Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fringe Q&A With Jeff Bienstock of The Morning After / The Night Before

By Byrne Harrison

Name: Jeff Bienstock
Show: The Morning After / The Night Before
Relationship to show: Creator (Book, Music, and Lyrics)

How did you first get involved in theatre?

Growing up, my parents and grandparents were huge fans of musical theater, despite the fact that we lived thousands of miles away from the nearest Broadway stage. After listening to so many of them growing up, I was eager to be cast in a musical once I got to high school. However, when it became apparent that I couldn’t dance and my voice was only average, I resigned myself to playing clarinet in the school pit orchestra. (Still, it was the ideal position from which to view as many shows as possible without ever buying a ticket!) After college, I tried to make a go at film and TV scoring, but I couldn’t stay away from my favorite medium for very long. I moved to New York, started writing show music, and the rest is history.

Who are your biggest influences?

I ended up listening to a lot of Sweeney Todd and Company during the writing of this show. As a budding composer/lyricist, I just adore Sondheim’s command of the English language, but even at their wordiest, his songs never take the melody line for granted. A more contemporary influence was Lopez/Marx’s Avenue Q, which proved to me that an original show about people my age could be successful without pandering or attempting to be self-consciously “hip.” Now that an Avenue cast member, Jed Resnick, is playing the lead in The Morning After…, it almost feels like I’ve come full circle.

What is your show about?

It’s about a young man named Todd, who wakes up one morning after a wild party to discover his best friend Cynthia lying in bed beside him. He’s got a girlfriend, and she’s about to get married in a matter of weeks, so needless to say, this is a huge problem for both of them; however, he’s so hungover that he can’t remember anything that happened only a few hours earlier. The action switches back and forth between the debauchery of Saturday night and the bleary-eyed contrition of Sunday morning, and there are plenty of shocking, raunchy, hilarious surprises along the way.

What inspired you to write it?

Not a real-life experience, I assure you! I might have been partially inspired by memories of coming of age in a small-ish city like Santa Monica, where you can wake up after a night’s worth of hazy adventures to discover that all of your friends have an equally bizarre story to tell, often intersecting with your story in unexpected ways. As a premise, this story was in development for a very long time—until I finally felt confident enough in my storytelling skills to do the idea justice.

Who are your collaborators and how long have you been working with them?

Other than myself, the person who’s spent the most amount of time working on this project — more than 3 years — is my music director Remy Kurs, who by now has arranged each song to sound a hundred times better than they did when I first wrote them. Next to join the project was my friend Gillian Appleby, whom I approached to produce the show back in February; she’s done a lot of television and film work, but this is her very first theatrical undertaking and she’s definitely risen to the challenge. Finally, Diana Glazer, working double-duty as director and casting director, came aboard in June; we never would have secured such a top-notch cast, including Jed Resnick (Avenue Q), Shira Gregory (Frost/Nixon) and Max Spitulnik (With Glee) without her tireless efforts.

If you could have one wish come true about your production, what would it be?

I’d love for us to get the opportunity to move into a venue and STAY there for a few weeks! We’re sharing the beautiful Lucille Lortel Theater with about seven other Fringe shows, which definitely limits our time to rehearse and do tech in the venue itself. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to perform this show on any stage, but The Morning After… is an extremely fast-paced, frenetic comedy with complicated entrances and lighting cues galore. We’re all crossing our fingers and praying that all will go smoothly once we finally move the show from the rehearsal studio to the theater itself—a mere four days before our premiere.

What's next for you after Fringe?

Through the renowned BMI workshop, I met a very talented, very funny composer/lyricist named Eric March. We’re planning to write a musical about the Great Bone Wars of the 19th century, which may have been the most vengeful, hate-filled feud ever waged over dinosaur fossils. It’ll be a true pleasure to work with a collaborator this time around; this show’s three-man creative team has certainly had its share of arguments and creative differences over the years, despite the fact that they’re all me.

And finally, if you could work with any actor, director or playwright, living or dead, who would you chose and why?

I could lie and name some legendary Broadway thespian, but to be perfectly honest, I would kill to work with my comedy idol Mel Brooks in just about any capacity. And who knows? Maybe someday it could actually happen—even if I have to play the nebbishy little Jew who gets hit over the head a lot.

The Morning After / The Night Before
Cracked Windshield Productions
Writer: Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jeff Bienstock
Director: Diana Glazer

VENUE #12: Lucille Lortel Theatre

Wed 18 @ 2:15
Mon 23 @ 11:30
Thu 26 @ 10:15
Fri 27 @ 4:45
Sat 28 @ 7:30

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