a world premiere
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Scott Miller
July 17-18, 1992
Center of Contemporary Arts, St. Louis
Purchase the script here.
Purchase the vocal selections here.
Attempting the Absurd is one of the first truly postmodern meta-musicals (written 1986-1992, debuted 1992), about a young man named Jason who has figured out that he's only a character in a musical and doesn’t actually exist; and his special knowledge has persuaded those around him that he's off his nut. After he loses his girlfriend, he sets off on a quest to find The Answers To It All, along with his musical comedy sidekick, Chaz. Along the way the two find love (both gay and straight), community theatre friends, a little jail time, and ultimately irrefutable proof that Jason is right after all. Love and a copy of the script to Attempting the Absurd conquer all, and all ends as it should, with a happy, full company reprise.
Darcy Bowles – Jenni Ryan
Jason Christopher – Dan Guller
Mrs. Christopher – Rose Marie Nester
Chaz Williams – Kevin Collier
Danny Hooper – Charlie Robin
Alex Throttlebottom – Dan Sattel
Mary – Mara Hesed
Val – Catherine Edwards
Audrey – Amy Willard
The Playwright – Joel Hackbarth
Floyd the Cop – Peter Wilson
The Judge – Joel Hackbarth
THE ARTISTIC STAFFDirectors – Scott Miller and Steve Kutheis
Music director – Scott Miller
Orchestrations and Conductor– John Gerdes
Set Designer – Steve Kutheis
Lighting Designer – Brian Joyal
Set Coordinator – Kevin Collier
Business Manager – Holli Folk
“Miller has a nice sense of the ridiculous. He also shows a good feeling for whimsy and, most important, he has a deep and abiding love for classic American musicals. I liked the show better than I thought I would; it’s collegiate, sometimes sophomoric, but there are moments of great charm.” – Joe Pollack, St. Louis Post Dispatch
“About as good an evening of first-view musical comedy as I’ve seen for a while. . . Miller’s book, music, and lyrics range widely, intelligently, unsentimentally, and wittily over familiar and unfamiliar territory.” – Harry Weber, The Riverfront Times
It is the peculiar curse of the American Musical Theatre that it is never realistic. No matter how gritty and real Tony & Maria's Spanish Harlem or Tevye's Anatevka might be, it will never be realistic for them to break from spoken word into song.
Bob Fosse solved this problem with the film version of Cabaret by using only the songs performed onstage at the Kit Kat Klub. But by eliminating the other songs, the show really stopped being a musical in the strictest sense.
This problem was a constant topic of discussion among the musical theatre crowd at college. There must be a way, we decided, to get around it. And then, senior year, it struck me – if the characters know they're in a musical, then their singing is realistically motivated. They sing because they are characters in a musical.
Of course, this then presented lots of new logistical and philosophical problems, problems my roommate David Flores and I argued over for the entire school year. After graduation I set to work, and six years later, my aptly named Attempting the Absurd became a reality. But I feel compelled to share with the performers, artistic staff, and anyone else who happens to read this, the basic rules I developed to keep this craziness from falling apart:
1.) In a normal musical, characters do not generally know they are singing and they can't hear the orchestra. In this musical, however, those characters who know they're characters also know that they're singing. Characters who think they're real people do not know they are singing. This is very important.
2.) There are dozens of musical theatre references throughout the script and score. Few members of any audience will catch them all; most people will catch only a handful. But Jason and his friends don't make these references to get laughs or to "comment;" they make them because that is the world in which they live. Just as professional athletes tend to use a lot of sports jargon and metaphors, so is the language of these characters specific to their world. It's okay for the audience not to catch everything.
3.) Though two of the main characters are gay, they should not be played "gay." They are in the show to underline the theme of intolerance with a "real world" kind of prejudice that the audience may be familiar with. But every effort should be made to avoid them seeming overly "different" in any way.