Top Four Rubik’s Cube Musicals

With the 41st birthday of the 80s icon the Rubik’s Cube, the Like You Like It team celebrates four other musicals whose interlocking characters and storylines are the most delicious puzzles every created. Check out more about Like You Like It:

1 The RENT-bik’s Cube
RENT, in its adaptation of La Boheme, pieces together a story of lovers, ex-lovers, future-ex-lovers and ATM machine vandals.

2 A Little Night Mu-bik’s Cube.
A Little Night Music, in its opening waltz, shows partners re-partnering, and had a huge influence on the creators of Like You Like It, though the show is in a Mall, not at a Swedish chateau.

3 Les Cube-rables
Adapting an epic novel is like adapting a Shakespeare play, though as you can see from the diagram, a bit more complicated. It’s really not THAT complicated in Like You Like It.

4 A Funny Cube Happened on the Way to the Forum
Stephen Sondheim. Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart: all geniuses of dizzying proportions. Read the script…

Opening Number: Forgetting and Remembering My Mother

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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: Continue reading “Opening Number: Forgetting and Remembering My Mother”

My Touchstone, for Touchtone

We have a lascivious character in Like You Like It named Touchtone. He’s our homage to the Anthony Michael Hall character in Sixteen Candles and the younger brother in Just One of The Guys: the geek who thinks he’s cool and suave and is after all the ladies.

While I am a fourteen year old boy at heart, I was having a difficult time articulating the character, especially to Dan when we started writing the song  “Blame it on The Mall.”

Here’s the video from our 2014 54 Below Concert.)

We were hitting a wall with Touchtone. Neither of us could get inside his mind.

Then my high school friend Wynn came to town.

Wynn was in a class by himself…. literally: His senior year, he was the only student in IB Physics II.  He also was a Dr. Seuss connoisseur, having written the epic tome “Late Grades and Spam” in our literary journal.  When we did As You Like It my senior year, he played Touchstone. He relished the line “Holla. You. Clown!,” perhaps because he was somewhat of a clown himself.

We also worked together on the school paper.  The  classroom was a temporary building (the “shack”) that housed, among other things, an old printing press named Bertha, a ratty couch, a group of wayward over-achieving youth like us, lockers that no one used (because they were so gross), a Kraft American Cheese single pinned to the bulletin board (that somehow was NOT gross), a storehouse of all the books read by IB English students, and a passel of “No Thanks I’m Driving” bumper stickers.

Those stickers provided Wynn and me with hours of inappropriate fun.  We cut up the letters and rearranged them to create custom messages (which I then affixed on my car) such as: “No, I’m not Tom Hanks,”  or “No thanks. I’m Sondheim.”

Wynn and I reconnected many years after high school. We had coincidentally come out around the same time, and he had a gift for me: he pulled out a sticker he had crafted from those famous bumper stickers.  He had saved some over the years and gave me a custom-made sticker that read: “No t*ts, baby, I’m a man’s man.”

When Wynn joined Dan, my cousin and me at a performance of the Broadway revival of Rocky Horror, Wynn stared slackjawed at one of the dancers, repeating under his breath “Nice.  Aaaaaaaasssssssss.”  When we left the theatre, we happened to pass a group of the dancers and Wynn simply turned to us and mouthed “Nice.  Aaaaaaaasssssssss.”

After Wynn’s trip, we knew what to do with Touchtone.

For years, Wynn was so excited there was a character based on him, albeit a straight version.  And he was even more excited when one of his crushes, Buffy‘s Tom Lenk, once played the character in a reading.

Sadly, Wynn never got to see any of his avatars on stage. He passed away a few years ago, about a year before Like You Like It played in Houston.  During those weeks home, I missed him dearly.  I was so angry he couldn’t be there. He would have loved the production, and knowing him, he most likely would have repeated his Rocky Horror mantra upon seeing our cast.

Still, he was around somehow, because everywhere I looked, I kept on seeing Miatas, the kind of car Wynn drove.

And every time I see a Touchtone on stage, I know at least a spark of him lives on.

My friend Wynn Martin as Touchstone, with Jennifer Jones as Audrey and a real-live goat as, well, a goat.
My friend Wynn Martin as Touchstone, with Jennifer Jones as Audrey and a real-live goat as, well, a goat.
Two-time Tony® nominee Robin De Jesus sings the role of Touchtone on the upcoming Studio Cast Recording, to be released by Broadway Records.
Two-time Tony® nominee Robin De Jesus sings the role of Touchtone on the upcoming Studio Cast Recording, to be released by Broadway Records.
Photo by Rebecca Woodman Taylor.
Jonathan Monk as Touchtone and Joanna Young as Audrey in the New York Musical Theatre Festival Production in 2004.
Jonathan Monk as Touchtone and Joanna Young as Audrey in the New York Musical Theatre Festival Production in 2004.
Jeremy Zaida as Touchtone and Xeni Tziouvaras as Celia in the Dos Pueblos High School Production, 2011. Photo by Joy Shot photography
Jeremy Zaida as Touchtone and Xeni Tziouvaras as Celia in the Dos Pueblos High School Production, 2011.
Photo by Joy Shot photography.
Tony Johnson as Touchtone and Grace Marie Walton as Celia, Theatre Under the Stars/Sam Houston State University production, 2007.
Tony Johnson as Touchtone and Grace Marie Walton as Celia, Theatre Under the Stars/Sam Houston State University production, 2007.
Billy Recce as Touchtone and Amelia Scaramucci as Celia in Broadway Workshop's Childrens Musical Theatre Festival production in 2011.
Billy Recce as Touchtone and Amelia Scaramucci as Celia in Broadway Workshop’s Childrens Musical Theatre Festival production in 2011.
Photo by Holli Matze.

Gotta Get Out… Gotta Break Out… Gotta Find Out…

If you happened to have been in Ocean Grove, New Jersey many years ago and walked north a bit, you would have found an abandoned boardwalk and a stretch of beach that ended in an empty and cavernous convention center. Along the way you would have seen a neglected, dilapidated carousel house, and if you looked in the distance toward a sign on a small building, you would behold the picture of a clown more terrifying than Pennywise.

This area had been – and years later, it re-became – Asbury Park. But back in the pre-re-gentrification days, when Dan and I were on a writer’s retreat in Ocean Grove, this uncharted land was Creepytown, New Jersey.

Asbiury Park ThenOr so we called it.  Dan was the first to come across this intriguing wilderness on his way to church. When he came back to our inn to tell me about it, I knew I had to see it.  I was ready for an adventure. So we left comfy Ocean Grove. Civilization slipped away and there we were in a desolate place. Very Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. All the while, a musical vamp was on infinite replay in my brain.  The theme to Hallowe’en? Psycho? Jaws?

Nope: the vamp that Dan had just written that morning, for the “threshold” song that gets our main characters Rosalind and Celia from school to the mall.

It had no words yet. We didn’t even have a title, just the vamp.  An infectious, pulsating vamp. If you click on the video, it starts around 0:33.

Dan had composed the urgency, the danger and the excitement of these two girls skipping school to go to the mall.

That vamp was in my head when we got to the abandoned carousel house. The horror movie affficiado in me had the “hey let’s look in this deserted building, what could possibly go wrong?” instinct.  I certainly was having flashbacks to the 1980s Elizabeth Berridge shocker Fun House (side note; she also played Stanzi in 80s classic Amadeus).

And I know it was the horror movie afficiado in me who finally came up with the words – and inevitable hook of our song – “Gotta Get Out.”

“Gotta Get Out” was born fairly early in the process of the show, and to this day, I swear my epitaph will read “He’s rewriting ‘Gotta Get Out'”

While the song is a “book number” it carries with it the show’s theme: gotta get out of your rut, of your fears, your doubts, of breaking free. Going to a place where you can be your true self.

Because I’m gay, I had to come out many years ago.  Wait, I just came out to you. Right now. Just then.

I was amazed to hear when Like You Like It  was done at a high school, the actor playing Phil, our character who grapples with being gay, summoned his courage to come out.

But coming out is not just a gay issue.

Another very shy student who had the courage to even audition for the school musical, stunned his drama teacher and other students when he let loose as Touchtone, one of our more wild and crazy characters.

We all have something inside of us begging to come out.

We did as teenagers, we do as adults.

Every character in Like You Like It is hiding in some way – afraid to express love, harboring the pain of not being the person everyone expects you to be, being gay, fearing you can lose everything in the blink of an eye, embarrassed to show the world that they’re beautiful inside and out. But  in the end, everyone lowers their walls and discovers they’re worth it.

Asbury Park NowP.S. That carousel house became a theatre, where we saw a few productions directed by our friend Carlos Armesto. His Tommy and Spring Awakening were amazing!

The Fathers In Like You Like It and The “Grandfathers” OF Like You Like It

When Like You Like It was performed in Cardiff, Wales, at the International Festival of Musical Theatre, Dan’s father and my father each joined us.  The attendance at the festival that year was somewhat low, so Dad and Mr. Acquisto went to the lobby to drum up some audience. They were the best press reps we could have asked for.

IMG_7024In Like You Like It, Rosalind and Celia’s Dads used to be characters in the show. Played by the same actor, the Duke Senior and Duke Frederick of As You Like It became Principal Freddy Duke and Sonny Duke, a mall security guard. In AYLI, Duke Frederick expels Rosalind from court. Likewise, after catching Rosalind skipping class, Freddy Duke expels her.

Duke Senior, the banished ascetic in BillyShakes’ Arden Forest, had a storyline in AYLI that veers a bit from Shakespeare and closer to Pretty In Pink in LYLI: Rosalind assumes her Dad is a successful businessman who’s often abroad doing business. When she is in disguise at the Arden Mall, she discovers that he is a security guard there. His business went bust, and was too embarrassed to face the truth. Rosalind, in disguise as Corey, assures him “Rosalind” will be okay with it if she tells him, and throughout the story tries to bolster his confidence to talk to his daughter.

Wow, just synopsizing that points to the problem: It’s a story for another show. While thematically relevant to the “be yourself” mantra of Like You Like It, it didn’t belong.  It was really was more about my dealing with some old family issues of my own from my teenage years in the ’80s.

Like a lot of people, by the time I was 15, I realized my Dad wasn’t perfect.  In our case, he made some mistakes that affected our family, and I saw his jovial confidence fade away.  I was pissed at my father, and saw him as practically ruined, angry at himself and paralyzed emotionally.

And then literally.

He got very sick my senior year and lost feeling in his legs.  He couldn’t walk.  A physical therapist came to the house and worked to get Dad on his feet.  My Dad grunted in frustration with the exercises.  But then a force took over him.  It was like a Rocky training montage to see my Dad’s frustration give way to persistence.  He worked his ass off (hurling some colorful expletives), and he found the will to walk again.  Any shred of self-pity that I might have sensed in him was gone.  He was strong; he was heroic.

It restored my hope not just in him but in myself – that as his son, perhaps I could inherit his ability to persevere.  To this day, whenever I am down, I think of my Dad in our living room, emerging from his crumpled state and standing up.  And walking.

10007272_10152279043510390_1061214344_oTen years after my Mom died, Dan’s father also passed away. He was a gentle man with a dry sense of humor (which his son inherited), and believed in his son 1500%. Personally, I am so thankful to have gotten to know Sal Acquisto and to travel with him on that trip. I’m also glad his decision to attend was a motivator for my Dad to join as well.  Watching the two of them walk down the street was always entertaining – Sal’s shorter, smaller frame compared to my Dad’s big Texan silhouette, like Abbott and Costello in reverse.  Seeing Dan’s interaction with his Dad, the same blend of love, frustration, respect and “Dad humor” that I share with father –  made me realize how lucky both us have been for such parents.

My Dad often comes to the “dance recitals” for Like You Like It and my other shows. He loves the showbiz world that I live in, and I love having him around.

Dan’s mother also comes to our shows and is so proud of Dan and the show she lovingly refers to as “the grandchild.”

And wherever Like You Like It plays, I know Sal and my Mom each have great seats.

Happy Fathers Day to my Dad and to Sal.

(and to Sonny and Freddy…)



You’re my Favorite Debbie Allen When We’re Reenacting Fame

Before there was Will and Grace, there was Sammy and Renee.

My friend Renee and I met at the Jewish Community Center of Houston’s Performing Arts Camp (natch) when we were nine. To this day, people often ask how long we’ve been married. Especially anyone who has ever played a board game with us.

When we were in high school in the ’80s, Pictionary was the craze. Renee and I made a fierce team – a good thing, since in P.E. class we opted out of most team sports and marched to the beat of our own drum, sometimes literally. We spent full gym periods doing one of two things: walking the track while singing or playing one-on-one Mime-Volleyball. The latter is exactly what you think it is: no ball, no net, just two histrionic teenagers attempting to get some exercise.  As one does…

If you don’t recall Pictionary, it’s charades with pictures. One partner pulls a card from the deck with a word or phrase on it then draws something on a piece of paper for the other partner to guess.

For example, Renee picked a card then hastily drew what looked like a bear, and I said “Dog.”

I guessed correctly.  Even though her scribble beared no resemblance to a dog, I knew that was her intention.

One time Renee lowered her pencil to the pad, and before the tip even hit the paper, I blurted out “NEW ZEALAND!”   She put her pencil down, because, well, I was correct again. Our competitors were stunned but they believed it.  Everyone knew how strongly Renee and I were connected and perhaps were more intrigued to see what we could come up with next rather than separate us.

In Like You Like It, Sylvie and Phil, a gender-reversed take on As You LIke It’s shepherds Sylvius and Phebe, are work-study students at Sausage on a Stick. They’re BFF but she wants more. He wants more of the same.   I needed a lot of “same” rhymes for his song.

And while Renee and I were never in Sylvie and Phil’s predicament, I was definitely thinking of her when a lyric appeared out of the ether:

“We’re Pictionary partners who always win the game.”

For me, there was no better way to encapsulate the bond between two best friends.

When Like You Like It played in Houston, I stood in the back of the theatre, unaware of where anyone I knew was sitting. When Phil sings his song and gets to that lyric, I instinctively turned to my left.  There was Renee a few rows away, turning at the same time, our smiles meeting each other, proof that after all these years, we are still connected.