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Musings on A Wild Thing

A WILD THING  --  written for both stage and screen, is a new '60s rock musical for our time. With an all-original score and a story borrowed from Shakespeare’s ever popular romantic comedy/drama, Twelfth Night, it transforms characters and language fro 1601 into the youthful renaissance of music and ideas of the 1960s. Illuminating our own time through the lens of '60s conflict and culture, this story explores love, lust and gender, freedom/control and a racial divide.

“No one is ever more him/herself than when they’re really laughing. Their defenses are down. It’s a Zen-like moment and they are completely open... when the message hits the brain and the laugh begins. That's when a new idea can be slipped in and have a chance to grow.“ -- George Carlin


“I wanted it to feel credible (authentic) to its time.”

  -- Barry Levinson on making Diner.

A WILD THING was conceived during three very different theatrical productions of Twelfth Night and was developed, in part, at New River Dramatists and the Mercer Writer's Colony at Goodspeed and was a finalist for a 2024 Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellowship. There is a late stage draft of the book and demos of the all-original score - 25 musical numbers from which, a Concept Album is currently underway.

Although there are strategic alterations, much of the play’s structure is retained (a 1967 version of 12N cuts the entire Malvolio subplot). But in A Wild Thing, a play about what love is and definitely is not, Malcolm (Malvolio) serves as an essential antagonist to love’s resolution. And his rise and fall bring enormous amounts of fun as he transforms from a conservative figure on a power trip to an absurdly wild hippie thrusting himself upon Olivia.

THE MUSIC:     Listen to a selection of songs - CLICK

The original score for A Wild Thing is influenced by a wide variety of '60s artists, including the usual suspects -- Stones, Beatles, CSN, the two Joans, Clapton, etc. It also ranges to Motown, R&B, bossa nova and delta blues. 

“A Superhero Exorcises The Devil” features what came to be known as the Hendrix chord (b7#9) that is the backbone of songs like “Foxy Lady” and “Purple Haze.” The intro to“One King” is inspired by the 5/4 intro from Cream’s, “White Room.” And in “Roses Of The Spring,” Olivia and Violet/Daniel dance to a '60s bossa nova with a sultry “Stan Getz” tenor sax.

The language of AWT has been modernized to '60s vernacular but at times combined with poetic elements from the original. In “One King,” Morrison (Orsino) sings about Olivia: “To feel this rush of love for a brother / How will she love when cupid’s magic sting / Has killed the crush of all affections other / And her perfections filled with one true king.”
   And Violet sings in early '60s, folk-archaic language: “I am the man / if it be so as tis / she’s under some delusion what my gender is.”
   Her brother, Sebastian explains to Antonia: “my stars shine darkly over me,”  which is literally Shakespeare and poetically perfect 60s.
   And Olivia discribing herself: “Item, two lips, Revlon Red.”  While Jackie Lee sings: “My shroud of white / Sails down Dead Bayou.”

And it is dissembling that complicates our lives. Who are we? Who do we seem to be? In A Wild Thing, Violet plays a boy, Daniel. Morrison plays a man in love, with no clear sense of the object of that love. Malcolm plays a man of rectitude and correctness, masking other baser motives. Olivia plays a woman who has renounced life for seven years...until she falls in love.Andrew, a rich boy, plays at being a hippie, masking his wealth and latent belligerence. Maria plays the good servant until she takes decisive action, and impersonates Olivia. Even Jackie Lee works in disguise. In Act 2, he plays the Indian Mystic who interrogates Malcolm and then plays the Superhero who symbolically vanquishes him.

VIOLET (Viola) Although Shakespeare wrote other plays with twins, 12N is the only one with twins of opposite gender. Violet, emotionally grounded from a nuturing childhood, knows herself. In the rising confusion of Act 2, she sings: “And your love will show the way / Only love will know the way.”  As a twin, Violet’s identity is bound up with her brother’s. Beyond losing him in the storm, she has lost the balance in her own identity. She takes intuitive action, dressing in her brother's clothing to begin a journey into recreating herself. Later, when Sebastian turns up alive, balance is restored and the play can resolve. But part of that resolution comes from Violet having created a new balance within herself. And at the end, for Violet and Morrison to get together, they’ll have to get to know one another on equal terms.

MALCOLM (Malvolio) - starts out entertainingly obnoxious. Taking the bait proposed by the letter, he transforms outrageously, throwing himself upon Olivia. At the end, when he sees how badly he's been fooled, he spews a poison cloud in "Helter Skelter," in effect, swearing revenge, not just on Shakespeare's “whole pack of you,” but on the entire notion of a counter-culture with its renaissance of music and ideas.

JACKIE LEE (Feste) - Shakespeare’s philosopher/clown has become a veteran blues singer, a Black musician with the experience and perception of life in white America. He is one of those “originators” whose music the Stones and Beatles devoured as teenagers. Morrison gives them their due in Act 1: “...all those great blues players. Man, without them, we’d all be singing for Lawrence Welk.” And Violet perceives about him at the top of Act 2: “This man...he’s like the great players. They don’t just learn the notes. They learn the passageways. They see the whole map!”

OLIVIA  starts off in a mourning costume redolent of Jackie Kennedy and what that image resonates of “Camelot” and lost idealism. Wounded, aloof and arrogant, she transforms over the course of the play into a child of Woodstock nation with all it’s naive optimism. But fundamentally grounded, as all the women in the play are, she proceeds with an instinctive understanding that love creates life. And so let’s get on with it.

MORRISON (Orsino) - In love with Olivia, in love with love - it is through his connection to Violet that he begins to break through his notions and step up to the possibility of actual love, to see the love object not just as a reflection of the self, but rather as a unique, autonomous being.

TOBY - Olivia's eccentric uncle, a black sheep relic of the “beat generation.” Saddened by deaths in the family and Olivia’s excessive vow of mourning, he has neither the moral force nor the personal will to take any considered action, opting instead to stir up trouble, which complicates the play’s action and unwittingly helps to bring about its resolution. Over the course of the story, he moves from dissipation and nihilism to a discovery of Maria’s fine qualities.

ANDREW - emblematic of American youth in the 60’s, lacks a road to true selfhood. So he makes one up, rejecting his parents’ bland, affluent world and experimenting with a movement that promises possibility. But inside the trappings of his clothing and adopted fantasies from Tolkien, he is a naive, endearing, angry boy cut off from any real path to maturity and (perhaps) from his own sexual identity. Toby in Act 2: “I think the boy bats for the other team.  He just doesn’t know it yet.”

MARIA - Olivia's housekeeper assistant. Seemingly conventional, she works hard to keep the household afloat. But when roused to action, she becomes a force to reckon with, one that eventually acts to civilize Toby.

ANTONIA (Antonio) - a tough, biker chick. She saves Sebastian from the sea. And something in him in brings out the mother in her. Angry and hurt when it seems like Sebastian is ghosting her.

SEBASTIAN - More impulsive than his twin and more apt to "go with the flow," he lands in Olivia's bed with apparent ease. But the next morning he needs to employ what seems to be the family trait -- examining the state of things and how he feels about them.


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