How the Feverish Imaginations of Jonathan Larson, Rusty Magee and Friends Birthed the Musical "Sacred Cows"

By Jonathon Collis
02 Mar 2013

Cover art
Come Spring 1993, Magee was becoming increasingly involved with Scapin, which took him away from the final sessions of work on "Sacred Cows." That Summer, Rent entered development at the New York Theatre Workshop, drawing Larson away from the project as well. With two of its core creatives unable to commit the extra time required to refine the show, "Sacred Cows" was left to fade into the background. The premature deaths of Larson (1996) and Magee (2003) would subsequently keep the material confined to archive: "After Jonathan and Rusty died, we didn't want to feel like we were exploiting their memory," explains Goodman.

Out of "Sacred Cows," however, came close working relationships between its creators, especially for Golden, who worked frequently with Magee until the latter's untimely passing and collaborated with Larson again in 1994 on the children's video "Away We Go," a musical journey across New York City, which is available on DVD. Golden also performed, along with Magee, in early readings for Rent at New York Theatre Workshop. Much of Rent's creative team would subsequently go on to produce Goodman's Bright Lights Big City at NYTW two years later. In the meantime, the collaborators would all remain close and keep in touch personally and professionally.


How do the creators feel about their project 20 years on?

"I'm amazed by how many ideas we all had — there's so much going on. You hear the personalities of the entire team, [everyone's voice] really comes through," says Roberts, the excitement clear in his voice through the phone. "Some of the creative choices we made back in Spring of '93, before the whole animated thing, before irreverence, including a rap..."

"It's weird to hear Jonathan Larson singing 'I'm God' and talking about heaven," mentions Goodman. 'We were all so hungry back then..."

"It was a chance for five creators to get together and create," says Roberts. "With most projects, you have a master — such as a producer — but here, we didn't have one. We just got together and did it. It was a true collaboration."

As for Multi Media Musicals, Goodman reminisces: '"Sacred Cows" was meant to be the first project. We started on a few more things, but after Bright Lights Big City went to workshop, the project fizzled out. Jonathan [Larson]'s death also took away a lot of the appeal."

So why release it now? "We decided it's been on the shelf long enough," says Roberts. Goodman is equally excited: "Twenty years later, it's all gonna happen!" Indeed, as the original demo reaches publication, fans will have waited almost a full year for each minute of tape; the demo runs 20 minutes, 25 seconds.

Alison Fraser

Actress Alison Fraser, widow of Rusty Magee, says, "I am delighted that this music, put together in such an innovative and exciting way, is finally getting the chance to be heard. And I know that Rusty, gone ten years on Feb. 16, would be especially thrilled by this turn of events. He was very proud of this collaboration with Jonathan, Bob, Paul, and Jeremy, and the imminent light of day shed on it 20 years after its creation is cause for celebration indeed."

While "Sacred Cows" remained consigned to archive for 20 years, the recording and ideas are still fresh today while still maintaining its early '90s aesthetic. While perhaps not as scathing as the "South Park" creators' treatment of religion on that series or in Broadway's The Book of Mormon, "Sacred Cows" reminds us of how controversial such a project would have been in the pre-Matt Stone and Trey Parker days, a spark from creative people given the freedom to make something for themselves on their own terms, and grants us a musical snapshot of five talented young artists on the edge of ascension.

The track listing for "Sacred Cows: A New Beginning (The Story of Adame and Yves)" follows:

1. Prologue/A New Beginning
2. I'm God (featuring Jonathan Larson)
3. In Paradise (featuring Rusty Magee)
4. Give Me Your Rib (featuring Jonathan Larson)
5. Yipee Ay Oh (featuring Paul Scott Goodman)
6. The Tree Montage (featuring Bob Golden, Paul Scott Goodman, Jonathan Larson, Rusty Magee, Jeremy Roberts)
7. The Apocalypse
8. No More Mister Nice Guy (featuring Jonathan Larson)
9. In Eden

Find more information at the "Sacred Cows" Facebook page

Permission to include a musical excerpt from "Sacred Cows: A New Beginning" is courtesy of Alison Fraser, Bob Golden, Paul Scott Goodman, the Larson Estate, and Jeremy Roberts.

(Jonathon Collis received his MA in Theatre Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and works as a freelance writer and theatre historian in Seattle.)