Turning my Alexander picturebook into an hour-long musical was one of the great pleasures of my life. The whole process made me feel, as I kept telling everyone in dazzled disbelief, as if I were starring in a Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movie called Let's Put on a Show. The fact that this show had been commissioned by my hometown theater, the Kennedy Center, was already almost too good to be true. So was the ease of the collaboration process with my friend and composer Shelly Markham, my hero and director Nick Olcott, a terrifically talented cast of young actors, and all the other creative and competent people who helped make this musical happen.
Will I ever manage to discuss this glorious page-to-stage experience without gushing? I'm afraid not.
Working my way line by line through my picturebook, I took scenes described in a single sentence and fleshed them out with dialogue and action, pausing at appropriate moments for one or more people to burst into a song that elaborated upon what was going on. Shelly Markham, working out of Los Angeles, started setting my lyrics to music, first playing and singing them to me on the telephone, then sending me tapes, and finally coming to D.C., where we virtually locked ourselves in a rehearsal room at the Kennedy Center until we had finished matching up words and music. Then came auditions, meetings with the set designer and costume designer (who gave the production the colors and look of illustrator Ray Cruz's vibrant drawings), and rehearsals (I was there every day; I could not stay away), where I watched seven young men and women, playing multiple roles, become flesh-and-blood versions of my son Alexander, his brothers and friends, his teacher and dentist, the shoeman at the shoe store, and my husband and me. This was a truly weird, and truly thrilling thing to see.
And then came the show itself, with live audiences yelling to Alexander that he had gum in his hair; or sitting in worried silence when Alexander asked why his best friend was being so mean to him; or helping Alexander shout out, with a mighty roar, that this was "A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." There was even, at the end of the show, some dancing in the aisles. You'd have to be a lot more blasé than I'll ever be not to practically faint from the joy of it all.
As the show was performed, in Washington and then all over the country, we got many requests—not only for the Alexander book, but also for the music from our musical. So Shelly and I put together a CD, which includes—along with singers singing the songs from the show—three extra songs that we wrote together, plus a guide to how the Alexander songs fit into the Alexander story. (You can order the CD from Ducy Lee Recordings for $15 plus shipping and handling at www.ducylee.com).
I am very proud of our show and our songs, and so is my son Alexander who, I am pleased to report, seems to be having fewer and fewer terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.
Photo: Didi Cutler.