Once a week throughout the month, a different member from Team StarKid will share behind-the-scenes insight and backstage scoop with Playbill.com in the exclusive blog "A Summer With the StarKids." Here is the first blog from Kaley McMahon, the lyricist of Twisted.
As I write this, it's two days until opening night of Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier.
My duties as the show's lyricist have been fulfilled by this point, but I'm awake at 2 AM because I'm sharing a one-bedroom apartment with the other three members of the music team: composer A.J. Holmes, music director Justin Fischer and orchestrator Andrew Fox. Sleeping arrangements might be a challenge if all four of us went to sleep at the same time. But nervous excitement — and pressing deadlines — have kept us sleeping in shifts.
This overcrowded musical commune is a stark contrast from how most of this show was written. I joke that Twisted is the musical that group chat "Google Hangout" built. Though I've known my partner A.J. Holmes forever, I didn't meet my other collaborators until the first read-through exactly one month ago. A.J. and I grew up around the corner from each other. He was my sister's best friend, my surrogate brother and a constant presence in my house. He wrote piano arrangements for musicals I wrote in college, and in the last seven years, we haven't had a single conversation that didn't end with our enthusiastic reaffirmation that someday we'd love to work together as a real composer-lyricist team. With Twisted, it seems the stars have finally aligned, and this project feels like the very satisfying end (or rather, beginning) of a story long in the making.
I met Matt Lang, Nick Lang and Eric Kahn Gale via video chat back in January. By that point, I had already read their outline of the show and first partial draft of the script and written lyrics for four songs. While they worked on the book in Chicago, I wrote lyrics in New York, and A.J. composed music in California, then Arizona, then Pennsylvania (A.J. is also a prolific working actor). For two glorious months, A.J. lived a mere ten-minute walk from my apartment, and it was then that we crafted the show's most intricate group numbers together.
We had regular Google Hangout meetings with our librettists to keep us all on track, but even so, I think it's kind of a miracle that all the separate elements managed to come together and overcome our geographical challenges. That's part of what's been so delightful about the last month — from that first read-through in the Langs' living room through the sitzprobe yesterday morning, I've felt the thrilling immediacy of live theatre that no modern technology can replace or simulate.
Working with Team StarKid has been a fascinating experience. A charmingly old-fashioned Mickey-and-Judy-show-in-the-barn vibe pervades the rehearsal atmosphere — perhaps aided by the fact that most of the cast and crew are in their twenties — but this show is also distinctly contemporary because this musical could not exist without the conveniences of the Digital Age.
StarKid gained wild popularity through YouTube, and this production of Twisted was funded by its legions of dedicated super-fans through Kickstarter. Because there isn't a lot of money in the budget, everyone involved wears many hats: the librettists-cum-producers are also in charge of props, publicity and accounting.
A.J. has taken on countless extra responsibilities where the score and orchestra are concerned. I helped my sister Jama touch up paint on the set she co-designed, and I've done my fair share of photocopying and printing. No one's asked me to make a coffee run yet, but I wouldn't mind making a trip to Starbucks if asked.
There's something oddly romantic about crashing on couches and floors and making late-night mad dashes to the copy center. As this crazy experience winds down, I'm acutely aware that, for all their flaws and frustrations, these are the good old days. I'm here for no other reason than that I am passionate about the show, and I want to please the fans who made it possible in the first place. Of course, making some money would be nice, too, but as I always say, if money were a priority for me, I'd have picked a different career.
We open in two days. All week, this ticking clock has put me through a succession of rapid mood swings, from, "This-show-will-be-great-and-I-love-you-guys-so-much" to, "How-the-hell-are-we-going-to-pull-this-off-we're-all-doomed." At the moment, I can't begin to fathom the impossible process by which it will all come together in time for curtain at 7:30 PM on July 4, but I know that it will. It always does.
I can't wait.