May 15, 2012

The House That George Built

photo by T. Charles Erickson

Not long after I moved to New York, I was on a bill with other singer/songwriters at a now-defunct Park Slope eatery called Night & Day, and among the standouts was a ginger-haired imp named Gabriel Kahane who played excerpts from something he called "Craigslistlieder"—verbatim personal and roommate-seeking ads from the site, turned into nervy and often touching art songs (here's a signature example).

In the years since, I haven't seen Gabriel perform again but I've followed his precipitous ascent—and not just in the concert hall, where he's become a kind of singer/songwriter/composer, a sort of Brooklyn-hipster Aaron Copland—with a mix of acute interest and slightly presumptuous envy. For, while my planned musical about Ed Wood winds it way through the BMI Lehman Musical Theatre Workshop, Kahane's musical with librettist Seth Bockley has made its way from Long Wharf to the Public Theater: It's called February House, after the Brooklyn Heights boho pad where the likes of W.H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Carson McCullers, and Gypsy Rose Lee were invited to live and write by the consummate host/advocate George Davis, one of the 20th century's greatest unsung heroes (he later married Lotte Lenya after Kurt Weill died, and was almost single-handedly responsible for turning her into the famous champion of her first husband's music).

All of which is preamble to say: I was pleased as punch to sit down with Kahane and Bockley recently to chat about their new tuner for Time Out:
The story of these unlikely housemates seemed to cry out for music, says Bockley, a Chicago playwright who has worked primarily in spectacle theater with troupes like Redmoon. Drawing largely from Sherill Tippins’s 2005 nonfiction book, also called February House, Bockley found a story in “the emotional life of the house’s rise and fall, and to me that is best illustrated in music. And the very internal journeys that the characters make are really suited to music theater, as opposed to drama.”

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