Lyricist Emily Laverdiere talks with WICF about why 'God Hates Musicals'
Interviewed by Christine Cannavo
EMILY: Ha! Ha! Well, I'm sure the WBC would say something like - "Because it enables the people who create and perform them." Although their version of that quote would probably use much stronger language. In real life, I think God is actually going to like this one.
WICF: Does the Westboro Baptist Church know about your musical?
EMILY: Oh, they do, indeed. In fact, they’ve retweeted and reposted several of our Facebook promotions. If I did not know any better, I’d say they were just as excited about the show as we are!
WICF: Do they plan to protest?
EMILY: I can’t confirm nor deny that for sure, but they did offer us some of their signs…seriously.
WICF: How did you come up with the idea?
EMILY: The initial idea came to Joe Creedon after he saw on the news that the WBC threatened to protest the Boston marathon bombing. That hit a little close to home, obviously. The fact that the WBC pickets controversial events to get the attention they crave and the media gives it to them because it's a striking story they can broadcast came across to Joe as a really interesting symbiotic relationship. What better way to explore that relationship (and mock it) than through a musical?
WICF: How did you get involved with the project?
EMILY: Joe was aware of my flare for theatre, musical improv and writing my own comedic songs and parodies, so he asked me if I could get on board with it. At the time, I knew only a small amount about the WBC, but thought it would be a cool project. He showed me a documentary about them and the more I saw, the more on board I became. What ultimately sold me was when I found out they write parodies to current (and past) pop songs to preach their message. That was my personal goldmine and it sealed the deal for me instantly!
WICF: Which member of the Phelps family do you play?
WICF: What is the theme of the musical? What message do you want the audience to walk away with?
EMILY: The theme of the show is ultimately encapsulated in the last song of the show, "The Truth of Love." The Westboro Baptist Church claims that their hateful ways are rooted in love, which most normal people recognize as "a load of bull" or more diplomatically "what they tell themselves to get by." I think the audience is going to experience a lot of emotions throughout the course of the show, possibly emotions they're not expecting to feel. While we do spend a good amount of time comically ripping the WBC a new one, the main story line is a genuine love story amidst the fire and brimstone and I think the audience is going to leave feeling good.
EMILY: Hmm...I seem to recall this time last summer, sitting in Steve Gilbane's living room...making up songs and scenes as WBC members. There were "improvisers" there...and you were there, Christine! And you too, Toto! But to answer seriously: yes, the beginning phases of the show were inspired by several sessions of musical improv with some super talented people out of ImprovBoston (thyself included). While I'm super bummed that not all of you guys could stay on board the whole way through, I'm so grateful to have had that time with everyone to generate ideas and get the process going. It was a lot of fun and the show would not be what it is now, one year later, had we not done that! I still watch the video footage from those sessions sometimes...the opening number and parody number definitely got the most solid start from all you sinful geniuses. (I suppose I could save the name dropping for my program bio, but if you put it in this interview, big thanks to Christine Cannavo, Steve Gilbane, Faith Solloway, Holly Tarnower, David Frederick, Annie Kozakiewicz, Robert Woo and Don Schuerman for all of their amazing contributions during that process)! Once the writing process began, I had so many great things to work with. I hope how they evolved on paper and into song (with the help of Bryan Dunn, Steve Saaro, and very briefly, Melissa Carubia, whom I openly idolize) is something that the audience will enjoy!
WICF: What is your background in musical theater?
EMILY: I've been singing and performing in shows since I was 4, was a theatre major in college, write my own songs and perform in musicals and/or musical improv shows whenever and wherever I can, so in summation: musical theatre is my life. I try not to be a walking stereotype about it, though. (Key word: "try").
WICF: How did you work with the musician?
EMILY: In the beginning of the process, Joe, Steve Gilbane and I were able to get together to write the opening song. When Steve had to bow out and Bryan Dunn hopped in, we became a little pressed for time and couldn't meet often, so I wrote a lot of the song lyrics and sent them off to Bryan to compose, then we'd all meet and listen and workshop things.
WICF: What were some of the surprises and obstacles you came across?
EMILY: Just writing lyrics alone to a tune you have in your head can be tough when the composer obviously can't hear what you're hearing. My actual composing ability is pretty limited; I'm a 4-chord, keep it simple kind of gal (but in my head I hear symphonies and harmonies and the whole shebang...my mind orchestra is great)! While it was hard to get my lyrics across without the composer there in the room with me, I'm totally happy with what Bryan came up with and grateful for the chance to work with him! It was also a fun and rewarding challenge to write songs that I wouldn't necessarily consider to be in my wheelhouse. I can write comedic songs and parodies in a day, no problem, but the numbers that Joe wanted to go in a more serious direction took a little more time. That's good though, right? Stretching your creative boundaries and whatnot? I heard that somewhere.
WICF: Did anything you loved get cut?
EMILY: There's a line in the love song "Sweet Moment" that was almost cut because it was "too meta," but I ended up being able to make it work within the context of the song, so it stayed! As far as entire songs go, though, they're all still there (I hope).
WICF: What kind of instrumentation will accompany the singers?
EMILY: The wonderful and talented Steve Sarro will be playing the piano/music directing. Bryan Dunn has been wrangling musicians to join the band, so we're looking at a full scale band with all the bells and whistles. I hope there are slide whistles.
WICF: How was that decided?
EMILY: The songs in the show cover a wide range of musical styles. Bryan Dunn works with a full band when he plays piano for the Boston Unscripted Musical Project (BUMP) so he has been looking to get us a guitarist, bassist, drummer and any other musician that will achieve the sound each song needs.
WICF: Do you have a favorite song?
EMILY: I think I have a new favorite every time I hear what the cast brings to a song, but my favorite from the beginning is definitely a little ditty entitled "Get Gay (For God)." The title kind of speaks for itself.
WICF: Every composer/ lyricist hopes for songs that will strike a chord with audiences. Which song chorus do you hope to hear the audience singing?
EMILY: There are a lot of catchy choruses in the show...many of them are somewhat inappropriate to be singing out of the context of the show, but if the audience is going to sing latch onto any chorus, I'd guess it would be either "Get Gay (For God)" or "The Truth of Love." Those choruses are super catchy. I could also see people singing the chorus to the opening number, "Raise Your Sign." We shall see!
WICF: How are you funding the project?
EMILY: Our online Indiegogo campaign just ended and within the last 3 hours we reached our goal amount!
WICF: How are you getting the word out?
EMILY: Mostly social media, but we have a great production team that has been working tirelessly to promote the show. Pablo Rojas has put out press releases, Lauren Robinson, our head of marketing, has designed our posters and Chris Plummer designed our website on which tickets to the show are currently being sold. They've also been brainstorming ideas on viral videos of mock protests we'll be filming and releasing upon the Internet. Also, the day of auditions back in June was also Boston Pride Day, so we handed out a ton of promotional postcards to people enjoying the post-parade festivities at City Hall Plaza.
EMILY: Always. I really want to do a Christmas themed show, but from the point of view of Krampus, whom some may know as the German folklore sidekick to Santa. He punishes all the naughty children with more than just coal. Clearly I like my musicals to be on the darker side...I blame Sondheim.