Review Fix chats with Erich Rausch, who discusses his production, Mad Mel Saves The World.
About the Production:
The inhabitants of Planet Marradia have landed on earth and ask “take me to your leader” in Mad Mel Saves the World.
This Midtown International Theatre Festival featured event takes us on an intergalactic adventure complete with a musical score encompassing pop, rock, and rap with a company that vogues and club dances. Throw in a healthy dose of political satire and you are a wild ride.
Book writer, GARY MORGENSTEIN, wrote the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway musical, The Anthem. He is also a celebrated novelist with his fifth novel, also set in a science fiction motif, A Mound Over Hell, about baseball’s final season in 2098 in the aftermath of America’s defeat in World War Three. But here’s the biggie; Gary, a longtime publicity exec at Syfy Channel, was the mad PR genius behind the global pop culture sensation Sharknado!
His Composer, Lyricist, Director, Music Director is ERICH RAUSCH, won the PaperMill Playhouse Rising Star Award for Music Direction of Once on This Island and had three of his films featured at 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
About the MITF:
The Midtown International Theatre Festival returns for another summer of quality stage works. New York’s oldest continuing theater festival will present 100 plays in 23 days.
One of the leading reasons to visit New York in the summer is the theater – from Shakespeare in the Park to the best of Broadway. New York is also known for its amazing theater festivals. This year, the venerable Midtown International Theatre Festival takes its place as the oldest continuing summer arts festival in New York. To usher in this honor, producer John Chatterton presents nearly 100 new and fascinating live stage works – plays, musicals, variety acts, short plays, solo projects, and so much more. Visit www.midtownfestival.org for further info.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Erich Rausch: I am, I suppose, an extraordinarily creative person, or a person completely open to inspiration. I have never had anywhere near enough time to tell, write, compose the stories and music and art that come to mind as I live through my days – and nights. I have no transition period into dreams. I always go directly into them – or rather, I experience both ‘worlds’ briefly as I ‘fall into sleep’.
The quality of my creativity is not for me to judge – a point Martha Graham made to Agnes deMille in that famous letter that makes the rounds of acting classes and AA meetings. It’s my responsibility to ‘answer the muse’, if you will, and I have largely failed, at least if you go by the sheer quantity of work I do not turn into a practical reality. I may be an outlier – the ‘loser kind’ in Malcom Gladwell’s book, not the winner’ kind, or I may be fooling myself. I can say, however, that when I find a way to work, people seem to like what they see.
I am returning to my beginnings with this show. At 17, I was attending a free after-school arts program in el barrio – Marc Anthony was in my group. I was paid to write the music for a full length musical (I’d never composed before) through the NYC Summer Youth Employment Program, and the show had a 2 week run supported by Johnny Colon’s East Harlem Music School and Teatro Cuatro, one of the progenitors of the fair abundance of bilingual theater in NY today.
Around that time, I became homeless after my building in central Harlem was abandoned by its owner. We lived for 2 winters without any heat at all. One of the elderly tenants died of exposure. I believe this was the year several people died similarly, and shortly after a Heat Hotline was created, that still exists today in a modified form.
If I’d known anything about publicity, let alone tenants’ rights, I might have done very well indeed. Fast forward 20 some years – I am only recently learning to apply the lessons learned during those years of struggle. I act in small indie films now (there’s that word!), and had leading roles in 3 award-winning shorts at Cannes last year. And I am writing 2 musicals with Gary Morgenstein, and having the time of my life, even while I am still fighting to hold on to a “room of my own”. In this case, I was hired for a podcast version of the story we have now. Mad Mel began as a book – then a play – then a radio play (podcast) in which I acted – and now a musical. We are considering a tv/internet series. Gary handed me a libretto. We were working on another musical. He was going to use a different composer for Mad Mel. Someone French, a bit avant-garde I think – stuff I usually like. But I immediately saw the potential for what I only now describe as a Guardians of the Galaxy-like tone. I mean – He hands me a song title called “It’s Hard Being a Dictator”. Well, you could either go the Springtime for Hitler route, or a Queen Latifah- esque rap with a hook that goes “It’s hard..being a Dic (beat beat)…tat-tor! So I went, musically, for a valentine to the popular music in all its genres of the 80s and 90s. My generation, in radio and MTV terms. It was actually rather easy – the music flowed. I did have to work hard at the lyrics, though. For a while I thought I’d only be a co-lyricist.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
Rausch: Certainly the music. All original music, but almost every song is its own tip of the hat to the joyful lyric and rhythmic hits of my generation. And the dance also. Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation was an inspiration for the somewhat militant nature of the Marradian government supporters. Richard Rivera is choreographing most of the show. I met him through the same East Harlem Music School, when I became an off-site teacher and was sent up to the South Bronx to give his little brothers piano lessons. And when I was homeless, I became friends with the Vogueing Houses, this was before Madonna haired some of them and they began moving into the mainstream and finally making some money. So – when I read Gary’s scene in the boutique with the android mannequins trying to sell our hero a dress (it’s a fashion fad on Marradia at the moment – men wearing 60s human style dresses) – I knew right away I wanted them to vogue. For me, it’s a tribute to my friends who created this beautiful life-affirming dance style, and of whom so many are not around anymore. I’m thinking especially of my friend Willie Ninja.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Rausch: That it is great to be free, broke or not. I was broke when I had a low-paying studio job. I got sick, and I got better, and I lost the job. I’m in debt up to my neck, but I am creating something that would not exist without me, I am bringing old and new friends together who would not be together without me, and I truly expect the audience to have a great time that they would not had not Gary and I thrown caution to the wind. They will leave the theater humming – or I’ll eat my hat. Or something. I’ll eat something. You pick.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of something like this?
Rausch: I’ll tell you – it feels incredible. Look, I almost died in 2014. Tumor as big as an apple right on top of my stomach. I couldn’t swallow my own saliva. They told me 50/50 – and said them’s good odds in their line of business. I lost friends and family during the same time period with better cancer odds than mine. And I got out of it with a clean bill of health. I can do anything, eat anything (in small amounts). I still do my own stunts and fight choreography. You can see it in the Cannes short Remember Us on Amazon Prime, shot 5 months after 7 hour surgery, chemo, radiation. So – it feels great. Especially great to be writing something that is fun, and that brings together people I love, and pays homage to loved ones who’ve passed.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Rausch: It’s a commercial piece of writing. I also write atonal abstract music. This is not that. (Although Leonard Bernstein showed how to walk both those lines simultaneously in West Side Story.) And it’s full of love of life, again very much in the way Guardians is, though we never thought of that story until a few weeks ago during a casting session. So we’re looking for investors. A successful musical makes many times more that a hit film over the course of a lifetime. The good ones – and especially the ones that are good commercially and artistically – they have a long, long financial tail.
Review Fix: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most?
Rausch: Gee – I really think most people will like pretty much all of it. It’s just that kind of piece. The whole things is written out of love. Love of life. Love of music, dance.
Adventure. Heroism, even though some of our protagonists may seem to succeed almost in spite of themselves. And love of freedom. My father escaped Communist Hungary, I don’t take our freedoms lightly. The show has a slight element of political satire also, a bit of a lesson. The creators – the lot of the half dozen of us or so – span the spectrum politically. I’m not going to say who voted for who. Though if anyone of us voted for the president-elect, I can safely say they are looking at that decision with some chagrin now.
Did you ever hear the story of Leonard Bernstein’s private screening of Singin’ in the Rain? He came out for a break after the title song and dance classic and said it was a perfect hymn for the love of life.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Rausch: A lot, for me. I didn’t come back from the dead to sit around. I was told how I could stay on Disability. I do have hidden difficulties I work around. But I went right to work, even when I could barely walk. I recorded a classical piano piece (my original career dream) for the very first time in my life 3 months after my operation – Ravel’s Le Gibet for the Louis Gordon’s Girl in the Chair, just off its own award-winning festival run. I have a dozen or so film projects I am involved in, a Film Panel and Screening series I am working on with Pim Shih’s the Set to bring together young filmmakers and actors while raising money for the homeless. I am writing a book about the crazy and talented and unique characters I’ve met and worked since I was a teenager. My next production is as music director for a retelling of the classic Chinese Romeo and Juliet story, Romance of the Western Chamber.
Gary isn’t sitting around either, though you should get the low-down from him. We have our other musical we are writing – I’ll just say think John Lithgow as a Republican with a heart of gold – and a change of heart in the course of the story. It’s a big, old-fashioned musical with a traditional score – in it’s First Act…. He has a new dramatic play without music that I sat in for a reading of last week. And of course his ongoing Marradian saga – the books and versions keep coming.
By the way – I knew the late Budd Hopkins. He was a successful abstract expressionist – one of the last and youngest from that famous time. He Invented the term ‘missing time’ in his book about UFO abductions, Missing Time. So these Marradia stories aren’t written in a vacuum. Remember – I think it’s in the promo for the show, so I am not giving anything away – our Earth hero wrote several hundred fictional bestsellers about Marradian culture – only to discover that they were all true.
Budd was a lovely man, wrote a highly readable autobiography about the art world and his side gig in UFO research. I believe his widow is the daughter of a stage governor – and a serious UFO researcher herself. Budd was a true believer but in a very humble and caring way. He simply couldn’t understand why, in the face of so many unexplained phenomena, our government won’t commit to research – or admit to secret research as such. So this show is my little tribute to him also.