Tag Archives: Harold

Day 102: Harold at the Merriam Theater

The good citizens of Philadelphia got an earful of my music today, when Enchantment Theatre Company’s production of The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon came to the Merriam Theater for the first of two days of performances. The assembled crowd numbered about a thousand parents and children, and it was awesome to sit among them and experience the show in all its sensory splendor. My visit to the show was made all the more pleasant by my companions, my grandson Miles and his mother Rosi. I doubt that Miles comprehended all the intricate polyrhythms and hip jazz inflections in the score, but he sat raptly in my lap for the entire duration of the show and seemed full of enthusiasm both before and after the show. The music, and indeed everything about the show, is surprisingly complex and modern; it’s clear that Crockett Johnson’s inventive tales and illustrations awakened an equally inventive response in the creative team. The audience goes happily along for the ride, and and there’s plenty for even the littlest theatergoers to enjoy!

So: no new music today. Instead, I point you to the Harold page, where you can listen to the score in part or in its entirety. Tonight, I return to editing The Brave Little Tailor, whose cast includes three of the Harold ensemble – I can’t imagine what it’s like for Josh Tewell, Leah Holleran and Erin Carney to switch back and forth between the two shows, although I can imagine that it’s great for them to be gainfully employed creating and performing inventive movement theater.

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194; the links on the right are songs chosen at random from previous posts. Want to contribute to my interactive composition, “Hear My Song?” Read more here. Want to receive daily songs delivered direct to your inbox? Sign up here!

Three Songs from Einsteins Dreams (Day 84)

einstein_140Alan Lightman’s short novella Einstein’s Dreams has inspired a variety of adaptations in theater, music, dance and film, and the author has been very generous in allowing a variety of derivative works to flourish while not granting an “exclusive” license to any one artist. Marjorie Samoff at the Prince Music Theater became interested in this project after being introduced to a musical theater adaptation of the work that had been written by a young New York-based creative team, but decided that she would commission a new piece using Albert Innaurato as dramatist. There were several unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable composer for Albert’s libretto, and I suggested to him that we undertake a workshop in the University of the Arts’ Summer Pre-College Program, with me as composer and Whit MacLaughlin as director. This 2006 workshop yielded a handful of song sketches and a bit of creative momentum that led to a 2007 workshop. These are the three songs from 2006:

I post these as a follow-up to my Harold posts because two of the three tunes made their way into my 2009 score for The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon after we abandoned Einsteins Dreams in 2007. The first, “Valse Liesrl,” is a lyric that I imagined Einstein’s wife Mileva singing; Liesrl is the name of the illegitimate daughter born to Mileva and Albert who was put up for adoption.

Liesrl, little liebchen,
Mamma missed you so!
Flesh of my flesh,
Soul of my soul,
How could I ever let you go?
Ach, these Swiss!
So solemn, so sour.
You were my bliss for only an hour.
You came with the dawn,
And then you were gone.
It is besser this way, I know,
But Liesrl, I miss you so.

The singer is Abigail Grenda, who was a student in the UArts Pre-College program at the time but went on to enroll and earn a BFA in Musical Theater with us. This tune became the Pastorale theme heard in the garden at the beginning of Harold’s adventure with the Princess.

The second song, Use Your Noodle, Dolly, is also for Mileva (“Dolly” was Albert’s nickname for her). This song is meant to depict the distress Mileva must have felt upon learning that she was pregnant with her boyfriend Albert’s child. The singer here is Carleigh Smith.

Mileva, think!
Use your noodle, Dolly!
That’s what Papa used to say.
For this type of folly,
There’s a bitter price to pay.
We can’t afford such drama,
With me an unwed mama.
The righteous Swiss will surely make a stink
And Albert’s whole career
Will be kaput, I fear.
Gott im Himmel! Use your noodle! Think!

Fiddle Me, Johnny, the third of these three song sketches, is a polka that uses Einstein’s violin playing as a naughty metaphor for “fiddling around.” Danielle Westhead gives it an energetic performance; she went on to study MT at Hartt and goes by Dani Jayne Westhead now, at least on the Facebook. You’ll recognize this tune as the Circus Polka in Harold, and I then composed a ragtime variation on it for the two Dancing Ponies.

Fiddle me, fiddle me, Johnny,
Fiddle me a tune!
Rosin up your bow, boy!
Now is none too soon.
My heart’s ein bischen tipsy.
You stir in me the gypsy.
Your violin has magic in the light of the moon!

Oh my! That Johnny boy!
So crazy with desire!
While dreaming of his Dolly,
His pillow catches fire!
Oh my! Come fiddle me a tune!

These three songs, as you can see, are presented in a reverse chronology, moving backwards in time from the abandoned bastard child to the unwanted pregnancy to the lusty coupling that begat her. The three songs are then presented simultaneously as another experiment in the manipulation of chronological time; having gone backwards in time, we now have multiple present tenses existing simultaneously. Sehr interessant, ja? I enjoyed working on this project, and Whit and I were equally aroused by the conceptual challenge of representing Einsteinian relativity using the materials of contemporary music theater. It also gave me a chance to flaunt my few words of German, which I’ll do more of in future posts about Einstein’s Dreams.

The Boy My Father Thinks He Knows, from Gemini the Musical (Day 83)

This melody, as I mentioned a few days ago, was incorporated into Harold as part of the rocket ship ride music, but began its life in New York City as a song for Francis in Gemini the Musical. Dan Micciche sings it on the track below; after you’ve had a chance to listen, you can go back and hear it in Harold and be eligible for a Ph.D. in Musicology (or Chazzy-ology), especially after reading the analytical commentary that follows the lyric.


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Harold and The Purple Crayon – The Finale (Day 82)

Harold posterToday, Harold faces his final challenge and The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon reaches its climax and denouement.

The thing that turns out to be Harold’s most formidable opponent appears harmless at first – a funny little old lady. In a matter of moments, however, she transforms herself magically into a monstrous evil witch. Harold outwits the witch, finally, by using his purple crayon, drawing a box around her to contain her. As the box grows smaller and smaller, the witch disappears and is transformed into a harmless jack-in-the-box.

The music for this Witch Battle is another item from the trunk – I wrote it as the nightmare that originally ended the first act of Gemini the Musical, where Francis Geminiani is tormented by his friends and family, all dressed as garbage collectors from hell. Are you surprised that idea didn’t make it past the first preview?

I’m struck by how much Harold and the Purple Crayon has with my earlier work, A Is For Anything. Both works rely on a relatively bare stage that can transform in an instant from one locale to another. Both works celebrate the power of the imagination, and in both, the audience is called upon to supply its imagination and see things that aren’t really there. In Harold, though, that idea of imaginative transformation is taken to a further extreme, supported by the technical innovation of the animated scenery. The work is remarkable dense and detailed in its inventiveness. I watched an archival video of the piece while creating these posts, and found myself amazed time and time again by the ingenuity of our collective creation. I’m eager to see it on stage again on April 12 at the Merriam Theater.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that I’ve completed the first draft of the score for the newest Enchantment Theater work, The Brave Little Tailor. It sounds very, very different than Harold: I’ve traded the jazzy chamber music palette of Harold for a more urban sound, using electric guitar, drumset and the musical idioms of rock and funk. You can count on hearing some excerpts from my newest work in the days to come!

Harold and The Purple Crayon – Part 5b (Day 81)

It’s a sunny Sunday morning in Philly, with buds on the bushes and music in the air. Project 194 continues to attract visitors at a steady pace, and after 80 days, I’ve now passed the 1000-visitor mark! Of course, plenty of these are casual drop-ins of less than a minute, but about a third of my visitors are spending quality time on the site, and that’s something to sing about!

Meanwhile, Harold is deep in the midst of his final adventure, the one that began with yesterday’s post, when his new best friend was kidnapped by evil spiders and he had to suit up and rescue her.

Return of the evil spidersThe music in today’s excerpt begins with an extended jazzy piece called Searching The Castle. Once he finds the little girl and sets her free, the two of them have to make their escape the way Harold comes in, and the music is a fast-paced recapitulation of the themes heard previously. The pace of the movement is lively, and the images on the screens go flying by as the two hurry out of the castle. The “pastorale” theme that began Part 5 is heard as the two think they’ve escaped safely, but then the evil spiders return, accompanied by their ominous jazzy tune. The spiders are vanquished too, and the only thing left to face is a funny little old lady. Or is she really a little old lady? In my next post, the finale of The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon, coming to the Merriam Theater on April 12.