When does an author let go? In the case of musicals, ain’t never gonna happen. Something in the universe demands it, like atomic bonding, or gravity itself. Lousy or fine, grand or not, you and your musical are parent and child; logic and time become as deceptive and complex as string theory. In the case of SHINE, its example could be Chapter 1 in The Road to Broadway manual: “Don’t Let This Happen to You” or “Who the Heck is Horatio Alger?”
Nowadays I’m often asked where the proverbial edge might be in this fun and inspiring old show, Broadway-bound some 30 years ago. Other than in its craft and heart, perhaps not in the show itself, but certainly in its making.
For such an uplifting show, SHINE has a bitter history. The last of its era, written in the years just before the age of AIDS, it was a project of innocence. But not for long.
In Richard Seff’s autobiography, Supporting Player, much of the story of how SHINE came to be — and then came not to be — is told, at times greatly at my expense. It is truthful from his point of view, but Richard graciously does not share all. Then again, perhaps he never knew. I’m not sure. I used to imagine that one day I might annotate the “meanwhile” scenes of the history of this 1980 almost-Broadway show. But would anyone care how a naive Southern boy most likely destroyed his fresh career in one phone conversation with a brutal Manhattan heiress? Or follow my trek during the months before, like Alice Pleasance Liddell, in the bizarre wonderland of midtown offices, weekend retreats and upper Eastside parlors of the powerful and wealthy showmakers, ever selling his Kander and Rodgers inspired music? Or indulge me in recounting the countless meetings with sometimes majestic, but often arrogant and silly producers, peculiar directors and absurd choreographers, along with a few unnerving midnight command appointments with inebriated Broadway royalty? Or let me re-live long limo rides with movie stars who wanted to sing and dance? Or permit me to spill the beans about the usual (and unusual) sex, drugs, racism, secret financial woes, agent betrayal and casting revenge? Or … You get the idea. Sounds almost fun. But most of these early 1980s players of my youth are long out of the limelight, over the hill or under the daisies now. Still it remains curiouser and curiouser to me that the real story of this what-could-have-been family tuner is brimming with so much of the inappropriate. But all that’s for another time, or never.
“The Success Story of a Nation” is how we billed the show later on. And SHINE is indeed about the American Dream: the American dreaming and ambition of its cast of characters and more so of its authors. Live and Learn. A good title for one of Horatio Alger’s novels, but also what we continue to try and do with a bright and friendly show with a dark and troubled past.
- SHINE! | A Hardworking Boy - Bill Buell, Brooks Ashmanskas, J. Brandon Savage
- SHINE! | A Handful O' Hops - Carole Shelley, Wynne Anders, Francine Lobis, Rose McGuire, Marguerite Shannon