‘Long Story Short’ full of personality, writers say
In 2003, City Theatre commissioned Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn to create a musical and handed the couple a stack of five scripts with the potential for adaptation.
At the top of the stack was David Schulner’s “An Infinite Ache.” Whether it was chance or fate, Milburn knew he need not read any further.
“It was begging to be turned into a musical. It seemed so intimate and small, and yet full of personality and so much to sing about,” he says.
He immediately showed it to Vigoda, his wife and writing partner and a musician with whom he performs as two-thirds of the band GrooveLily.
“I thought it was very lyrical and would make a lovely musical,” Vigoda says.
Schulner’s “An Infinite Ache” is a romantic tale of a nerdy young Jewish guy who falls in love with a young Asian-American woman from Los Angeles. The script follows them from their accidental first meeting through decades of a lasting relationship of ups and downs and on to an unexpected conclusion.
Their commitments to GrooveLily and a few other intervening speed bumps kept the couple from starting work on the musical until 2005.
Now, three years later, the musical they created — “Long Story Short” — will begin its world premiere performances tonight at City Theatre in the South Side. After its closing on Nov. 16, it will move to its co-producer, Theatreworks in Palo Alto, Calif., where it will play Dec. 3 through 28.
Some of the development of “Long Story Short” took place during readings at City Theatre during its Momentum festivals in 2007 and 2008, and at Theatreworks as part of its New Works Initiative.
“Three years is really the fast track. It’s unheard of to go from concept to completion that quickly,” Milburn says.
“We were so lucky to start with a beautifully structured play,” Vigoda says. “All we had to do was write music.”
Inserting music required changes in the script. The couple’s biggest challenge was writing dialogue, which they learned is very different from writing song lyrics.
Unlike lyrics, “(Dialogue) does not have to rhyme. It was like being in a superstore with too many choices,” Vigoda says.
“We’ve been using whatever dramatic sense we have to steer the ship,” Milburn says.
“Tracy Brigden (City Theatre’s artistic director and the show’s director) has been such a help. She’s really savvy and has been guiding us,” Vigoda says.
Milburn and Vigoda created 12 new songs for the musical. A band of four musicians — pianist, violinist, cellist and percussionist — will perform them.
They also feel fortunate in having found the right actors to portray Charles and Hope — Ben Evans, who performed “Male Intellect: An Oxymoron?” at City Theatre, and Pearl Sun, who appeared on Broadway in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
“Pearl Sun has an amazing ability to sing rock music and traditional musical theater show music. She also has the ability to tap into this deep well of emotion in such a way that she can really move you,” Milburn says. “Ben Evans has such a natural way with comedy and comedic timing. He’s finding moments in ways we did not realize were humorous.”
The rehearsal period has been one of revelation, Milburn says.
“It’s been so joyful putting something on paper that you care about, to then see actors and musicians bring something of their skill set to something you put on paper,” Milburn says.
Brigden will continue to direct Sun and Evans in their roles when the musical moves to California. After that, Vigoda and Milburn hope it might have a production in a Manhattan theater.
But that’s not necessarily the point, Milburn says.
“We’re doing this because we love the process of writing the songs and seeing it come to life. Getting it into the hands of actors, getting it into life and motion, feeds our souls,” he says.
‘Long Story Short’
Co-produced by: City Theatre Company and Theatreworks of Palo Alto, Calif.
When: Today-Nov. 16, with performances at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 5:30 and 9 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, with some exceptions. Check schedule for complete dates and times.
Admission: $17-$48; special discounts available for students, age 26 or younger, and age 65 or older
Where: City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side