Creative Collaboration: Week by Week #6

This series offers an inside view of the making of a musical, from the lyricist -composer team of Tajlei Levis & John Mercurio, creators of the Samuel French musical Glimpses of the Moon. John and Tajlei met through the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop and have collaborated on several musicals set in old New York.

They aim to have a new musical finished by the end of the summer. This series will take you though the challenges they face, and the hurdles they jump as they meet their deadline!

Time to write the script! People often say, “It must be fun to write musicals!” It is. I love the musicals I have written. I enjoy the back and forth with my collaborator John as lyrics and melodies merge into songs. I love casting and starting rehearsal, watching a director and actors breathe life into the pages. I am thrilled that the Cast Album from the production of our musical Glimpses of the Moon is now available for sale.

Struggling to create the first draft libretto for an original story is not particularly fun. A dozen times a day I wish I was working on a literary adaptation, instead of an original story. If there was a novel, I could rely on pre-existing dialog and plot points, rather than second-guessing myself at every turn, while I make stuff up. If not for the audience showing up in 8 weeks, I might be tempted to scrap this project entirely.

But the audience is coming. The producers want to see the script. And I have to keep going. That’s why deadlines are good. They provide necessary urgency to complete the writing. I’m the sort who writes a term paper the night before it is due. Sure, I could noodle with a song for a month, but if I have to, I’ll finish it in an afternoon. It is now exactly two months ’til an audience will arrive to see this musical – which is not yet written.

Two months is plenty. If I complete just one new song and scene each week, the script will be finished on time. But a musical is not a term paper. I have to leave enough time for the rest of the team to do their parts. Working backwards, we need a week of rehearsal, another two weeks for preliminary work with director and cast, another week for John and me to put it all together. Which really leaves only one month to write the script. Hmmm.

The time has come to take the various treatments, outlines, character descriptions and individual songs and transform them into a script.

To do this, I am spending a few weeks at a self-imposed writer’s retreat on my family’s farm in Vermont. It is lovely to be in the country, free to focus on writing, though an array of new distractions are at hand. Weeding the garlic patch or harvesting lettuce suddenly seems more appealing than figuring out the opening scene.

I know that once I start, the characters will come alive and converse, and once I get through this first draft, there will be something to edit and improve, and then we’ll be off and running.

Finally, I just begin.

Lower East Side, NYC 1920. The Settlement House welcome for new immigrants.

Marco, a nice Italian boy fresh off the boat, kisses the ground and addresses the sky.


Grazie, Dio! (He throws a kiss across the ocean.) Grazie, Mama! (He takes out a notepad and begins a letter.) Carissima Mama. Ecco mi qua in America. Sto bene. Adesso in America, parlo – provo a parlare sempre Inglese. I am arrived. I am good. I write you Mama, every day. Now I go, I look, to find la bella fortuna.



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