The Pursuit of Happiness

Special Features   The Pursuit of Happiness
 
Susan Stroman talks about the new Lincoln Center musical, Happiness, her new collaboration with Contact partner John Weidman.
Happiness stars Robb Sapp and Joanna Gleason
Happiness stars Robb Sapp and Joanna Gleason Photo by Paul Kolnik

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In the world of Tony Award-winning director–choreographer Susan Stroman and bookwriter John Weidman, New Yorkers are still trying to make contact.

In 1999 the two artists got together to create the Tony Award-winning Contact, a triptych of short musicals, the longest of which focused on a burned-out adman's attempts to connect with an elusive, life-fulfilling (and perhaps fictional) Girl in a Yellow Dress. It transferred from Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater to the larger Vivian Beaumont, where it ran for more than 1,000 performances.

Stroman and Weidman are now back at the Newhouse with the musical Happiness, which ends its run June 7, featuring a new crop of Gotham denizens trying to make contact — not necessarily with others, but with the best parts of themselves. Trapped in a stalled subway car, they are distracted from their growing frustration by a train worker who challenges them to identify the happiest moment of their lives. The score is by composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie, Tony nominees for Grey Gardens.

"The play's a morality tale," explains Stroman. "It's about how one lives one's life. It's about being present in one's life. We live in a city where climbing the ladder of success is very common, and climbing that ladder you forfeit almost everything. You're not present in your life. Even in the art world, I see actors who are in a wonderful show, but they've got one foot out the door waiting to get in the next show. You must be present in these moments in your life. That's all we have." As each character in Happiness describes his or her happiest moment, the subway car falls away and that moment is reenacted in song and dance. Some memories are simple and some unexpected. Among the suddenly introspective are a Democratic interior designer whose clients are Upper East Side Republicans, a controversial conservative talk-show radio host, a bicycle messenger, a woman who spends her days spraying perfume in the aisles of a department store, and an aggressive, take-no-prisoners lawyer, who is made late for a deposition by the malfunctioning train.

This last character, named Zach, is the pivotal figure in the ensemble piece; it is he who has the toughest time finding his happy place. "That makes him angry," says Stroman, "because he can't answer the question. He can usually answer any question that's put before him." For him, and others on the train, the problem is "not that cliché that they never stopped to smell the roses, but that they never cared that the roses were there."

The cast of <I>Happiness</I>
The cast of Happiness
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