleasure to be in rehearsal for a show of songs by Jill Leger. I’ve asked Jill to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of her process with the show. — Michael)
Googling My Ex (And Other Obsessions) will be appearing at Playbill Cafe, June 20 and June 21. Words and music by Jill Leger. Music direction and music arrangements by Joshua Rich. Creative consultant: Scott Sedar. Featuring: Emily Leatha Everson, Michael Miyazaki, Barbara Papendorp, Justin Ritchie and Ron Squeri.
I guess you could say work on this show started two years ago this month. A Kurt Vonnegut short story called “Who Am I This Time?” had inspired me to write a song about Turner Classic Movies, and one woman’s delight when her boyfriend starts taking romantic tips from the likes of Cary Grant and William Holden. The song was fun, but what in the world could I do with it?
I’d spent the previous year or so working on a score and demo CD for “Call Me Fatty!” a musical (my first) about the tragic and very human story of silent-film comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Through that project, I’d tapped into one tiny channel of DC’s crackling arts community, and I began to meet so many truly amazing people–arrangers, vocalists, musicians. My first Roscoe was a college senior from GW, who hardly looked the part but whose heart and humanity were exactly what I was looking for. And someone else had stood out: a singer named Barbara Papendorp, whose act I had caught a few months earlier, and who I just sensed might appreciate a comedy song about romance and old movies. On a lark, I sent her an email, explaining the song and asking if she’d be willing to help me make a demo recording of it. Within two hours she called back, and a friendship was born.
Barbara not only made a recording of “Thank You, Mr. Turner (For Saving My Romance),” she made the song part of her repertoire. I will never forget hearing her sing it at an Atlas showcase the summer of 2006. It was the first time I’d heard anyone perform my music live, and thank goodness my mom was with me to confirm it was really happening. It was that exciting.
That fall, Barbara took me to my first DC Cabaret Network meeting, introducing me to the community that really helped ignite my creative process. So many super, talented people. So much inspiration.
So I kept writing. I think everyone who is drawn to cabaret knows the thrill when life experience and melody and lyrics intersect to create something that transcends the daily grind and captures something honest about the human condition. That thrill for me is like a drug, whether I’m creating the music myself or listening to the work of someone else.
As the songs accumulated, I began entertaining the idea of putting them together into some kind of showcase. But I didn’t know where to begin. The songs–ballads, comedy songs, ensemble pieces–seemed too disparate to tame into any kind of dramatic narrative. But would a straight showcase work? Anxious to have someone on-board who knew what they were doing, I approached a local writer, director and performer named Scott Sedar, who after hearing my ideas agreed to be my “creative consultant.” It was Scott who suggested what now seems like the obvious plan of attack, but which at the time surprised me: making myself more central to the show’s theme, since I, after all, was the common denominator. Naturally, such a suggestion cued the stomach butterflies, and I suddenly I felt this show thing was going to be way more than I bargained for.
But of course theater only works when it’s girded by what is real and human. And in this case, I was the most logical (and convenient) human. As the show stands today, one image, on-stage throughout act one, says it all : a plastic toy record player not unlike the one I grew up listening to in my bedroom. (Thanks, Scott, for the idea.) It’s no exaggeration to say that all that time spent listening to albums like “Free to Be You and Me” and “Annie” not only helped define my childhood, it helped shape who I am today.
So what’s the show about? Well, it’s about finding love and losing love, it’s about self-expression and the creative process. And OF COURSE it’s about all those exes whose melodies linger long after the songs are over. It’s whimsical in places but also heartfelt and honest, and I hope it says just a little something new about the human condition. I guarantee it will be good for a few laughs.
And I have absolutely the best ensemble of performers, who are making this process so much fun. I’m also blessed to be working with Joshua Rich, who created the arrangements for all the tunes and who is the show’s music director. Joshua makes everything look so easy and buoys this whole effort with his talent and easy confidence.
Last night, I took a poster to Playbill, which I’d had made at Ritz Camera. It was about twice as big as I thought it would be, and believe me, my instinct was to pay another $20 to have a smaller one made. But then, I thought, oh, come on. Bigger. Better. Onward and up!