The spark for Lullaby, Michael Elyanow’s new play with music, came more than a decade ago when his young son had trouble at night.
“I’ve been singing lullabies to my son since he was six days old," he says. "When he was two, he would never go to sleep. That is where the original germ of the musical came from.”
That was a decade ago. So what happened in the 10 years between that germ of an idea and the first production, opening this week at the Ritz Theater under the auspices of Theatre Latte Da?
“That was a very different play. You have those plays where you say, ‘I love it, but it is completely wrong.’ I put it away for what I expected to be a year. Then 10 years go by,” Elyanow says.
The show came back to life through Theatre Latte Da’s Next 20/20. Elyanow learned of the workshop series through his husband, Jeremy Cohen, who runs the Playwrights’ Center. Cohen also took on the role as director of Lullaby.
The piece is presented as a “play with music” as opposed to a traditional musical. There is music woven throughout the piece, but the characters aren’t breaking out of our world to sing.
“There are reasons for people singing,” Elyanow says. “Part of it is about a widowed mom whose husband used to sing all the time around the house. Part of the show takes place in their living room. The other part is at a lesbian bar’s open-mic night. Nobody just breaks out in song.”
Elyanow compares Lullaby to Once, where the music is woven into a story about a band coming together to make music. The tone of Lullaby, which he describes as “buddy comedy about a lesbian and a straight woman,” is quite different.
The different characters also have different styles. On one side there is a lesbian singer-songwriter whose story centers on a rock 'n' roll sound. On the other is the late husband, who plays folk as his music of choice. In the middle is the wife, who hires the singer to teach her how to play guitar so she can continue to share the gift of music with her young child.
Elyanow has a pair of terrific musicians in these roles. Annie Enneking plays the singer-songwriter, while David Darrow plays the dad. Adeline Phelps and James Eckhouse round out the company.
“Through this crazy rehearsal process with all of the transitions from one scene to the next, it is great having someone of David’s caliber [as a musician] there. That’s especially true for a new play where we are still trying to find the language of it. It is great to have musicians like Annie and David. They know that language,” Elyanow says.
That flexibility has been important throughout the rehearsal process. “I am always surprised that there is more work to be done. Every time I think I am done, David will have a suggestion. Jeremy will have a suggestion. It is the worst best thing when someone picks up something that needs to be fixed and I know it needs to be fixed. It is good to be working with super smart people,” Elyanow says.
IF YOU GO:
The show is in previews Wednesday through Friday; and opens Saturday
Through February 7
345 13th Ave. N.E., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-339-3003 or visit online.