Some, of course, have suffered more than others have during the pandemic.
In addition, while millions have certainly endured substantially greater tragedies than Tom Kitt, these past many months haven’t been easy for him.
You’ve heard people under difficult circumstances use the expression “I was hit with a one-two punch”? Kitt has experienced many more than two.
Here was the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer of NEXT TO NORMAL readying his new musical FLYING OVER SUNSET.
It deals with Aldous Huxley, Clare Boothe Luce and Cary Grant. That the famed British philosopher-novelist, the Ambassador to Italy and a Hollywood matinee idol would be linked together brings up the expression “strange bedfellows.” They undoubtedly got even stranger after they took lysergic acid diethylamide, chummily known as LSD and colloquially called acid. We haven’t heard much about this psychedelic drug since it was mentioned in two 1967 musicals: HOW NOW, DOW JONES and, of course, HAIR.
However, theatergoers were to encounter it at its first preview on Thursday, March 12, 2020.
You don’t need me to tell you why they didn’t.
How sad, for musical theater enthusiasts were so excited to see what melodies Kitt would put to the lyrics of Michael (GREY GARDENS) Korie. Moreover, how many times do we have a Pulitzer Prize-winner from one musical working with a Pulitzer Prize-winner from yet a different musical? SUNSET’s bookwriter was James Lapine of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE fame (and fame from other shows, too).
Kitt is in such demand that FLYING OVER SUNSET wasn’t to be his only musical of the 2019-2020 season. Only a day after his uptown show debuted, his downtown show THE VISITOR – dealing with the white-hot-button issue of undocumented immigrants – would too at The Public Theater. Here he’d be reunited with his NEXT TO NORMAL and IF/THEN lyricist Brian Yorkey.
Meanwhile, Kitt was in negotiations to have yet another musical – ALMOST FAMOUS – come to town. And if all that wasn’t enough (and of course it was), Kitt, who had orchestrated and arranged the Broadway hit JAGGED LITTLE PILL, was functioning as the show’s music supervisor as well (just as he had for HEAD OVER HEELS and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS). Now his services wouldn’t be needed at the Broadhurst any more than on or off-Broadway.
What’s a fellow to do? Could Kitt, to paraphrase that famous 1915 song, pack up his troubles in his old Kitt bag and smile, smile, smile? Hardly – for on April 5th, he, his wife and three children experienced a flood that ruined their home. Would the series of horror shows ever end?
And yet, Kitt knows that when life gives you time off, make time for what you can do. So instead of reflecting on his setbacks, he made an album called REFLECT.
No surprise that Kitt made calls to performers who’d been in his musicals: NEXT TO NORMAL’S Michael McElroy and Brian d’Arcy James; IF/THEN’s Pearl Sun, Jerry Dixon (the original Daniel in ONCE ON THIS ISLAND) and Jenn Colella, who was in Kitt’s HIGH FIDELITY, too.
From JAGGED LITTLE PILL, he asked Elizabeth Stanley and Lauren Patten, who are both up for Tonys this month. So is Adrienne Warren for TINA who got Kitt’s call, too.
The deal: Kitt would provide the music and would collaborate on the lyrics that each of the above would write. Those artists would sing their own songs, too.
Add in some of two of Broadway’s current most valuable players, Heidi Blickenstaff and Javier Munoz, and you’ve got quite a cast.
However, it also includes Kitt’s kids Michael and Julia, who provided background vocals. They prove that this is not a case of charity begins at home.
So, between January and April of his year, they recorded the songs that mostly deal with aspects of the pandemic, be they advisory (“Breathe”), political (“The King of Our Destruction”) or quarantine-related (“Come to Me,” “When”?). Others deal with the joys and challenges of love (“Finally Found,” “Fly Away”), the loss of a loved one (“I Didn’t Get to Say Goodbye”) and prejudice, which doesn’t, to our regret, take a time-out from any disease (“Sweep Your Own Snow”).
“My Curtain Call,” the McElroy-Kitt collaboration, has a musical introduction that suggests it’ll be a beautiful song, and while it delivers on that promise, it does have a lyric that deals with the pandemic. But McElroy also references an incident that happened to him when he was playing Tom Collins in RENT. It was a case of appearance versus reality, and McElroy is still haunted by the fact that reality “won.”
The other songs embrace techno (“The King of Our Destruction”), tenderness (“When?”) and classic pop (“Reach Deep”).
Kitt didn’t limit himself to just commissioning works; he wrote both music and lyrics for four songs. Under the circumstances that life had been throwing at him, how brave, patient and resilient he was to write one called “This Too Shall Pass.”
One song, however, sadly proves that some time bad times don’t. It starts “She is strong, though her body is weak. She is wise, though she can’t find the answers we seek. And she has hope. She has hope.”
But alas, the lyrics for “She Has Hope,” aren’t only Kitt, but also by Danny Burstein and Rebecca Luker. On Dec. 23, 2000 – far too close to Christmas – Luker succumbed at a mere fifty-nine to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), that degenerative neurological disease that leads to paralysis. She didn’t live to see her song recorded by Brian d’Arcy James.
Yes, when Tom Kitt reflects on it, some people have indeed had it worse.
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. He’s a contributor to the new magazine Encore Monthly.