Posted on October 26, 2009 at 4:35 pm

In the summer of 2002, I had a meeting with a producer about writing the score for a new musical based on a beloved cartoon character from the 1930’s. In a dénouement that will be no surprise to regular readers of this blog, it didn’t work out as expected.

The original rights-holder of this cartoon character had approval of the entire creative team, so before I could be officially hired, I was asked to write two songs that might fit in the show. In order to get paid to write those two songs, I signed an agreement stating that, in essence, if I ended up not being hired for the show, I could retain ownership of the songs but would never be allowed to state that they were written for this particular character. Because of that agreement, I am not using the character’s name anywhere in this post. I think you will need about fifteen seconds to figure it out, but my hands are clean.

By the time I met with this producer, the wonderful writer David Lindsay-Abaire had already written a wickedly funny and fantastically creative treatment for the musical, and it had been approved. Since I had already written the music for two of David’s plays, I knew that working with him would be a joyful and exciting collaboration, so I decided to write the two songs.

Equally important was the fact that just by reading the treatment, I knew what the show should sound like. Since it took place in a Manhattanesque city in the middle of the Depression, I heard a kind of squonky cartoon jazz, like early Duke Ellington crossed with Carl Stalling; and [character’s name redacted on advice of counsel]’s speech patterns and dialogue were sufficiently distinctive and idiosyncratic that a lyric style for the show became obvious fairly quickly – I imagined Yip Harburg as the perfect person for the job, so I tried to ape his style as best I could. (As it happens, I’m very distantly related to Yip Harburg, so I feel especially close to his work, even though our writing styles couldn’t be more dissimilar on the surface.)

I looked through the treatment and picked two moments that seemed particularly ripe for singing. At the end of the first act, [character’s name redacted on advice of counsel] decides to run for Mayor, and her campaign speech is so rousing in its sincerity and optimism that the populace overwhelmingly votes her into office. And in the second act, [character’s name redacted on advice of counsel] is performing her nightclub act (in the midst of her term as Mayor, of course) and marveling at the good fortune that has brought her from life as a nobody to her current stardom.

(An explanation about the second song: Throughout the play, another character – we’ll call him Dingo – is constantly dodging the owner of the nightclub, and in this song, Dingo hides on the bandstand itself, which requires him to take a clarinet solo in the middle of the song even though he doesn’t play the clarinet. As his solo comes to an end, the nightclub owner sees him and he runs off the stage. That clarinet solo was played on this demo with exquisite ineptitude by my own gorgeous wife, Georgia Stitt, which I suspect she doesn’t want me to publicize. Oops.)

David liked the songs a lot, as did I, so I went into the studio with the sensational Nicole van Giesen to record them. Almost immediately, I heard from the producer: the rights-holder and all of the producers loved my songs! I got the job! I was going to write a big Broadway musical comedy about [character’s name redacted on advice of counsel]!

And then I got fired.

I don’t really know what happened, and the producer who had originally approached me was never very clear with me about what went on (I think there was a power-play with the rights-holder and one of the other producers), but I know it wasn’t anything I did, because I hadn’t written anything yet. I had two meetings with David, where we came up with a lot of great, fun ideas for the show, and then I got a call saying it was over. They hired another composer, then David quit six months after that, then the producers started over with yet another writer and composer, and then I saw an announcement last November (five years after my involvement) that there was a whole new creative team (which sounded totally bizarre).

So whatever. The songs are fun, Nicole sings them beautifully, and you get a gloriously bad clarinet solo by my wife. And to the producers who fired me, after I had turned down other work and cleared six months of my schedule at their request to write the show, a very hearty and well-deserved [expletive deleted].

“[Title song from show about cartoon character whose name is redacted on advice of counsel]”
from [Title withheld on advice of counsel] (2003)
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
[title character]: Nicole Van Giesen
JRB: piano, tap dancing, backing vocals
Recorded and mixed by Jeffrey Lesser
Recorded at RPM Studios, NY, NY, 7/1/03

“Goin’ My Way”
from [Title withheld on advice of counsel] (2003)
Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
[title character]: Nicole Van Giesen
JRB: piano
Georgia Stitt: claminet
Recorded and mixed by Jeffrey Lesser
Recorded at RPM Studios, NY, NY, 7/7/03