Mark Bretz, Ladue News critic, sensitively sent emails about an error he made in his CUDDLES review, writing the wrong name for someone he's written about probably a dozen times. Simple mistake, which he quickly fixed.
But I chided him a bit, about another error I identified. His description of the music of CUDDLES as "classic rock and more contemporary." We joked about that, but I told Mark it inspired me to go through the thinking of the sound plot of that show.
As a director, music is vitally important to my vision and intended rhythm of a play.
It's been that way forever for me, and most recently (scoring Theatre Guild of Webster Groves shows for upbeat and romantic ballad mid-50's pop songs for the love story that is BUS STOP, and then fitting the seemingly incongruous but right on the money energy and heat wave love and lust of Jerry Lee Lewis for THE UNDERPANTS.)
And CUDDLES generated another quest to find just the right music to underscore a script – in this case, a dark, sometimes darkly funny, twisted, sometimes supernaturally so, tale of vampires and family abuse.
Very early one song came to mind, which eventually came to lead us into the seemingly innocent Monopoly game between the two sisters – Melanie's BRAND NEW KEY (for Bretz's benefit, the only tune in the song anywhere near Classic Rock.) The innocence of the song (characterizing Eve's innocence) coupled with the underground sexuality growing in Tabby's life was delivered by Melanie's little girl voice, singing "I've got a brand new pair of roller skates, you've got a brand new key."
From there, I continued a search for what I wanted to be a lineup of music, not only appropriate for the mood and tone of the scenes they set up, but also songs that I felt, underneath whatever genre they were in, were somewhat timeless, sometimes exotic, and, to me, really pretty weird.
As I listened widely to lots of stuff, the next song that inexplicably popped into my head was Lawrence Welk's 60's hit, CALCUTTA. It's a goofy thing, but near the end of the song, a chorus starts clapping to the beat, and it always struck me as a bit over-the-top strange. (Written by a German composer, so you know it's a little weird.) That song was in, used early in the show when things are still seemingly OK.
But CALCUTTA led me to what I believed was the show's theme - PERFIDIA - Mexican in origin, adopted by Spanish influences and pop music the world over. Covered by everyone (including Linda Ronstadt in her native tongue), the title means "Betrayal." Before I knew that and how appropriate it was for our show, the lush, lurid romanticism of the tune was the Soundtrack of CUDDLES to me. The 1940 Xavier Cugat version, natch.
The next key song that was found was the show's soundtrack, played several times during the play (as was PERFIDIA), and it was so appropriate. David Bowie singing Gershwin's A FOGGY DAY IN LONDON TOWN to the sinister arrangement of Angelo Baldalamenti (who has scored several sinister David Lynch films.)
Hot on its heels (and in the same classically romantic vein) was A GYPSY IN MANHATTAN, heavy overtures mixed with gypsy violin from the Herbert Rebhein Orchestra, playing a tune written by (of course) a trio of Germans, including Bert Kaempfert.
This music was the bedrock of the show's soundtrack, but there were still some holes that need upgrading or filling in. Open ears gave me SHE'S GOT IT, from the Brazlian band Igor Prado, a deadly blues number that underlined Tabby's hardcut power, and FIFTEEN from Goldroom, contemporary electronica which served as the umbrella for the scene where Tabby takes Eve into the sun (not a nice place for a vampire.)
Then in the middle of a bout of Sound Designer's block, Assistant Director Rachel Hanks came through with a suggestion of Nicole Dollanganger's PLEASE EAT. (Dollanganger is a young Canadian singer/songwriter with a sharp, haunting voice, along the lines of Melanie and right along the track of Eve's haunted life.)
In addition to regular theatre work, Rachel just received her Masters Degree in Social Work, with an emphasis on child abuse and other problems, and her insights brought clinical depth and validation to the journey of the play.
But it was her music suggestion that saved the day here, and I quickly found two other Dollanganger songs, BAD AND BEAUTIFUL and FLOWERS OF FLESH AND BLOOD. Their tone (and even some of the lyrics) seemed like we hired her to do this show.
The last few needed numbers quickly fell into place – Going back to Badalamenti and a composition of his called CRYSTAL – mournful, serious, with hints of imminent revelations, and for a very important transition from the body of the play into the epilogue, searched for and found Benedictine Nuns singing the AVE MARIA – and used a small bit about seven minutes in where one solo nun takes a passage – it sent chills up my spine, and I hoped a few of the audience, who, like me, just gets spooked by heavenly music recorded in very old churches.
And though the show had absolutely not religious overtones (other than the Crucifix Tabby, in frustration, waves at Eve), both this piece of music and the following, the last music in the show, curtain call – also had religious underpinnings – though from a Southern Bluesy meet-the-Devil0-at-the-crossroads kind of religion – Tom Jones burning live delivery of John Lee Hooker's BURNING HELL. Now while I tried to focus on a broadly international lineup of music, to go hand in hoof with the exotic nature I ascribe to vampires, this American classic was just too cool, just too cold, just too right, not to use. (As a so-called Sound Designer, I had to get beyond my sheer love of this piece to recognize that it was right for the show.)
And American as it was, as this show takes place on a foggy night in London town, this song was sung by a Knight of The Realm, Sir Tom Jones.
(All of these songs are on YouTube. I'd recommend a listen to some, if not all.)