Watch The Birdie

musical revue, 3m, 3w, 90 min. sketches by Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller

Watch The Birdie is a revue about contemporary family life, which is a complicated subject for me. My parents divorced when I was a teenager, and my parents, my sisters and I were profoundly affected by the emotional fallout of that split-up. I’ve always been fascinated by how to navigate these tricky waters, and many of my works for the musical stage depict complicated family relationships – Lee Harvey Oswald and his mother Marguerite in Assassins, Fran and Francis in Gemini, Mae Desmond and Frank Fielder in Leading Lady. Turns out everybody’s got family, and more often than not those family ties have us tied in knots. Maybe you can relate. 

I’d begun to accumulate a small corpus of songs about family life when I discovered a series of very short radio plays called Family Snapshots written by Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller, theatermakers known collectively as The Independent Eye whose work I’ve admired for many years. In subject matter and tone, their short plays seemed a perfect complement to my songs, and their vignette comparing a family to a jazz combo inspired the final song of my musical, “Family Jam.” (It’s also the central metaphor of “Making It Up As We Go Along,” a song that has been in some versions of Watch The Birdie and which I’ve appended to the playlist as a bonus track.)

Watch the Birdie has been presented several times over the years, in several different configurations, and its centerpiece, “Bless This Meal,” has also been performed as a stand-alone mini-musical. It remains a work in development, much like my family. Nearly all the tracks in the playlist are from the Philly Music Theatre Works production in 2008, produced and directed by Jeremiah Downes and music directed by Chris Ertelt; the amazing cast is Claudia Carlsson, Jason Daniels, Michael Doherty, Sarah Gliko, Alex Keiper and Stearns Matthews,