Scrimshaw rocks out with 'Sexy Librarian'
Joseph Scrimshaw's latest show rocks out in an unlikely place. Collaborating with composer Mike Hallenbeck, Scrimshaw has created Sexy Librarian: File Under Rock Musical. The piece, opening this weekend at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage via Scrimshaw's Joking Envelope company, wraps up a Jekyll and Hyde story in a fight to save the town's library, all fueled by a rocking power trio (featuring the playwright on drums).
City Pages: In a nutshell, how would you describe the show?
Joseph Scrimshaw: The way I describe the show in my own head: It's like Jerry Lewis and H.P. Lovecraft got together with Cake and Joan Jett to write a live musical adaptation of Arrested Development, but it was all about librarians and sex. Hopefully, that doesn't scare anyone away.
Libraries and rock musicals--what brought these together?
The main inspiration for the show was taking the social aspects of the Jekyll and Hyde idea--a la Jerry Lewis's Nutty Professor--and putting a female character in the lead. As soon as I thought of that, the librarian stereotype, the one who can transform into an entirely different persona just by whipping off her glasses and shaking out her hair, immediately popped into my mind.
I wanted it be a raw and emotional show that dealt with appearances and sexuality and gender-specific stereotypes. In particular, I wanted to have a lot of characters who legitimately like each other but who are not at all physically attracted to one another. More so than classic Tin Pan Alley musical music, rock music is great at expressing the raw emotions I wanted in the show: lust and love and anger and pent-up frustration. Plus, I could legitimately have a show that actually needed "more cowbell."
I did a lot of real world library research, and pretty soon the library and the town that wants to tear it down became characters in the play. There's a pro library song called "The Library Is." There's definitely a comic contrast between the quiet, calm library image and a rocking power trio of guitar, bass, and drums. But at the same time, there's a synergy: a lot of smart, hip, passionate people are fighting to keep libraries alive. What's more rock 'n' roll than saying: "Don't try to shut us down or we will rock you!"?
Lots of rock musicals don't rock. How is yours different?
Both the composer, Mike Hallenbeck, and myself wanted the show to actually rock. We didn't want to do joke songs that were parodies of rock, we wanted to create rock music that we would actually want to rock out to ourselves. I can say, Mike and I did rock out when we rehearsed the songs, so we have at least succeeded in rocking ourselves.
A couple of our strategies: I wrote the lyrics as I was writing the play, so I put the songs at the emotional height of the scene or when the character needed to express something they couldn't with mere words. Basically, I tried to put the songs in when the characters needed to go to 11 on the emotional dial.
How different is it to be in the band rather than front and center on stage?
It's been fun to direct the show from my drum stool upstage. I get to sincerely tell the cast: "The show looks great from behind." One of the reasons I like being onstage in my own shows is helping to drive the the tempo and get the right energy to make the ideas and the comedy play. I still get to do that from the drums.
The music is in general setting a great tone/tempo and the actors are matching it perfectly. I'm also lucky to have a great assistant director, Reid Knutilla, who is making sure the show also looks good from the front. I'll still get one or two laughs from the drums. The cowbell and splash cymbal are both comedy gold.
Tell us about the talents of the cast.
I'm really thrilled with the cast. There are three lead characters--played by Anna Sundberg, Sam Landman, and Mike Rylander--as well as the townsfolk or "library people" as we call them: Phillip Low, Katie Kaufmann, Lisa Bol, and Kevin McLaughlin. Our guitarist, Adam Whisner, is an amazing actor who serves as a narrator to the story.
Anna is doing an amazing job playing two different sides of one person. She's a great actress with a lot of background in physical theater so she's able to communicate a lot with subtle changes in posture and expression. She's also got a beautiful voice.
Without giving too much away, Sam Landman has a distinct physical challenge that would make a lot of actors spend hours asking me if we really need to make that choice. Sam is also a punk rocker at heart. There is a possibility he is a bastard child of Iggy Pop.
Mike Rylander plays a well-intentioned, lantern-jawed handsome man. Very very lucky to get him. He's got great comedic timing and while there are many handsome actors in town, Mike has a sincerity and a model-like "classic handsome" vibe that is perfect for the show.
All the actors are doing a great job finding the honest humor in the characters and the situations. They're doing an awesome balancing act of telling the story and getting the laughs. And rocking out with their library cards out.
IF YOU GO:
Sexy Librarian: File Under Rock Musical
Minneapolis Theater Garage
7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays
Through May 21
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