You may not know the name Joseph Brooks, but you've probably heard his music. Brooks is the composer of the Oscar- and Grammy-winning song "You Light Up My Life," from the 1977 movie of the same name, which he wrote, produced and directed.
Brooks also wrote the score for the Oscar-winning movie "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis"; he has written and produced music for Whitney Houston, LeAnn Rimes, Roberta Flack and Ray Charles, among others, and advertising music for Pepsi, Coke, American Airlines, RCA, Chevrolet and Pillsbury, among many, many others.
Now he is expanding his resume to include Broadway — with In My Life, a $7.2 million musical at the Music Box Theatre that Brooks has composed, written, directed and produced.
"Broadway has always been the place I wanted to come to," Brooks says, sitting in his suite at the Carlyle Hotel no more than ten feet from his piano. "When I was a kid, Broadway was all I used to hear — all the hit shows. I would be at home and I would listen to them endlessly — Carousel, Oklahoma!, South Pacific. I knew every song. I took piano when I was five or six, and those are the songs I used to play. So I began with Broadway." In those shows, says Brooks, who was born on West 73rd Street in Manhattan and grew up in Lawrence on Long Island, "you would walk out of the theatre and you could hum the songs — 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning,' 'If I Loved You,' 'Some Enchanted Evening.' I didn't know how to get to Broadway. But I finally figured out the way."
In My Life is a love story with a twist. It is about a beautiful but insecure young woman who works at The Village Voice, and her relationship with a young singer-songwriter. The twist is that he has Tourette syndrome. It stars Jessica Boevers (Ado Annie in the recent Broadway revival of Oklahoma!) and Christopher Hanke (Nick Piazza in the Off-Broadway musical Fame on 42nd Street).
She hears him sing, and she's certain he's the man of her dreams," Brooks says. "She discovers who he is, and despite all that she plunges ahead. Because she's certain of it."
But there's more to the story — an unusual subplot, one that involves God. "While all that's happening in this odd relationship — here's where the story gets strange — God is putting on a big opera; He decides He's going to do an opera about these two young people. So His opera will mirror life. But then God decides that things are very tough up there, and He decides to go off for a while. So He goes away. He rides His bike. He plays old songs. And while He's not working, things are not going particularly well elsewhere."
And, Brooks says, there's also a narrator — "who is 12 years old."
It all adds up, he says, to a musical that is "warm" and "goes into the question of why we are here on earth, and what happens once we aren't here."
How did Brooks come up with this story? "I had stopped writing for about ten years," he says. "I got custody of my son, Nick, when he was eight, and I decided that I couldn't be a father and write at the same time. I lived in California for four years and Colorado for a couple of years, and then I came back to New York. And once Nick got to be 17 or 18, I figured I could go back to writing. I wanted to do something that was not from any other source, like an old film or an old play — I wanted something that was totally new."
To do that, he turned to his own life experience. "My son, Nick, had Tourette syndrome for a couple of years, though he seems to be all right now."
Brooks has written for the theatre before: He composed and co-wrote the lyrics for Metropolis: The Musical in 1989 in London. In addition to the Oscar and Grammy, the song "You Light Up My Life" garnered Golden Globe and People's Choice awards. And, according to Billboard, it is one of the most successful singles in the history of recordings, selling more than seven million copies and staying at No. 1 for more than three months.
In My Life has a distinguished creative team. Sets are by Allen Moyer (Twelve Angry Men, Reckless). Costumes are by Catherine Zuber, with lighting by Christopher Akerlind, who were both Tony winners this year for The Light in the Piazza. Brooks is his own director, even though it is rare in the theatre for a writer to direct his own show. "I've seen article after article saying not to do it this way," he says. "But I'm going to do it anyway."
As composer, lyricist, writer, director and producer, he has one more thing to tell audiences. Don't expect the ordinary, he says, because In My Life "takes you by surprise."