The Kid hits Off-Broadway
A sex-columnist's memoir about adoption gets the drama-queen treatment.
Mon May 3 2010
For anyone who has read—or is even just familiar with the concept of—sex columnist Dan Savage's 2000 memoir, The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant, the notion of turning said book into a musical may seem a bit odd and complex. It certainly did to Savage, who says his initial reaction to the idea was "incredulity."
"I didn't see musical theater in it at all," he admits. "And I'm a musical-theater queen."
But for lyricist Jack Lechner, composer Andy Monroe and playwright Michael Zam—who met through a theater workshop several years ago and who had recently decided to shelve an idea for a show about faux White House reporter and gay hooker Jeff Gannon—it was a no-brainer.
"I thought it was very funny and very poignant. It was also very universal, but had an acerbic, unapologetic side, so it felt modern," says Zam, recalling what he saw as musical-ready qualities of Savage's tale. It's a many-layered one, to be sure, exploring Savage's tender relationship with a younger man, their desire to be dads despite deep-seated doubts of their parenting abilities, and the couple's journey through the administrative and emotional complexities of an open adoption, which eventually leads them to work with a teenage street-punk birth mother in Portland, Oregon, to adopt a son, DJ.
After the creative trio worked out a pitch for the musical, Lechner called upon famous comic friend Kate Clinton—also a pal of Savage's—to get them a phone meeting with the author. And though Savage says he was trepidatious, he gave them his blessing. "They talked me into it," he explains. "Honestly, though, I didn't think anything would come of it. The film rights had already been knocked around for so long."
The three men soon got a commitment from the New Group (whose last musical had been the successful Avenue Q) to produce the show. They began workshopping the material and tweaking the story, building drama and externalizing some of the struggles that had worked as internal ones on the page, Zam explains. "We had to take some dramatic liberty," he says. Also, because Savage's voice was such an integral part of the story, they decided to present the show as a narrative, with Savage (played by Christopher Sieber) leading the audience through the entire tale.
All felt lucky to have Savage's consent early on—especially since he had made it clear from the get-go that he would be a supportive yet hands-off presence.
"We were in denial about it for so long that it was easy to give them distance," Savage jokes, explaining that his partner, Terry Miller, is very shy, and was reticent about being depicted as a character onstage. Savage also had trouble with it; sitting through a recent preview performance, he says, "I was mortified. I'm a self-loathing Catholic weirdo. I don't like to look at myself in the mirror! But part of it made me cry—in a good way."
Savage says that, as a fellow writer, he knew that keeping his distance was important. "If I was hovering, they wouldn't be able to do the work in an unself-conscious way," he says. "But I did reserve the right to Queen of England it up. I gave lots of notes, and they were receptive to them." The writer's main concern, he says, was that DJ's birth mom—still a part of their lives—not be maligned in any way. "We were aggressive with them about her portrayal," he says. "Make us look like assholes, but don't make her look like one."
In addition to Savage's generosity with his personal story, Zam says, another bright spot in the show has been the bevy of openly gay folks—including himself, along with Monroe, director Scott Elliott and Sieber—involved in its production.
"The idea of having an out gay actor is wonderful, and we were happy to be able to do that," Zam says. While working with so many fellow queers, he adds, it was nice to be able to "use a shorthand" to get various points across.
Sieber (who was wooed to join the production after his stint in Shrek came to an end) adds that, as a gay man, it was a pleasure to work with the material. "As far as telling this story, there is certainly a connection," he says. "We can identify and sympathize with all the hoops they had to go through [for the adoption]." He adds that he was compelled to join the cast after one read of the script. "I read it and I laughed out loud," he recalls. "It was funny, and it was really touching, too." And where the story winds up, he says, is wonderfully satisfying, both for the actors and for the audience. "It's why theater is theater," he says.
The Kid opens Mon 10 at New Group @ Theatre Row.