Opening Number: Forgetting and Remembering My Mother

12B Mom4Me94

About a year ago, I started jotting down some thoughts about the how the people in my life (some of them sadly gone too soon) informed the creation of  Like You Like It. The first was about my late mother. Of her many inspirational qualities, one was her entrepreneurial drive, and I hold that near as we work to finish the album of Like You Like It. I won’t lie – we’re still looking to raise funds to complete the album. So while I think of completions, I would like to share some thoughts about our opening:

It was Saturday, February 3, 2001. The day before, I had just gotten some horrible news about my mother’s ailing health. She had been fighting a recurrence of her cancer and had taken a turn for the worse. I had gotten the “It’s time to come home” call.

I headed to Dan’s – who at the time lived in Windsor Terrace, a 2/3 to the F commute, so I had some time to stew in my own grief, even though I was on my way to write the opening number of our uplifting, comic show.

We had been struggling with the opening number. And in one hour, I forgot my mother was dying.

In that hour, all of the characters in Like You Like It took care of me – they all said what they needed to say. I distinctly remember the one-two punch of Sylvie and Phil’s “Will and Grace”-esque scenelet, the simplicity of “Audrey? Audrey. Audrey!” (Including the punctuation to indicate the shock, realization and growl of Orlando. Rosalind and Celia, respectively.)

After Mom died a month later, Dan sent me a lovely note in a consolation card. He said he would understand if I wanted to take some time off writing and would understand if I wanted to continue as a way of moving forward. I chose the latter, and eight months later we had our first reading at Musical Mondays at the Century Center.

And here’s how I know my Mom was there: I was on my way to our first rehearsal, taking some time off during the afternoon at my office. And I was under a considerable bit of stress.  A coworker was outside having a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but an occasional cigarette makes me a skosh lightheaded and hence relaxed. She offered me her last cigarette. I brought it to my lips and took one of her remaining three matches. It was a windy day, so the match blew out. I tried the penultimate match – same result. When the final match’s flame got close to the end of the cigarette butt and blew out, I knew what was going on: Mom was looking down and waving her hand to put out the flame:  “Stop that and go to rehearsal; everything will turnout fine,” was the message. And everything turned out more than fine. It turned out, well, the refrain of our opening number says it.

If you listen to our first demo of “Like You Like It” and our current version from our recent 54 Below concert, you can see that two characters are missing.

For almost a decade, we debated over cutting them: they were certainly entertaining, but were they, as Lynn Ahrens describes, too many raisins in the cake? A few years ago, NY Theatre Barn included a 30-minute clipping of Like You Like It in their evening of new musicals — and we had to cut our cast size to eight. It was months after our amazing production at The Gallery Players, so we used many of the cast members. But we knew we could not do the opening number with only eight, unless we… cut… Jackie and Eddie.

It worked.

So I went back to the draft and excised Jackie and Eddie’s narration. I cut Eddie as a character and kept Jackie as the same lead singer in the band at the dance. Because she arrives early for her soundcheck, she witnesses all the coupling and uncoupling among the principals and sums up her opinions in her one song, “So Close So Far Away.” She had finally taken the proper proportion in the script as “our Jacques.”

I finished the draft and called Dan. I had tears in my eyes, my voice choked up.  He asked me, “Was it hard to do?”  I said, “No. It was easy.”

It only took an hour. Almost a decade of work – gone in an hour. And easily.

One hour. It was an hour of letting go and acceptance, a bookend of sorts to that one hour in February 3, 2001.

Many hours have passed since both of these hours, and some of the other changes in the show were not as simple, but more on that tomorrow.