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Episode 20

SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE

Sunday Afternoon
June 7, 1998

Welcome back!

"I got your message to come into the office. What's the problem?"

No problem. Quite the contrary. I wanted to go over some things before we meet up at the Tonys tonight. I've got some great news for you.

"I've got some news for you too."

Me first. I've tentatively booked our new theatre for September. We're co-producing a new play with Drema Paige called The Rehearsal. With any luck at all, it will run until we bring in Neverland.

"That's nice."

There are a lot of details we need to address. But, we can do all of that next week.

"That may be a problem because - "

But, the big news is your script.

"Oh, yes. I'd almost forgotten about that."

I didn't know what to expect, what with your just leaving it on my desk like that and taking off to Florida. I waited a day or two before I read it.

"So, what do you think?"

It's not a play.

"Well, I tried. When I left it on your desk, that was what I was afraid of hearing. Now, it doesn't make any difference."

It's not a play. It's an extraordinary first draft of a book for a musical!

"What?"

I wasn't sure, so I showed it to a couple of people. Everyone agrees we should skip doing the material as a play and go straight to the musical. Congratulations my friend, you did it!

"I don't understand. Why is it a good book for a musical if it isn't any good as a play?"

There are a lot of differences between a play a book for a musical. The biggest one is what you actually show to an audience. A play usually starts as late - as close to the major crisis - as possible. Whatever the audience needs to know about what happened before the play starts is somehow slipped in as exposition. A musical, on the other hand, tends to show all of the important events leading up to the major crisis. If the story you're telling takes place over the course of a year, a play may only show the last week or day or even the last few hours of action. A musical can and will show significant events that happen from the first day to the last. That's why a number of misguided critics think the musical is a simple-minded form of the play, because it takes the time to actually show the audience a lot more. They don't realize that the musical format - all the songs and dancing - requires showing each milestone in the story.

"That's what I did, show everything? That's why it's a good musical book?"

You told the story of Billy Finn from beginning to end. Now the composer and lyricist can take your script and determine what parts of it should be told in music. You've given them everything they need to start.

"I did good?"

You did good. Here, I have a present for you.

"A book? Of course, what else?"

W. S. Gilbert: A Classic Victorian and His Theatre. Gilbert was one of the giants of 19th-century Victorian theatre. He was already the leading young dramatist of his day when he began his celebrated collaboration with Arthur Sullivan, a partnership that produced the great Savoy Operas - still the most popular light operas in the world - and established him at the pinnacle of his craft.

I want you to read it because, in a lot of ways, you remind me of a young Gilbert. I guess I was too close to see it clearly, but Drema pointed out to me what a remarkable young man you are. You really have done exceptional things in the last six months. I want you to know that I'm proud to have you as my business partner and . . . I don't know quite how to put this . . . I'm glad that you are my friend.

"Thank you. I wish you'd said that before."

I should have said it long ago.

"It doesn't matter now. Are you ready to hear my news?"

Yes . . . what's wrong?

"It was an interesting week in Florida with my family. My father and uncles are retiring. They were impressed with what I managed to do with the Clinton building, turning it into a theatre so quickly. They want to turn the family businesses over to me. I said yes."

I don't understand.

"What I'm saying is that you won't have to put up with me anymore. The partnership is over. If you want it, I'll lease the theatre to you on good terms. But, from now on, that's the extent of my involvement in the theatre, as a landlord. It's been an interesting six months. I've learned a lot. It's time to move onto something real."

You don't mean that.

"Yes, I do. This last week was like a breath of fresh air. I've been so involved with you and the construction and all those hothouse theatre types for so long I'd forgotten there's a real world out there. You know, drive an hour South and nobody knows or cares who Betty Buckley is. Drive another hour and Lion King is only a movie for the kids. Drive another hour and Ragtime is a book club selection that nobody finished reading. Mention that you work in Broadway theatre and people don't look you in the eye and when they talk to you they speak in a condescending and patronizing manner."

Cultural illiterates.

"That's exactly the tone of voice they use. I don't think I want to work in a business that's held in amused contempt by most of the country. I want to be respected for who I am and what I do, not feel embarrassed by it. I refuse to have my life and work dismissed as meaningless and morally suspect."

Your family really got to you, didn't they?

"They're right. You can't deny it."

Would it do any good if I tried?

"No."

So this is it, then?

"Yes."

I'm sorry it had to end this way. I'm going to miss you.

"I'm going to miss you too. But, I'm glad I'm getting out in time. I'll send somebody around this week to get all my stuff out of here."

Take this now.

"What is it?"

Your Tony ticket.

"No thanks. You've got a couple of hours yet to find somebody to take. That's something else I'm not going to miss. I always thought those damn medals meant something. "

They do.

"Yeah, money. You taught me that. I'm not going to miss the politicking and hype and false emotions. It's sick."

Take it anyway. Here, I'm putting it in the book. You may change your mind.

"Listen, thanks for the book and . . . everything. But, I'm not going to change my mind."

Well. What else is there to say but goodbye?

"Nothing. Goodbye."

First you choose things, then you lose things.

"What's that?"

A lyric. I may not have quoted it correctly. Goodbye.

Sir William Schwenck Gilbert was, says Jane Stedman in W. S. Gilbert: A Classic Victorian and His Theatre, "an iconoclast who, paradoxically, was not a revolutionary." He was still a Victorian gentleman, after all. Stedman makes clear however that his poking of fun at the pomposity and hypocrisy of Victorian Britain laid the groundwork for the social criticism of serious dramatists like George Bernard Shaw. Copiously researched, with access to the D'Oyly Carte family papers (Richard D'Oyly Carte was the impresario who ran the Savoy Theater, working closely with Gilbert and Sullivan) Stedman provides a thorough portrait, and in addition gives expert analysis of his work, both serious and comic.

W. S. Gilbert: A Classic Victorian and His Theatre
by Jane W. Stedman, Jan Stedman
List: $35.00
Published by Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0198161743


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