I had the delight of seeing the developing musical, “Meet Me on the Corner: A Musical Comedy” as part of the 2022 Series of New Works-New Plays by Chicago Area Playwrights as the Chicago Writers’ Bloc celebrated their 30th Anniversary. The festival ran from May 24th to June 14th at the Raven Theater in Chicago.
“Meet Me on the Corner: A Musical Comedy”, Book & Lyrics by Gayle Ann Weinstein and Music and Arrangement by Gerald H. Bailey with additional music by Eric Heidbreder is a sweet and charming love story with lots of humor. Performing various roles and displaying beautiful voices and acting skills were Moriah Gilman, Luke McDermott, Kay Rower, Kevin Pollack, and Mary Bonnet under the direction of Oskar Westbridge and music director, Nick Kabat.
Gayle Ann Weinstein and Gerald H. Bailey generously agreed to answer some questions about the development of this story.
Gayle Ann Weinstein, playwright and lyricist
How did you happen to connect with the Chicago Writers BLOC?
About five years ago I went to see Ragtime presented by Continuum Theater. There I met Devorah Richards who is the Executive Director of the theater. She mentioned Chicago Writers’ Bloc. I finally connected with them about six months later and went to a meeting and joined.
What was the inspiration that led to you writing the play?
Being part of a play writing group tapped into my joy of writing dialogue, so I started to look at the prose stories and convert them into play form. With the support of the group, I wrote scenes and eventually a full-length play emerged.
Then, confined to my home for nearly 2 years because of COVID, I took a ten-minute musical class via zoom with Cheryl Coons for 6 weeks. I wrote 4 songs in 4 weeks with freelance writer, Eric Heidbreder. After the class, Gerald H. Bailey, a long-time member of Chicago Writers’ Bloc, agreed to help me. He completed the music for the 12 songs that are in the original draft of the show.
What was the procedure that led to your play being performed?
The Perennial Players, a group of equity actors, joined our group about 2 years ago. They read many sections of the musical before and after I added songs. Once I realized that I had a full-length play that was viable, I thought about being part of the Chicago Writers’ Bloc play festival, which is presented every two or three years. Some theaters require that you have at least one reading before submitting a project to them, so this gave me the final push to add my name to the list of festival playwrights.
What was the most difficult part of this process?
I was a newbie playwright and even newer lyricist and musical writer. I didn’t know any of the terms. I had a libretto (script and songs) and no cast or staff. Once all the necessary positions were filled and rehearsals began, I quickly learned that the composer’s music score, actors, director, my script, and music director all needed to be in sync. Once the script was handed out and songs learned, I couldn’t change anything. That was probably the most difficult realization. However, I know that all plays are works in progress and even the most well-known and well-loved playwrights continue to revise as they watch different groups of people perform their work.
What did you enjoy the most about bringing the play to the audience?
Hearing the script and songs was totally joyful. I had never heard the whole musical performed at once. Having young professionals who were excited about being part of a new show was extremely exciting. The composer, cast, director, and music director were all wonderful to work with. Though listening to my words read and sung was mostly a surreal experience, having an audience and hearing them applaud helped to dissipate any difficulties I had experienced.
What are your future plans for the play?
I am working on a reorganization of the scenes and acts. A few songs need to be revised. After that work is done, I plan to submit the musical to the Jewish Plays Project and to seek out Chicago theaters that are interested in plays with Jewish subject matter.
Gerald Bailey, composer
How do you choose the melodies that you compose for each song?
Anytime I begin a project, I become very familiar with the story, the script, and the characters. As I approach each song, I look at what the lyric is trying to say, who is singing it, and what came before and after the song. I ask the lyricist for their input as to what they see in terms of genre and style. I also look at the form of the lyric so that I can see where I can repeat the music, and where it needs to be changed. I then sit down at the piano, and begin noodling around with a vamp, or sometimes a melody. When I hit upon something that I like, or I feel satisfies the situation, I start developing the music. After I finish composing the music for the song, I record an audio demo and send it to my collaborator for their approval. If my collaborator feels that something needs to be changed, I will change that section, until both my collaborator and I are satisfied with the results.
What was there about the story that attracted you?
There were several things about this project that drew me to compose the music. First of all, “Meet Me On the Corner” is based on the author’s real life stories of how her ancestors came to this country, and in particular, Chicago. I am drawn to stories based on real-life events. Secondly, Gayle took a musical theatre class, conducted by librettist and lyric writer Cheryl Coons, based on my recommendation. She had to write a ten-minute version of her musical to be presented at the end of the course. She was assigned a composer, who wrote four songs for this ten-minute presentation. Thirdly, when it came time for her to develop her musical into a full two-hour show, her original composer was no longer available to compose the rest of the score. She had a difficult time finding a replacement, so I agreed to compose the rest of the score. Gayle’s story was very interesting, and I found it a joy to write music for her lyrics. Gayle is taking a non-traditional approach to writing her lyrics, and I found it to be an interesting challenge.
Thank you both for sharing your thoughts.
Photos: Courtesy of Gayle Ann Weinstein and Ian Sangster (theater photos)
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