GLEN RIDGE, NJ — “It’s a Revolution,” a Gas Lamp Players Teen revue of musical scenes from Broadway shows that redefined musical theater, had a two-show run this past weekend at Ridgewood Elementary School.
The show was written and directed by Kristy Graves, a borough resident and a member of the Gas Lamp Players executive board.
In an interview earlier this week, Graves said she started getting the idea for the show about two months ago and began writing it during Gas Lamp Players production of “Annie Jr” earlier this month. She directed that show.
She said her musical revue involves a dialogue between a teacher of playwriting and a student. The teacher is played by Eva Owgang, of Montclair; the student is performed by Nicky Pelayo, a Glen Ridge High School student.
The student has been given the assignment of writing a revolutionary musical. He is distraught at the prospect because, he explains, the revolutionary musical “Hamilton” has already been written. He complains that ever since that show there are no more revolutions in the offering.
“What’s the use?” he says. “This assignment should have been given before ‘Hamilton.’”
Graves said the student does not respect musicals before “Hamilton.” He thinks they are just romantic fluff.
But the teacher tells him that is not true and that while not common, American musical revolutions have happened before and when they did, they affected audiences and culture. The student goes to his computer to research various “revolutionary” musicals.
What he sees on the computer screen, Graves provides as a choreographed backdrop of eight revolutionary musical scenes, of her own choosing. They are, of course, “Hamilton;” “Les Miserables;” “Rent;” “Cabaret;” “West Side Story;” “Showboat;” “Fiddler on the Roof;” and “Pins and Needles.”
Graves said what makes a musical revolutionary may be its setting, as in “Les Miserables,” which takes place during the French Revolution of 1832. Also “Hamilton” because it occurs during the Revolutionary War. Or it can be that it is politically or socially revolutionary. She said “Showboat” is in this category because it portrayed interracial marriage. Or is can be artistically revolutionary.
She places “Rent” in this category because it deals with AIDS, poverty and homosexuality. Also, “Hamilton” is artistically revolutionary because it crosses racial barriers in portraying people.
Graves said the score of “Hamilton” was unique and “a huge chunk of the music is rap.” It is also revolutionary because it makes the Founding Fathers very relatable. They are portrayed by African-American actors, rapping and dancing. She said “Cabaret” was artistically revolutionary because of its portrayal of Nazism, homosexuality, and greed.
To this, the student says that when “Cabaret” came out in the ‘70s, everyone knew right from wrong. But his teacher tells him the tragedy is not learning from right and wrong.
“In retrospect,” Graves said, “people say how obvious it was who was right and wrong in WWII. But it’s more relatable in “Cabaret.”
This is what made that particular musical revolutionary, she said.
Graves picked “Fiddler on the Roof,” she said, because it happened around the time of the Russian Revolution and three young women are revolting against the tradition of having their parents use a matchmaker to find them husbands.
She said “Pins and Needles,” a musical from the ‘30s, was written by a women’s activist group. One score, “Sing me a Song of Social Significance,” spoke about the need for a new perspective. It is by Harold Rome and has the lyrics, “History’s making, nations are quaking, Why sing of stars above? For while we are waiting, father time’s creating, new things to be singing of.” The song was performed by members of the International Ladies Garment Union.
The entire show was a musical revue performed by amateurs and ran for 1,108 performances, the longest-running Broadway show until it was eclipsed by “Oklahoma.”
The teacher finally gets through to the student about the possibilities of creating a revolutionary musical. He tells her his idea and it is “It’s a Revolution,” the show just
Graves acknowledges that there are other possible revolutionary musicals that could have been included. “A Chorus Line is one.” But she said the Gas Lamp Players had this in a revue four years ago.
The musical accompaniment for “It’s a Revolution” was spare, provided only by a piano and drummer. The show was choreographed by Elisa Van Duyne and Lisa Grimes. Costumes were by Kathy Martinez. She was responsible for more than 300 of them. The cast numbered 40 children.
Graves said she used a GR Middle School student as a sounding board. She said Nic Chang was going to be away when the production was going to be staged but he wanted to help out. So, during rehearsals, she would ask for his opinion on how kids might say something. And she watched him to see how he reacted. She also said he was sometimes an understudy in rehearsals.
Graves said “It’s a Revolution” was very last minute because the rights to other shows could not be secured. She said listening to teens, knowing what musicals they liked, helped her make the choice for shows.
She has written two other revues for the Gas Lamp Players. One was about pre-Disney Broadway and the other, post-Disney Broadway. She is currently working on an original musical.
“It’s not an educational musical,” she said.
She said the idea is so obvious she cannot believe someone has not thought of it already.
Next for the Gas Lamp Players will be “Legally Blond” and “Elf Jr.” These will be later in the year.