Countdown to Curtain:
Talking with JEFFREY STOCK, Composer
It's all brand-new to Jeffrey Stock, the 31-year-old composer of Triumph of Love, which opens on Broadway in just a few hours.
"It's my first opening night on Broadway, and the first musical that I've ever had a full production on, so I have no idea what to expect. This whole process is one surprise after another."
Groomed nearly since his college days by Triumph producer Margo Lion, Stock is gaping like Dorothy newly arrived in Oz. "I've never even seen a preview on Broadway. I didn't know what we were supposed to wear a tux until someone told me it was black tie. That's the thrill of it for me, just figuring it out as you go."
Born in New York City and raised in Dix Hills, Long Island, Stock majored in music and composition as a Yale undergrad in the 1980s. In 1988 or 89 he traveled to England because "I love English culture." His early writing included incidental music for plays in London's Fringe theatres, including Angels Still Falling at Bird's Nest Theatre, and a piece for the Edinburgh String Quartet. He began work on two musicals, which remain unfinished. Also at this time he struck up a friendship with Lion, who began coming to premieres of his classical pieces when he returned to the U.S. "She used to tell me she loved my stuff. She said my work had a classical feel to it, yet was tuneful, that I wrote real melodies. She told me that one day the right piece would come along" to make into a musical.
On a trip to California Stock told Lion that a play he'd seen, Marivaux's Triumph of Love at New York's Classical Stage Company, would be an interesting piece to musicalize as a chamber operetta. Lion encouraged him, and the result was workshopped at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1995, and opened in a fully stage production about a year ago at Center Stage in Baltimore, where it got strongly positive notices. The same followed at a Yale Repertory Theatre productions shortly afterward.
"It was thrilling to see it really produced with beautiful sets and costumes," he said, which helped him get through rewrites that saw six new songs written for the show, some replacing older ones. With F. Murray Abraham and Betty Buckley joinging the cast for Broadway, Stock needed to tailor material to their talents. He wrote "Emotions" for Abraham, "You May Call Me Phocion" as a duet for Buckley and Susan Egan, and arranged the existing showstopper, "Serenity," to suit Buckley's voice.
"She gave it a new feel," he said. "The last note was a very light, high note, which she can do, but that's not where she shines. it would be a shame not to use that incredibly powerful voice to end with whammo ending. So I gave it a stronger ending, and now it ends like gangbusters. It really fits the song, too. In one sense, you're shaping the material for a particular person, but in another sense you're getting to know the moment better. Someone like Betty Buckley causes you to upgrade your work to meet her skills.
It's just one of many lessons Stock is getting as he becomes Broadway's newest musical composer. Since it's his first Broadway opening, he said he hasn't had time to develop opening-night rituals.
Stock's dream for opening night is "that the whole thing really jells, that this ineffable thing that should happen -- and usually happens -- will happen tonight: That you'll feel like the whole act is one big breath. That's the kind of magic you hope will happen on opening night. Maybe with the audience all in that opening night mood, it will happen."