Real-Time: Chatting with Brad Alexander
Brad Alexander is a BMI songwriter for Sony, Showtime, VH1 and the Drama Desk Award-winning Off-Bway musical SEE ROCK CITY AND OTHER DESTINATIONS. The musical received a collection of accolades including the 2011 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book, Richard Rodgers Award, and BMI Foundation Jerry Bock Award, as well as Drama Desk nominations for Outstanding Music, Lyrics, Direction, Lighting and Musical.
In preparation for C&L’s production this spring, Brad and I sat down for a chat about his work. For a few of the questions we tossed about, read on.
How did you pick the destinations featured in SRC?
A lot of factors – one of them was how inherently dramatic are these places. Every time we would try certain locations (e.g. Fenway Park at one point), something about it had to naturally lend itself to drama. For example, with the girls [in the Glacier Bay section of the piece] they were initially college friends who were climbing up a mountain, Mt. McKinley. And we had this song called “Halfway Up the Mountain” that talked about them being in their 30s and never really getting what they wanted out of life. But it wasn’t working, it wasn’t exactly there. You didn’t care about the characters. But we knew we wanted a piece with three ladies, because it felt like up against the other pieces it needed that kind of story. So we aimed to explore three characters who were going through something that just happened to be female. We landed on Glacier Bay when we thought about the relationships in the piece.
The show itself is so unique. How do you classify the show?
[The book writer] Adam liked to call it a musical travelogue, but it’s a musical. It’s just a musical about several short stories. You can call it a collection of short musicals, or a musical about a collection of short stories. But it’s a musical, because after the show it feels like you’ve had a musical theatre experience.
How was the collaboration with Adam?
It’s great. Adam’s a real die-hard musical theatre lover. For me, I was more of a film and television, rock and roll kid. That’s where I learned my storytelling.
We work in the same room together. Adam would do the libretto on his own, and then he would bring it to the table, and I would ask him tons of questions [about the character/intentions]. But the songwriting happened very much organically. In some cases, we were writing note for note. Sometimes I’ll write a chunk and Adam’s really excellent at taking something I wrote and putting words to it. But there were times when I would be writing a couple of notes and Adam would say “wait, rewind, make this escalate here” – helping shape the emotional ebb and flow of the tune. “Dark Ride” was very much like that. We were sitting side by side, shoulder to shoulder and doing one tiny section at a time – laser-like crafting.
The show tackles some of the universal questions of facing fear and forging ahead through challenges. How much of the show was about facing your own fears? Do you see yourself in the characters of the show?
It’s interesting, we were writing the show right around the time I was getting engaged. And my wife and I were both really scared to do it. We were both just wondering “can I really do this?” What we both had in common was our fear of marriage. Ironically, we were able to brave this crazy, scary thing together. And also, we really did plan for a marriage and not a wedding.
Adam might see himself in a few of the characters. I would put my money on Jess. Jess, because he struggles with stepping outside himself and taking the risk. Me, I’m the opposite – a demonstrative, expressive guy. And musically, there’s a lot of me in the score.
How much of the show was shaped by others during its many iterations?
We got some great criticism from Maltby and Shire [lyricist and composer Closer than Ever, Baby, etc.]. They really loved the piece. And Richard [Maltby] has been a mentor for us since that time, around 2007 or 2008. And the same thing happened with Jerry Bock [composer Fiddler on the Roof]. He was very supportive. And he came and introduced the piece when we did the show at Chelsea Studios. And so we got support, but we also got criticism from some really smart people.
What is the show about and what do you hope audiences walk away with?
The show is about moving past your expectations in order to connect. And the show is about those two things: expectations and connections. I always lean a bit more on the expectations side because I love the fact that tourist destinations are all about expectations. What we expected from them, and what we remember about them. Even like looking back at an old flame, and thinking “God, it was so good. I really have to give them a call.” And then realizing and remembering why things ended. Or when you go back to a place you remember as a kid and find that “oh, it’s a lot smaller than I remember it.” It’s about the parallel between destinations and relationships, at the heart of it.
Thanks Brad! Looking forward to the spring!