Project Blog: March 18, 2011

Another Neverland

As I've spent the last months re-working Shine! for a new life, I constantly return in my mind to the odd journey of Quality Street, the so very different show that came soon after. Lee wrote lyrics and book and originally called it Period Piece. But somehow that betrayed the unpretentious fun of the script I first read while on a visit to Miami in 1982.

I admit I had little exposure to Regency-set drama and only knew J. M. Barrie as the author of Peter Pan. But here was another play about the allusive nature of youth and the exploration of transformation in us all. Coincidentally, that theme was also a relevant personal challenge between a wise lyricist and a brash composer 30 years apart in age.

Quality Street was our third musical in two years. While waiting for Shine and Chaplin to somehow emerge from their cruel Broadway postponements, it was a breezy joy to work on this project, which uses a small cast and a fun array of characters from respected source material.

Lee's lyrics are some of his best. The pragmatic and heartbreaking "His Name Was William" was the first one I set. But others are full of wit and charm, all expertly driven by an understanding and respect of Barrie's playful comedy. To avoid an overture and counter the story's predictable delicate nature, I chose to begin the show with a violent crack of thunder, a flash of lightning, a downpour; a man and woman, a kiss in the rain; all played against a bold, dissonant precursor of the leading man's sweeping Serenade to come later in the Act. Of course the show quickly opens up to reveal a big box of assorted musical candies, exploring a variety of Broadway song forms while staying true to its operetta(ish) heart.

After a bit of unexpected legal squabbles, we were granted permission by the Barrie Estate (get the rights first! young ones) and a production was scheduled for Virginia Museum Theatre in the Spring of 1984. When that was sadly aborted due to budget problems, we put the show aside as the grim 1980s played out. In the early 90s, blessed with first rate performers, musical directors Jack Lee and James Kowal, we presented a series of staged readings, all under the guidance of Tony-winning director Vivian Matalon. New York Musical Theatre Works, National Alliance for Musical Theater, Stamford Center for the Performing Arts, and The York Theatre Company each gave us fine showcases.

Although much admired, dear Quality Street, with its elegant Barrie sensibilities and its anti-pop score, was destined to be ever out of sync with the gloomy devolving musical theater era into which it was born. Nonetheless, I believe it's our best work as a team, written in a timeless style, and I'm hopeful for the long-delayed production that will finally prove the quality of our Quality Street.

A perusal script and piano|vocal score of the new 2017 version is now available.