It's almost show time at The Honky Tonk Bar and Fill, a one stop gas station and dance hall in the tiny town of Ready, U.S.A. The band is warming up on stage, as the bartender limps over to the dressing room and pounds on the door. "Showtime Eldridge!"
And so begins Savin' Up For Saturday Night, a world premiere country-western dance hall musical, with book by Jeff Goode (The Reindeer Monologues) and music & lyrics by Richard Levinson (Songwriter, True Blood). The show will open Sacred Fools Theater Company's thirteenth season (September 18 - October 24, 2009) and is directed by Jeremy Aldridge (Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara) and choreographed by Allison Bibicoff (Xanadu on Broadway).
Lovin' ain't easy in this one-honky-tonk town, and when the bandleader and the bartender fall for the same dance hall girl, you can bet all heckfire's bustin' loose. You're in for an evening of non-stop toe-tappers, cat fights, and love quadrangles.
Featured as the cast's troubled trio are Bryan Krasner as Doc, Brendan Hunt as Eldridge and Natascha Corrigan as Lucinda, with Courtney DeCosky (Patsy), Dave Fraser (Roddy) and Rachel Howe (Sissy). Dancers are Ceasar F. Barajas, Mike Kluck, Gregg Moon, Don Baker, Rhonda Diamond, Gina Tucci and Natasha Norman.
I caught up with busy writers Jeff Goode and Richard Levinson and asked them how it all began.
This musical's genesis is unique in that the songs were written before the book instead of simultaneously. Did you always have in mind that the songs would eventually turn into a musical?
Richard: Yes, but not as I was writing them because they were all written for different reasons, and I'd written so many songs over a period of years. Eventually I saw that I actually had a catalogue of country songs that I could group together. I'd met Jeff several years ago at No Shame Theatre and we had worked on some short projects together. I gave him some of the songs to look at and told him I had this idea. We were both busy, but a year and a half later he called and asked what I was doing with those country songs. He had an idea for them and he came back very quickly with an outline of a script. We've had some rewrites and polish work since then but our story is 75% the story he created right away.
Jeff, what did you hear in the songs that gave you the story idea for the musical?
Jeff: I listened to the CD Richard sent me and they're great songs. I liked them all. They were solid, and the idea of writing a show where the score was already tight was really appealing to me. As I listened to them, an atmosphere came to me. Many of them are dance songs so I started thinking about a dance hall and a honky tonk (a place where music is being played and people are dancing). I could also see the three main characters begin to emerge.
You could see the characters in the music?
Jeff: Yes, I had a vibe from the songs to begin with but then the characters jumped out fairly quickly. One of the first songs in the show is called "Dr. Bartender" and that really defined a character for me that was easy to expand upon. Several other songs didn't sound like they were really story-related but sounded like something Eldridge, the band leader, would sing. And then, in some of the relationship songs about a dysfunctional relationship, I saw this girl who was the best dancer in the place that everybody wants. Once I saw those three characters, I knew that there was a story that could be told using these songs as an anchor.
Did anything about that story surprise you?
Richard: No, but what really surprised me was that I recognized all of the people. Jeff made their individual stories very clear. I know Eldridge, the band leader. I've worked with that guy many times before, and Doc is the kind of person that I think will be familiar to a lot of people.
Jeff, your plays often have an edge or deal with subject matter in a satirical way, yet this musical is a bit more mainstream. Will people who know you be surprised by it?
Jeff: I think one of the things that I'm good at is character, and the only thing that really makes this show different is that I've selected a set of characters that are in a part of the country that I haven't written about that much before, but my way of working with characters is similar... the way the humor comes from the characters and situations rather than just the dialogue.