An update from Andrew Gerle and Eddie Sugarman about their 2005 NAMT Festival show Meet John Doe, based on the Capra film, about the getting the show licensed, recorded and ready to go out into the world.
There are big new developments for Meet John Doe, and we’re so excited to share them with all the NAMT members and our fellow writers. Since the Festival, we’ve seen several very different productions of the show, and now that it’s been licensed by Rodgers & Hammerstein Theatricals, we can’t wait to see what other theaters, large and small, do with it. We also just released the cast album on Broadway Records with Heidi Blickenstaff, Jim Moye and Robert Cuccioli (one of Talkin’ Broadway’s top 10 cast albums of 2013!), which was a huge thrill and an even huger surprise—more on that later.
We’re so grateful to NAMT and all the organizations that have helped us along the way, and are very excited that the album will allow many more people to meet John Doe. NAMT was the beginning of a perfect development process for us. At a retreat at TheatreWorks, we were able to write several new songs, and then incorporate them at a workshop at Carousel Dinner Theater. A student production at the Hartt School of Music allowed us to see the show and fine-tune the book, and an extensive rehearsal process at Goodspeed Musicals gave us the opportunity to add another couple of songs and address big-picture issues like pacing and flow.
The process culminated with our world premiere in DC at the Ford’s Theater. We swapped out another couple songs for that production, and were overwhelmed by how well the show played for large houses (9 Helen Hayes nominations and 2 wins!). What was maybe most exciting was how much it entertained and moved the Ford’s many high school audiences, who had
very little experience with live theater. We knew if we could “get” that tough crowd, we really had something special, and all our obsessive adjustments over the past 18 months had been worth it.
One big change happened after Ford’s, as we were preparing for our Chicago premiere at Porchlight Theatre. A song we loved on its own, a seemingly obligatory eleven o’clock number for Ann, never played the way we wanted it to in performance. We realized that what makes the movie so compelling and ground-breaking is the way it subtly switches protagonists about halfway through, thrusting John into the spotlight and demanding that he pick up the ball. For Chicago, we cut Ann’s song and wrote a big number for John, leaving Ann instead with a heartfelt monologue at the end which worked in ways her song never did. We’re very happy to have both John’s new song and Ann’s monologue represented on our new cast album.
After the Porchlight production, Rodgers & Hammerstein licensed the show (thrilling on its own), and asked us to make an up-to-date demo of the score. Amazingly, what started as a demo in Andrew’s home recording studio turned out so well (our dream cast and top Broadway musicians had something to do with it) that Broadway Records heard it and decided to release it commercially! It’s out in the world now, and we’re especially proud of how the album is not only a document of these wonderful performances, but that it tells the story on its own. We actually added that final monologue for Ann at the last minute (tracks were already off being mastered!), to make sure the story was clear and landed the way it does in the theater.
What’s been especially gratifying for us is seeing the show play in very different sized houses and with different kinds of casts. From our student production at the Hartt School, to the developmental production at Goodspeed, to the lavish Ford’s premiere, to the more modest black-box production in Chicago, the story continues to be meaningful and moving. Most fun for us, our love for the songs of the ’30s and ’40s has come through each time, and the jazzy big band score is as melodic and toe-tapping as the classic songs of that era, whether with Jonathan Tunick’s 10-piece orchestration or the 5-piece version we used in Chicago and on the album. With the political dysfunction that continues to plague this country, we’re very proud of the relevance the show continues to have and how it deals with questions from our own time: politics as entertainment and the role of the media in setting the tone for what kind of country we want to live in.
We hope theaters will listen to the cast album and read the script (much of it the original snappy period banter from the movie)—we think they’ll find a show that is both traditional and contemporary, that entertains and says something important at the end of the evening.