Posted on January 30, 2008 at 3:55 pm

(The first part of this epic can be read here.)

I’ve been avoiding finishing this story, it occurs to me, because I can’t assign blame as easily as I’d like. I think I’ve learned over these last twelve years that some projects just aren’t going to play out well, and The Moneyman was ultimately one of those. Nonetheless, I’ve been holding a massive grudge for a long time and it’s weird writing it down and feeling it dissipate.

According to my notes, I wrote the first song for what was then called The Predator’s Ball on January 18, 1996, and I wrote the Finale on April 27. For most of those three months, I was essentially writing in a vacuum. Karole had given me the script but had told me to treat it “as a guide,” so I freely jettisoned entire sections and characters, trying my best to preserve what I assumed Karole’s intentions to be. She, meanwhile, was mostly in Italy, trying to tame the ridiculous bureaucracy she had inherited. (In addition to choreographing the piece for MaggioDanza, Karole had been named the artistic director of the company, a job I can’t imagine she really wanted.)

I would fax her the new sections of the script when I could, but showing her the music was more of a challenge. Most of what I was writing wasn’t playable on the piano, and the only way I could record anything was on a little Sony portable cassette recorder that I carried around with me, so every couple of weeks, I’d sing and scream and bang into the tiny microphone and then ship the resulting tape off to Italy. Inevitably, she’d fax me back saying she had notes or ideas or wanted me to restore something, but it was very hard to communicate in any collaborative way. Whenever Karole was actually in the States, she was running around doing fundraising for her premiere Italian season, and so we’d steal an hour here and there if we could find a piano, but those meetings were awkward and tense; I could tell that she was genuinely happy with a lot, maybe even most, of the work I was doing, but it was equally clear that she was not enjoying having to fight about her “vision” with someone she considered (at best) her employee.

What built up, therefore, was an amazing array of passive-aggressive gestures, for which I was just as responsible as she was. Let’s say I cut something in the script. I’d call Karole to tell her I was going to cut it. She wouldn’t return my call for four days because she didn’t want to have to fight about it. Finally, she’d call with some lame excuse and, after pretending she didn’t even remember what I’d called about in the first place, she’d ask me to restore the section I wanted to cut. I’d assume we were having a collaborative dialogue and try to explain why I thought the piece would be better off without that bit. She’d shut down the conversation by saying “I don’t want to do a musical comedy,” and say the section had to be restored. (Musical comedy was Karole’s euphemism for “corny” and “commercial”. She used it like a cudgel every time she didn’t like something of mine, even when it wasn’t remotely appropriate to the conversation at hand.) I’d pretend to agree, then I’d move on and “forget” to deal with it, knowing that we didn’t have enough time to keep going backwards. She’d then send a new draft of the script with that section not only restored but expanded. I would let her calls go to the answering machine for a week. And so on. Neither of us was behaving particularly responsibly, but I reasoned that I didn’t really have any choice; I had to write some version of something from one end to the other or there wouldn’t be anything to present in Florence. I decided that the premiere in Italy would be a draft, a first shot, and an opportunity for me and Karole to look at what we had created and determine how best to proceed from there. Surely Karole saw it that way too, right? How could we possibly expect to create a polished finished product together when we weren’t even in the same country?

Once Act I had been written, at the end of March, I set up a recording session. Karole actually came to the studio, and for once we had a real collaboration. She had good ears for what I was doing, and would ask me to extend certain sections or cut others, and occasionally I’d see her in the corner twitching or tapping, as though her limbs were just about to explode outward. The music was exciting and the band played it beautifully, and Karole and I both left the session energized and excited for the work ahead.

Unfortunately, she had to get back to Italy to start rehearsal. I had another month left to get the score finished, and it became immediately clear that I was more or less on my own; Karole was a continent away working fourteen-hour days, and whatever conflicts we might have about the second act would have to be resolved when I got to Italy for the final week of rehearsals before the premiere. Meanwhile, we had hired six New York actors who were going to be featured in the piece in Italy, and so I had to rehearse them at the same time I was writing the rest of the piece.

Oh, also: at the end of May, a week before I had to go to Italy, I would be having the very first reading of a new show I had been working on with Alfred Uhry and Hal Prince. So it’s possible that I got a little distracted.

In Part 3, la merda hits il ventilatore.

Two very different pieces from the score:

Michael Milken, financial wunderkind, wants a job at Drexel, which is not the sexiest white-shoe Wall Street firm but rather a scrappy underdog where Milken believes he’ll have more influence. Perhaps someone out there with an actual interest in finance will correct me, but I believe a “fallen angel” is a term for a stock that is considerably undervalued or underperforming, and here we decided that Milken would use that term to lobby Fred Joseph (the head of the firm) for a job by saying he recognized Drexel as an underperforming asset. (Are you bored to death?) I thought, since we were positing Milken as some kind of savior, that a gospel-style piece would be fun. So here’s Milken, with a choir of backup Milkens, selling himself to the firm.

I met Sal Spicola when we both played in Billy Porter’s band. Turned out Sal had been on the road as Joe Walsh’s sax player for years, and then he was the “solo saxophone” in Miss Saigon for the ENTIRE RUN. I loved his playing then, I still love it now, and when I put together the band for these recording sessions, I knew Sal had to be a big featured part of it. Check out his deeply funky alto playing on this track.

“Reborn (The Fallen Angel)”
from The Moneyman (1996)
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
JRB: piano, vocals
Kevin Kuhn: electric guitar
Randy Landau: electric bass
Sal Spicola: alto sax
Tom Partington: drums
Robert McEwan: congas and percussion
Recorded and mixed by Jeffrey Lesser
Instruments recorded at RPM Studios, NY, NY, 5/1/96 (Engineer: Suzanne Dyer)
Vocals recorded at Warehouse Recording Studio, NY, NY, 9/17/96 (Engineer: Billy Eric)

And now for something completely different: the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange at the beginning of Milken’s tenure. Every time you hear that big ringing bell, that signified a major trade having been made, and the choreography made clear that Milken was more and more at the center of those big trades.

I wanted the music to reflect the aggressive and testosterone-heavy atmosphere of the trading floor in the late 1970’s. The whole dancing company would be men in suits, and I thought it would be appropriate if the music were very primal. Basically, this entire section is made up of only three chords (each paired with a specific bass note), introduced one at a time and gradually interacting (it’s actually almost entirely serial and twelve-tone, which are two things that I don’t often associate with my own work). This is as minimal as anything I’ve ever written, and feels in some ways like a nightmare tap dance co-written by Milton Babbitt and Frank Zappa. (Two other things I don’t often associate with my own work.)

The featured musician on this track is Tom Partington, who played drums for me on Songs for a New World, Parade, and about ten thousand other projects until I decided to stop using drummers altogether. Tom is a sensational colorist, and you’ll hear here how much fun he has playing against and around the programmed track. (Incidentally, there are some hiccups here and there in the time because we recorded this in one frantic take. If ProTools had been around back then, this thing would be smooth as buttah.)

“Milken On The Floor”
from The Moneyman (1996)
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
JRB: piano, synthesizer programming
Kevin Kuhn: acoustic and electric guitars
Randy Landau: electric bass
Sal Spicola: bass clarinet
Tom Partington: drums
Robert McEwan: xylophone
Mia Wu: violin
Recorded and mixed by Jeffrey Lesser
Instruments recorded at RPM Studios, NY, NY, 5/1/96 (Engineer: Suzanne Dyer)
Vocals recorded at Warehouse Recording Studio, NY, NY, 9/17/96 (Engineer: Billy Eric)

I’ll conclude this story in a couple of weeks. Now back to writing “13”!

Credits: