Suburb, the Award-Winning Musical Comedy, Finally Gets a CD — and a Licensing Deal

News   Suburb, the Award-Winning Musical Comedy, Finally Gets a CD — and a Licensing Deal
A cast recording of the award-winning 2001 musical Suburb will finally be public in 2006 after years of circulating in industry circles, has learned.
James Ludwig and Jacquelyn Piro in Suburb.
James Ludwig and Jacquelyn Piro in Suburb. Photo by Carol Rosegg

A licensing deal is also in place to make the script and score widely available for stock, regional and amateur productions.

The sweetly satiric show by Kleban Award winning lyricist-librettist David Javerbaum and composer-librettist Robert S. Cohen pokes fun at conventions of choosing a life in the 'burbs — caught between the city and the country — as it tells of a young couple's angst about leaving the city to live in the sort of setting they grew up in. A widower's home is in their sights, and a ravenous real estate agent is in the mix. Members of an ensemble play multiple community roles.

The 17-track disc on the Original Cast label (available in mid-January) draws on two piano and voice recording sessions made around the time of the 2001 Off-Broadway bow of the show. (The singers are a mix of reading and production cast members, including Alix Korey and Jacquelyn Piro).

Javerbaum, whose day job is head writer for "The Daily Show With John Stewart" (for which he has won five Emmy Awards), told Suburb will be published and available for licensing in 2006 via Dramatic Publishing (

A rare original musical that is not based on source material, the show had its West Coast premiere at the studio space of the Long Beach Playhouse in California in October 2002, some 18 months after its New York City premiere at York Theatre Company. An amateur production that was an award-winner at a national community theatre festival brought the title to the attention of Chicago-based Dramatic Publishing. Until now, individual theatres negotiated with the authors for the right to produce to show.

Suburb was embraced by audiences and critics. Despite being nominated for a 2001 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical (and receiving a Richard Rodgers Development Award), the property is not widely known. At turns comic, tender, wistful and satiric (and affordably requiring a cast of less than 10), the show would seem to be poised for a wide future is the stock, regional and amateur market.

"From your mouth to God's ear," Javerbaum said.

Suburb played Off-Broadway's York in March 2001 and picked up welcoming reviews. An earlier 2000 developmental presentation at the York prompted rewrites prior to the fill 2001 staging. The Dramatic Publishing script/score reflects what was seen at the York, Javerbaum said.

The musical focuses on a young couple, Alison and Stuart, struggling with the idea of leaving their tiny apartment in the city and starting a family the world of conformity, barbecues, manicured lawns and strip malls. An elderly suburban widower and an aggressive real estate agent (memorably played by Alix Korey at the York) figure into the plot.

Producers Jennifer M. Sanchez and Roberta Plutzik Baldwin hoped to take the show to a commercial future in New York several years ago, but nothing materialized. Would New Yorkers go for a show called suburb? An earlier cast album deal never came through.

The CD features Adinah Alexander, Jacquelyn Piro, Alix Korey, James Sasser, Ron Butler, Jessica Wright, Sandy Binion, Reythal Bean and Eric Rockwell, with musical direction by Kim Grigsby and Jeffrey R. Smith.

Composer Cohen's musical God in Concert: One Night Only received a staged reading at the Second Stage in New York under the direction of Lynn Taylor-Corbett. He is co-author of the musical In My Life (not the recent Broadway musical), for which he obtained the exclusive theatrical rights to the Lennon-McCartney song catalog, which received performances at New Dramatists, Westbeth Theater and the American Stage Company. Cohen also composed the scores for the musicals Knots, Sabbat and Sunday Comix, which ran midnights at the Elgin Cinema. He has served as resident composer for the National Shakespeare Company, the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, and the Manitoba Theater Center. He is a graduate of Brown University.

Lyricist Javerbaum is a graduate of the NYU-Tisch Graduate Musical Theater Program and is a TV comedy writer who was nominated for a 1999 Emmy Award for his work on "The Late Show With David Letterman." He has won five Emmys for his work on "The Daily Show With John Stewart." He is the lyricist for the in-development Broadway musical Cry-Baby, inspired by the John Waters film.

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Javerbaum and Cohen grew up in the New Jersey suburbs, and know of what they sing.

"I had an idea for a show set in the suburbs and I had written one and a half lyrics for it at the point when I met Bob," Javerbaum earlier told "I didn't want to base it on any [existing source] because I'm inclined to write original things."

Javerbaum and Cohen met in 1996, when the writer was in his twenties and the composer in his fifties, through mutual acquaintances and started exploring material, working on songs and seeing if they were a match, a process that is "like dating."

"It's really evolved from a revue to a book show, and that evolved gradually over the first year of us writing it," Javerbaum said.

Out of the revue form, a young couple emerged. The collaborators decided that a two-couple structure — a staple of many musicals, especially in the Rodgers and Hammerstein era — suited the show.

The goal was to view the suburbs with affection "without being satirical or mean-spirited." The musical is not anti-city, said Javerbaum, who lives in New York City: "It was not written to defend or make a personal argument for one or the other."

Some of the revue-style material survived in songs that "touch on the familiar rites and rituals of the suburbs," Javerbaum said. For instance, you can guess from the following titles what the show addresses when not focusing strictly on the couples: "Mall," "Commute," "Mow" and "Barbecue."

But beyond the neatly observed songs (ranging from the tribal, comic "Barbecue" to the expressionistically existential "Commute"), which are played out by a tireless quartet chorus, there are conflicting hearts in the main characters of Alison and Stuart. The couple struggles over the idea of moving out of the urban jungle to raise their baby in the burbs: She doesn't want to become her mother (her mom grew gray and unhappy in the burbs) and he wants to face adulthood (and the burbs represent that).

In contrast to the young couple are the hungry, caustic real estate agent Rhoda (Alix Korey), and a widower named Tom (Dennis Kelly, at the York), who is thinking of selling his home.

"It's set in the suburbs, but ultimately it's about human beings," said Javerbaum. "We wanted to explore the suburban landscape and tell a story about moving on. It's about the story."

An earlier draft of the show featured a number in which the ensemble played singing appliances. That's been cut.

"We replaced it with a number with the two men...the older man who is having a hard time moving on, and the younger man questioning whether [moving] is something he wants or something he thinks he wants."

Did Javerbaum, a comedy writer for television, have to resist being full-out comic?

"I realized that there were loftier things achievable than perhaps being funny — not that being funny's not worthwhile," he said. "I like to think that as I get a little bit older I recognize there are other things you can accomplish. I think there's a lot of funny stuff in the show, and a lot of it is character-based."

Songs in the show include "Directions" (which includes the history of humankind), "Do It Yourself," "Suburb," "Not Me," "The Girl Next Door," "Ready Or Not," "Duet," "Handy," "Walkin' to School," "Bagel-Shop Quarter," "Trio for Four," "Everything Must Go" and "Someday."

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