As a writer, sometimes people ask me where does it come from? And the truth is that you could be anywhere at anytime, and a thought will just come to you and then you will expand on it. But occasionally, strange things happen and then you are compelled to complete a project. It was like that with my soon to be produced Broadway Musical. Let me start at the beginning.
I was working on Merlin in 1982, and had a lot of fun meeting Chita Rivera, Nathan Lane and Doug Henning. However, Chita was more than nice to me and I spent time chatting with her, her sister, Lola, and Chita's lovely Mom. They made me feel like family. As a result of that encounter in Merlin, Chita and Lola were out shopping one afternoon and I met them in a furniture store, and for three hours we looked at sofas and fabrics and had a real laugh fest. I realized these gals liked shopping!
I always thought that if I could do a musical, I would want to do it with Chita. But, I had no projects then. It was about six months after that when I was out shopping for some new clothing in New Jersey that God spoke to me. Yeah, God! You know, like in that baseball film when the actor hears "build it and they will come." It was that type of experience. So, I was looking at socks and I heard the voice. Just three words. I froze, for I knew it was to be my mission. I got the message immediately, and those words spoken to me are the title of my Broadway Musical.
I raced home and wrote the book in one evening. I mean, the storyline was easy to do. It's a musical about shopping, with 23 vignettes that takes place in a store in various departments. It was 4:30 in the morning when I called an old friend of mine in Scranton, Pa., Stitchu Kopalski. Stitch was an excellent musician who played in a Polka Band in the summertime at Rocky Glen Amusement Park.
But, before I tell you more about Stitch, I have to tell you that I had recently seen Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's The Fantasticks and I was amazed at this little musical because it was performed with only two musicians, a piano player and a harp. Well, I thought, I could do that, but even one better.
Stitch played accordian and it was the exact sound that I was looking for. But, I didn't want a harp. I needed something brassier, sort of like in the Mame venue. I thought of different horns and instruments and then I heard the voice again, repeating my musicals title, and then it hit me. Cymbols! Yes, cymbols. And Stitch was the only musician I knew who could play accordian and cymbols at the same time. It was a very unique talent.
I had only one real problem at the time and it was a real dillemma for me. Stitch could only play a song for two minutes and twenty-three seconds and then he would freeze. That was it, not a note more. It was some kind of block that he had. I found out later that when Stitch played at the amusement park, the bandstand was located under the first dip of the roller- coaster and that every two minutes and twenty-four seconds the cars of the coaster would come roaring down the track and drown out the band. So, after years of playing there, it was ingrained in the band to do polkas in two minutes and twenty-three seconds flat.
Stitch came down to New York and we made a demo tape of some of the music. He agreed to be the orchestra, so all I needed was lyricist. The voice again! Now, why don't I think of these things on my own, I thought. Of course, there is only one lyricist, and I wanted the best. So, I put the script and the tape in a big envelope and mailed it to Jerry Herman in Key West.
After about a week, I began to go out in the hall waiting for the mailman, but nothing came. I thought that maybe Jerry was busy writing my songs and I should have more patience. I figured, well maybe he doesn't work as fast as I do. I was really getting antsy. Stitch was calling every day wanting an update. He told me he bought new cymbols down at Kryger's Music store in Wilkes-Barre. They fit his knees perfectly, he said.
A few days later, I went out in the hall of the apartment building at 42 Horatio Street where I lived and saw the superintendant carrying a mop, and there was this awful medicinal odor permeating the air. I said to Tony, "what the hell is that smell?" "Damn mailman!" is all he said. I just shrugged my shoulders and got out the key to my mailbox. As I inserted the key, I noticed the oddest thing. My mailbox was dripping! There was a clear liquid oozing through one of the cracks in the door. I opened the box and there was my script, and it was all wet, and it smelled of Lysol or some other disinfectant.
In pencil was RETURN TO SENDER - ADDRESSEE UNKNOWN and very boldly, I might add, MOVED! Now, I thought, how could the post office be so dumb as not to be able to find Jerry Herman? And, on top of that, how could the U.S. Government be so careless with my script? I took the sopping script inside and towelled it off, but that didn't help much. I carried my child down to the laundry room and put it inside the dryer, selected the delicate cycle and dried it in about a half hour. I took it back to the apartment and got out my best cologne and sprinkled the envelope to get rid of the smell.
And then the worst possible thing happened. Stitch called to tell me that he was leaving for Krakow, and leaving for good. He said that Disneyworld, with it's themeparks were too much comptetition and the amusement parks in the country were in serious trouble. So, Rocky Glen was no more, and he was going back to the homeland where he could get plenty of work.
So, that was the end of the project, until now. You see, now I have Talkin' Broadway and I am going to be published soon, and my dream has always been to produce that musical on Broadway. Jerry Herman wrote a great book called Showtune, so now I know where he lives, and I am going to personally deliver the script. I just know he'll do it. I'm going to ask Chita to do the role of Miss Shoptilyadrop. I've called my travel agent and I am booked on a flight to Krakow next week where I will begin the search for Stitch.
It's taken fifteen years, but when you have been divinely inspired, you have to do what you have to do.
I got out the script, and it still vaguely smelled of a combination of Lysol and Old Spice, but on reading it, it still had that same crisp original dialogue. I wanted to make it more 90's if you know what I mean, so I added a yodelling number for Chita. Y'know, I never thought til now, I don't know if Chita can yodel. I knew Chita could do absolutely anything so I wasn't worried. Still, I will have to get a letter out to her right away. I have whistling in it too, and that's the fun part, but I don't want to give it away. When I speak to Jerry Herman, I will tell him exactly what I need. As you all know, every musical has to have a big eleventh hour number, and I had this brilliant idea. Jerry has to write twenty-three and one-half songs because the last song, the big eleventh hour number, is only half a song! Get this, the audience gets to complete it. This idea is not from the voice, it is pure me.
Here's my idea. We have Chita center stage doing all kinds of cartwheels while twirling a lighted baton, all that razzle dazzle stuff, and after sixteen bars, Stitch marches into the orchestra playing the accordian while smackin' his knees and has the audience complete the song in the form of a singalong.
Of course, every writer or composer wants the audience to hum his tunes when they are leaving the theatre. My dream is to have them leave whistling!
So, I have a big year ahead of me. I have to get in touch with Chita and Jerry. And, of course, I have to find Stitch. I couldn't do it without him. He's really the heart and soul of the show.
It was the voice fifteen years ago that inspired me to write my musical, and I suppose I should share it with you. I designed my wish poster for the show. I know it's only a dream, but we all need dreams otherwise life would be dreary. So, without further adieu, I give you a preview of my Broadway Show. Yikes, I'm so excited!