Review Fix chats with Henry Aronson who discusses his new project “Loveless Texas,” created with his wife, Cailin Heffernan. Loveless Texas will play at The Sheen Center (18 Bleecker Street New York, NY 10012) from September 6th until 24th, 2017.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration behind Loveless Texas?
Henry Aronson: There are a lot of kinds of music I enjoy listening to that are not frequently heard in a character-driven, theatrical context, including the plethora of traditional styles that now go under the rubric of Americana. I like the challenge of incorporating these styles into the language of the stage, both stretching their emotional scope and making it more specific to characters and dramatic situations.
As far as musical theatre influences and models, there was definitely Music Man, because of the way Meredith Willson drew from a variety of American musical styles (e.g., barbershop, brass band), combined with specific American references and vernacular. And there’s one boffo song after another. Also, I’m always indebted to Frank Loesser (specifically Guys and Dolls), who took American speech and made it sing and naturally as speaking, also with a specificity that defines time and place. I think it’s no coincidence that both of these scores are by composer/lyricists, because I think there’s a tight integration of language and music when they cook together in the same pot. Structurally, we were influenced by the great Fiddler On the Roof, for how it spins together a number of stories, joined at the hub of community and family.
When it comes to specific songwriters who’ve inspired me, I respectfully decline to name them, as it would probably then become obvious how much I lifted from their work.
Review Fix: How did you prepare?
Aronson: The specificity of language I referred to comes at the cost of a great amount of research. I had a lot of the musical influences in my ear already, but I listened to a lot more so that I could access them freely and authentically. For the lyrics, I did a great deal of reading and researching: references and language specific to period and place, and idiosyncrasies of dialect. And I’ve tried to keep the language specific to character, too: we definitely did not want to write a generic “Texas” musical, where everyone just walks around singing “ain’t” and “y’all” and mentions boots and chili.
Review Fix: What makes this production of Loveless Texas different or special?
Aronson: Put simply, it’s the first full production of the show, after years of developmental readings and workshops. There’s something unreal about seeing these characters Cailín created, and whom we’ve been living with for many years, come alive in these actors’ bodies and voices in what now appears to us to be a real musical. The closest experience I can think of would probably be that of Victor Frankenstein, or Gepetto.
But it’s also extremely heartening to me that young producers like Tim Errickson are choosing to develop entirely original musicals, not based on a brand or a movie franchise. It takes a much more imagination, but I think the success of Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen attest to the appeal of telling people stories they haven’t heard before.
Review Fix: Who do you think will be affected by seeing the production the most?
Aronson: I’ve always thought of this show as the kind of family show I grew up with in the 60s, before “family” meant “kiddie show”, and when producing was not demographics-driven. Those shows, like classic novels and movies, give kids a window into the world of adults, and what those big strange people are running around doing when you’re not watching. But I also hope it will affect anyone who’s had a family, fallen in love, felt lonely and overcome it, had to rewrite their life plans, stumbled their way through a world that’s been rough on them, or figured out for themselves the meaning of “home”.
Review Fix: How do you want it to be remembered?
Aronson: I hope that question will prove to be academic because the show will be licensed and performed so endlessly that it will always be in everyone’s current consciousness. But I hope the people filing out during the exit music will remember an evening during which they met and spent time with some new and interesting onstage friends, and found in those people’s experiences reflections of their own.
Review Fix: What’s next for you?
Aronson: Cailín is the self-starter of the family, and she has not one but two projects already teed up for us to get started on, both original stories in musical styles not common to the stage. In my own vague and unambitious way, I have a few other ideas that I like to turn over in my mind once in a while when I’m walking the dog.