In the past six years, Curtain Call’s American Harmony Prize program has introduced audiences to a kid who wanted to be pope, a family who is struggling with expectations and tradition, a young man grappling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a group of 20-something Jewish-Americans making their way in New York City and other tales focused on the experience of Italian Americans and African Americans.
It is all part of a program that introduces new musical theater to area audiences. Each year, the competition calls on writers and composers to submit works that explore the experiences of the country’s diverse communities. This year, audiences will be treated to a musical romantic comedy that draws from the issues facing today’s society. It is called “The United States of Us” by librettist Alan Gordon and composer Joy Son, both of whom have previously won awards for their work.
The musical tells the tales of a single, gay magazine editor who agrees to marry his straight, Columbian housekeeper so that she can stay in the United States. However, this arrangement becomes a tad more complicated when it is learned that the housekeeper is pregnant.
“I’m fascinated by the things that change the way we relate to each other,” Gordon said.
He said the story may be set against the backdrop of the battle for marriage equality that continues to rage across the country, but, it also is a highly personal story that focuses on the choices two people make and the consequences that follow.
“This is a story about an undocumented immigrant and a gay man … and they are able to bring out something the other needs,” he said. “It’s really about the love story between them.”
“He marries her to help raise her child … and he gets to be the father he never expected to be,” said Gordon, a Queens-based writer and attorney. “But they also have the ever-looming treat … do you tell the kid the truth of where he is from?”
Gordon turned to Joy Son for the music. Though the duo has known each other for some time, this is the first time they are working together.
“I’m always looking for good stories and characters,” she said. “I thought this story was really heartwarming, and yet it is very universal and deals with the issues we see in the paper, marriage equality and immigration.”
Son,who is based in Manhattan, said before she starts composing music, she likes to start with the words of the story first. “It may not be the full story, but I like to get into the emotion of the characters.”
When working with a very good story and writer, she said the story will natural guide her in creating the score.
Son, who was born in Seoul, Korea, said she always knew she wanted to be a composer, even when she was quite young. Initially, she started out in classical composition.
“But then, it stopped speaking to me … I wanted something bigger and more dramatic,” she said.
It was then, in her early 20s, that she came to New York City to attend class at New York University and saw her first Broadway musical.
“I was amazed by the characters and the voice,” she said, adding that at the time she knew she had found her calling and her new home.
Gordon and Son are pleased to have been awarded the prize, which comes with the concert reading at Curtain Call. The reading will feature David Perlman and Gabrielle Ruiz. The night is an opportunity for the creators to see the audience’s reaction and can help to set it on the path to a full-length production.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the reactions,” said Gordon, who counts among his credits four full-length and three short plays, as well as several books and short stories.
Son, meanwhile, hopes the reading will bring more attention to the piece. As such, it may help her to achieve that which she aspires to be, a Broadway composer.
Son’s father recently called her to wish her a happy birthday – she turned 36 – and reminded her of something she had said before departing for her new home and new life.
“I don’t even remember saying this, but he obviously did,” she said, chuckling. “He said, ‘you said you were going to be a Broadway composer before you became 36.’ So ….”
It may turn out she was just a tad off her mark.
— Tickets to the show are $15 and can be reserved by calling 203-461-6358, Ext. 13 or visiting here. A champagne and dessert reception with authors and cast follow the show.