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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

... And Then I Wrote a Song About It
Fictional Stage Musical Autobiography

Also see Bob's review of Oliver!

That modesty can be a major virtue is amply and happily demonstrated in ... And Then I wrote a Song About It, a one man, one act, ninety minute musical in the form of an autobiography detailing a three year period in the life of a thirtyish gay man during which he finds his niche in the world.

The events depicted begin and end with Randall Klausner's December 31, 1982, year-end holiday season appearance with Tom Snyder as one of ten behind the scenes NBC employees selected annually to perform on his daytime talk show. While this is hardly a life altering accomplishment, it provides what I would describe as the "fifteen minutes of fame" that caps a period in his life during which he has found gainful employment in a job in which he performs his assignment well and is appreciated, and found a simpatico partner after a short lifetime of failure to connect romantically.

The most interesting and deeply explored relationship is of that between Randall and his father. Randall's parents had fled to the United States from Germany and the Nazis. His father achieved substantial economic success as an importer of sausages, and he wants his son to succeed him in the family business. Randall's father cannot cope with a son whose evident sexuality he can no longer deny, has no affinity for business, and cannot support himself while randomly and unsuccessfully seeking fame and success as a songwriter and singer-dancer. There is both poignancy and humor in their multi-dimensional relationship. The father cannot stop himself from hurtfully and ineptly (it would be cruelty if the father had any notion of what he was doing) expressing his disrespect for who his son is. Yet, his love for Randall is as deep as his disrespect. After his hurtful words have driven Randall from his parents' home, his father gets on the telephone to tell him, "How dare you stomp out! This is your home and you always have a place here." On the other hand, Randall not only craves his father's approval and admiration, but, at times, he also internalizes his father's jaundiced view of him. While their relationship is in a hopeful phase at the end of the story, there seems little doubt that there will continue to be tough sledding in their relationship.

Before I make things sound too heavy, it should be made clear that this is a joyful, funny, lighthearted musical. While the territory covered here—psychiatrists ("This is the kind of therapist I need ... one with bar recommendations"); the bar scene ("the only ones who ever tried to buy me drinks are either over 80 or out of their minds"); dance classes ("I was bland at first ... [but now] getting sleazier by the minute") and on a heavier note, a childhood friend fatally stricken with AIDS, and more—is well worn ground, it is explored here deftly and entertainingly.

While the largely bouncy music by Daniel S. Acquisto is derivative—at the highest level of derivation, the opening song "Happening Happy New Year" brought Sondheim's "Our Time" to mind—it keeps the spirits up and the toes tapping. It is well matched by the foursquare lyrics of Sammy Buck ("If I'm happy or I'm sad/ If god forbid, I trip and fall/ and end up in a sling/ Oh, it makes me sing").

The book by Eric H. Weinberger is clever and amusing as well as rich in providing character detail. Perhaps a bit of trimming is in order (i.e., there are just a mite too many bar pick-ups followed by too many mornings awaking to find no one is there). The excellent set by Robert Monaco features a false proscenium at the front with a ramp running over half the length of the theatre with seating facing the ramp on each side and a bank of seats beyond the ramp facing the proscenium. When the old fashioned flashing electric bulbs are lit along the entire proscenium, the 99-seat Luna Stage magically seems to become a large presentation house with a full sized stage.

And finally, just who is that up there on stage in the person of Randall Klausner expertly and spiritedly bringing to life a full gallery of characters? It is the very talented Nick Cearley. ... And Then I Wrote a Song About It is a terrific showcase for his singing, dancing, dramatic and comedic talents, and he makes the most of it. Cearley makes us care about Randall and those surrounding him. High praise, indeed, and well earned at that.

This world premiere musical was developed at Luna Stage last season while the theatre was in the process of preparing its new spaces.

... And Then I Wrote a Song About It continues performances (Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday and Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 2 pm) through December 19, 2010, at Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange. Box Office: 973-395-5551; online: www.lunastage.org.

... And Then I Wrote a Song About It Book by Eric H. Weinberger / Music by Daniel S. Acquisto / Lyrics by Sammy Buck; directed by Igor Goldin


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- Bob Rendell



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