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A Class Act: A Musical About Musicals – 2000

A Class Act: A Musical About Musicals – 2000

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Synopsis

Act I The Shubert Theater, February 12th, 1988. A Memorial for Edward Kleban, the lyricist of A Chorus Line, is being held on the stage where A Chorus Line is currently playing. The ghost of Ed sings “Light on My Feet,” expecting to hear his friends’ accolades. He is shocked when they complain that after A Chorus Line he was blocked; that the money ruined him; that he never had a committed relationship, never had children. Ed desperately wants his friends to realize that they are wrong. His once friend, now enemy, Sophie, appears to his conscience to convince Ed that people will only “get” the truth if Ed tells the truth about his life. Sophie insists that Ed begin with his breakdown during college, which led to a brief stay in a mental hospital – “Fountain in the Garden.” Sophie visits him there, and he plays her “One More Beautiful Song,” a tune he is writing on the hospital piano. Ed discovers that writing music is the key to helping him stay sane. When Sophie validates his talent, he finds the courage to pursue his dream of becoming a songwriter. After college, Ed becomes a producer at Columbia Records, and joins the BMI Musical Theater Workshop, which meets “Friday at Four.” Founder and Teacher Lehman Engel teaches the class to write a “Charm Song.” Ed, first time up, nervous, plays a song from Gallery, a musical inspired by paintings. The song, “Paris Through the Window,” inspired by a Chagall painting, tells the story of Ed’s first trip to Europe. The class’s reaction to the song is critical and competitive. Lehman recognizes Ed’s unique talent and expresses his “high expectations” for him. Ed discovers that songwriters have sex appeal when Mona seduces him. Sophie walks in on Ed and Mona. And although Ed keeps “Making Up Ways” to tell Sophie that he loves her, she is unconvinced, and ends their relationship. Unhinged without Sophie, Ed is on the verge of another breakdown. But he finds inner strength by channeling his feelings about Sophie into a song about divorce. Lucy, a friend from the workshop, sings “Under Separate Cover,” as Sophie, in memory, echoes the words. Ed finds producing cast albums at Columbia Records exciting, and his work keeps him from missing Sophie. But the job leaves him little time to write songs, and he imagines that if he were in “Gauguin’s Shoes” he would have the courage to quit to be a full-time artist. Lehman is instrumental in getting Ed to go to Toronto to write additional lyrics for a revival of Irene, directed by John Gielgud, and starring Debbie Reynolds. Ed is determined to prove himself, but he is temperamental, inexperienced, and difficult to work with. As a result, he is banned from the theater. Sophie makes a surprise visit to Toronto. She encourages Ed to learn to collaborate, and, in the words of his own song, to “Follow Your Star.” Just when he is ready to forge ahead, he is fired from Irene. Ed is devastated. The Act I curtain descends on the possibility that he may have another serious breakdown. Act II Ed has narrowly skirted a return to a mental hospital. He has left Columbia Records. He’s broke, but he’s writing music full time. He celebrates his new life – “Better.” His former boss, Felicia, joins in, as do his friends from the workshop. They all help him find the courage to go back and court Sophie (“Scintillating Sophie”) now a distinguished medical researcher. She lets Ed know her very special feeling for him – “The Next Best Thing to Love.” Sophie’s new boyfriend, Jean Claude, walks in. Ed is forced to face up to the fact his relationship with Sophie cannot be resurrected. Lucy runs into Ed in Central Park and helps him overcome a panic attack. He asks her to help audition his songs for Director-Choreographer Michael Bennett, who is working on an experimental show about Broadway dancers. Lucy’s idea to sing “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” a Gallery song about a Broadway dancer, helps Ed get the job. But when Michael asks Ed to write only lyrics, not music, Ed refuses. Michael makes a promise: if Ed will write just lyrics and work with composer Marvin Hamlisch for this “dancer project,” Gallery will be the next Michael Bennett musical. Ed agrees instantly. Ed and Marvin are temperamentally incompatible. Ed is a chain smoker; Marvin drinks milk; Ed naps every day; Marvin is restlessly bi-coastal. With the help of Sophie and Lucy, Ed learns to get along with Marvin. Ed and Marvin bond through the deeply satisfying process of writing “At the Ballet.” Just before A Chorus Line opens, Ed comes up with a lyric that puts the finale, “One” (excerpt), over the top. Marvin and Ed win the Tony®, which Ed accepts in a reprise of “Better.” Secure in his success, he proposes to Lucy (“I Choose You”), vowing to honor a loving, but limited “marriage.” After A Chorus Line, Ed writes songs for several musicals, but show after show falls through. He is so frustrated and angry that no one will ever hear his music, that his sanity is pushed to the edge – “Light on My Feet” (reprise). When Sophie suggests that he himself may be to blame, he cuts her out of his life. Extreme circumstances force Ed to go to Sophie’s research lab, where she confirms that he has cancer. His friends are devastated – “Say Something Funny.” Ed courageously goes to the BMI Workshop one last time. “When the Dawn Breaks” in 2001 he won’t be here. Alone with Lucy, he comes to terms with his life, and he is able to finish the final song for Gallery: his own “Self Portrait.” The Memorial: Lucy reads from “Ed’s Will.” Ed has left proceeds from A Chorus Line to create a Foundation that will give generous grants to promising theater songwriters: “the children” he never had. Also, he has bequeathed his songs to his friends: to Mona, the song “Mona,” to Lehman, “Charm Song,” etc. Ed’s final bequest, his song “Self Portrait” is a gift to all his friends. Having heard his life story, Ed’s friends finally “get” the truth about his life, and they join together in a reprise of “Self Portrait.” The audience now realizes that the book songs that tell Ed’s life story in A Class Act are this legacy to his friends, and that A Class Act is the show the friends have arranged to be performed “in a large building, in a central part of town, as part of a play, with a lot of people listening, who have all paid a great deal to get in.”

Credits

Mona: Nancy Kathryn Anderson Lucy: Carolee Carmello Lehman: Jonathan Freeman Sophie: Randy Graff Bobby: David Hibbard Felicia: Julia Murney Ed: Lonny Price Charley: Ray Wills The Orchestra: Conductor / Keyboard: Todd Ellison Associate Conductor / Keyboard: Dan Riddle Woodwinds: Eddie Salkin, William Sneddon Trumpet: Hollis Burridge Drums: Peter Grant Bass: Ray Kilday