Harlequin Productions Musical Director Bruce Whitney Talks Twelfth Night

first_imgA Rock’n’Roll Twelfth Night runs through July 20 at Harlequin Productions. Tickets and info available at 360/786/0151 or harlequinproductions.com Facebook4Tweet0Pin0Submitted by Harlequin Productions Harlequin Productions Music Director Bruce Whitney co-wrote A Rock ‘n Roll Twelfth Night and composed the music.Musicals are incredibly complex things. Two or three hours of continuous music, song, dance, and dialogue, combine with costumes, props, and set pieces to create a large and intricate work of art. The concept of sitting down and attempting to create a new musical is a daunting proposition. But in the mid-90s, two brothers in the Olympia theater community did just that.The musical that Bruce and Scot Whitney wrote is currently being produced on stage at Harlequin Productions for the fourth time. I sat down with Harlequin Production’s Musical Director, Bruce Whitney, who composed the music for the show.So how did this all get started?In 1995, Harlequin did a production of The Rocky Horror Show and we had such a great time. I had done some underscoring for Harlequin, but had never musically directed anything before. We decided we wanted to do another rock’n’roll musical and thought it would be fun to try and write it ourselves. Early in 1996, Scot came up with the idea of turning Twelfth Night into a musical. At first I was little dubious. I remember asking Linda what she thought and she thought it was great. So, what the heck? I agreed.Where do you start when trying to do something as complex as this?In April 1996 we went through the Twelfth Night script and picked out which lines or scenes or defining moments could be turned into songs. We came up with twenty-odd songs, and I thought “Whoa! That’s a lot of songs!” We had just started on it when Harlequin (Scot!) announced that they would be producing the show in the summer of 1997 – one year away. What??!! I was bit terrified, I admit, but Scot was, of course, completely confident and excited.What was the writing process like?Mostly the way it worked was he would come up with a song title (usually based on a textual reference) and some possible lyrics. Then I’d fiddle around on the guitar or piano and come up with a melody and sort of the feel of the song. Then we’d get together and talk it over. It was really pretty remarkable, in retrospect, how easily most of the songs came together.Not every song worked that way though. I remember coming up with the melody and title for The Way I Feel Tonight, not having any idea if it would fit into the show. I played it for Scot, and he soon found the perfect place for it – where Orsino and Viola finally unite toward the end.Tell me about the trip to the Condo?That was in February 1997. We probably had about half the show written with only three months before rehearsals would begin. Ouch! We decided we needed to get away for a week to concentrate on it. [Harlequin actor] Andy Gordon’s mother owned a condo just north of Newport, Oregon, and she said to go ahead and use it. Perfect!We arrived there late on a Saturday. I set up my music equipment, guitars, and computer in the living room. He laid out his thesaurus, rhyming dictionary and Shakespeare upstairs in the bedroom. I recorded ideas onto a minidisc player (pretty high tech at the time!), and he’d write lyrics. We’d trade ideas back and forth.We started out pretty excited, but for whatever reason we just weren’t getting much done at first. Not much was really working. By Tuesday we decided something needed to start happening or we’d have to come with a new plan. Bam! That day we wrote 3 or 4 great songs. From then on it was like an assembly line.There was one time I remember we were taking a walk along the beach, and we were leaning on a big log. Scot says, ‘I have an idea for a song for Olivia (modeled after Madonna) where she says “Expose your love to me.’ And the melody and “feel” of the song came to me right away. Very Madonna, very seductive!Another one was “Halleboogaloodaday!” He made up the word for the song, and I thought “Huh?!” But it works! Fun song.Anyway, by the time we left, we only had a couple songs left to do. We still talk about how great that experience was.I know it must feel great whenever you musically direct a show and it’s received well. But how much better does it feel when it’s something you actually wrote?This one means way more. I’m just flabbergasted that we could do it. I feel like we did something special, you know? Anyway, people seem to love it, and that’s VERY satisfying.They certainly do. Popular demand keeps bringing it back again and again.Yeah and every time we do it I love it even more. And there’s yet another chance to make improvements. For instance, Lead Me On was added to the 2003 production (our third). We decided that the wedding scene with Olivia and Sebastian, late in the show, really needed a musical moment. We wrote it just a couple of weeks prior to opening. And it’s funny because that one almost sounds like something you’d hear on the radio. [Laughs] I think it could sell.Looking back, one of my favorite things about creating the show were the backup parts. They’re so much fun. And the backup singers have more work to do than anybody else. Singing and choreography in almost every song. Big accolades and a big thank you!This is a fascinating story and it ends up being an accomplishment between two brothers. How does it feel that you built this incredibly intricate show alongside your brother?The man is brilliant. He and Linda started this company in the early nineties and dragged me along for the ride. For the most part, I’ve written a lot of underscoring for almost all the Shakespeare’s and several of the other plays. Later, beginning with this show, I started adding “music director” to my resume. If it weren’t for him and the whole Harlequin experience, I wouldn’t be nearly as accomplished a composer and musician. And it was his complete confidence and complete faith that we could create this musical that kept us going. Oh, yeah, and check out his lyrics. They’re flippin’ incredible!I love that guy.last_img

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