Monday, July 28, 2008

The Ben Hur Follies

Dear Eva,

We talked about writing a musical together a few years ago. I've started outlining a new one. What do you think? Here's a sketch of the first act.

The Ben Hur Follies

Act I

Curtain opens on a living room with a pristine black piano. It is an "apartment-grand" size piano, something between a baby grand and a regular grand. Sarah sits at the piano and sings "Deming Lullaby," a bright song about being a new mother and moving back to her hometown and making beautiful music with her family amid the hills where she grew up.

There is a knock at the door and a well-toned, uniformed man enters. His tan uniform bears the comforting green logo of Budget Van Lines, the green stripes worn on his shoulders like sergeant stripes. He introduces himself as Chad Messala. He sings a brassy number called "Cheap and Confident," in which a chorus of uniformed Budgeteers accompany him in a Chippendales-type of dance while Chad sings of the virtues of Budget: brand recognition, national reputation, getting the best deal for the money, etc. Two of the men end up dancing on top of the piano.

In recitativo, Sarah begins to look over the contract but is distracted by her crying baby and hurriedly signs the paperwork and exits. Chad snaps his fingers and a chorus of disreputable looking men in togas enter the scene as the ominous "Ben Hur Moving Company march" plays for the first time. The leader of this band is Ben Hur, a ne'er do well descendent of the fabled aristocrat who encountered Jesus before the Sermon on the Mount.

Chad looks around furtively and sings, "Don't Screw Up This Time." In this intriguing duet, we learn that Chad and Ben have some history together. Ben is dismissive and says, "Don't worry. Jesus is an old friend of my family, for God's sake. Everything will be fine. Keep your fingers crossed if you're worried." The song gives way to a dance number in which a band of Budgeteers assist the clumsy and pugilistic Ben Hur men, who keep tripping over their togas and getting into fights with one another. The piano is loaded onto Ben's chariot and is rolled off while they sing a rousing, guaranteed-for-an-encore song, "Keep Your Fingers Crossed."

Sarah and Algernon enter and do the acrobatic "Schlep and Shuffle," a Cirque-inspired act in which they juggle household items and their baby in a dazzling dance involving juggling, highwire, and balancing on one other. After the applause, they sing a beautiful duet, "We're Here."

Enter Ilderim, a middle-eastern prince descended from the arab merchant Ilderim, who was a friend of the ancestor Ben Hur. Ilderim and Ben discuss a gambling debt Ben owes to Ilderim, and Ilderim proposes settling the matter by setting up a chariot race in which Ben would race Chad Messala, in a contest between his chariot and a Budget rental van. Ilderim would bet heavily on Chad, and Ben would throw the contest so Ilderim would benefit.

Ben reveals that his chariot has been badly wrecked by his own men. "They broke the axle by loading that piano on it!" he complains, pointing to the piano on stage. Ilderim regards the piano with interest and points out that if one simply took the chariot wheels and installed them on the piano, the piano itself would make a fine, shiny chariot. They shake hands, the Ben Hurlots enter with power tools, and they go to work in a flurry of eastern-style dance moves and juggling of saws, screw guns, and hammers. Blackout.

Lights up on Sarah, pacing. She sings "Where Is My Piano?" as she dials a telephone and awaits an answer. Chad is rolled onstage seated in front of a different piano, and he raises his hands and plays John Cage's infamous silent piece, 4'33''. Sarah throws the phone offstage in disgust, and Chad disappears.

Sarah's piano, now with wheels bolted to it and a flag impaled through the middle, rolls on as a chariot, with Ben and three of his henchmen on board. They sing "Chad's A Pansy," challenging the Budget Van Lines manager to a race, chariot versus rental truck.


And that's the first act. Act Two will include the race, in which the piano-chariot is completely wrecked, and Algernon doing a conceptual dance piece about being on hold, being picked up and thrown around the space by acrobats in black body suits representing silent, empty space.

Not sure how it will turn out in the end but I think we've got something fresh and new here. Let's just say I'm inspired.


Pam said...

Yes, I feel Sarah's Piano pain! My "chariot" overturned, and, after about a week of stress, frustration, anger and phone tag, a new chariot brought my damaged good to me with insuing payment for damage and repair (after much haggling with Chariot owner)services.

Like I said, I feel your piano pain!

quid said...

BRAVO!!! Inspired by tragedy, it could be a hit! (We're going to need some more dancers, maybe some hip-hop.)