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The Making of a Musical: ‘Like You Like It’ (Part 1)

In this three-part series, Sammy Buck and Daniel Acquisto discuss how their Shakespeare-’80s mashup musical Like You Like It (soon-to-be published!) came to be.

Part 1: Clubs, Breakfast, and Drama

Like You Like ItOur little show can drive now. Yup, 16 years ago, we presented our first song at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop (“Easy Way Out.”) And now with the arrival of our Studio Cast RADcording and the publishing of the script and score, we fondly look back at how this baby grew up (often singing “Sunrise Sunset” to ourselves as that occurs).

We’ll start with Sammy, talking about the origin of the idea, and in the next installment, Dan will dig into his inspirations for the score.

—Sammy Buck & Dan Acquisto

Sammy:

It all began with Molly Ringwald (as does the first line of our show).

The night I saw The Breakfast Club in 1985, I just sat in the theater and wanted to be THERE.

I envied Emilio Estevez’s swagger, Anthony Michael Hall’s way with words, Molly Ringwald’s poise—and that lipstick thing. And, man, who didn’t want to have Judd Nelson’s ability to fight back or Ally Sheedy’s ability not to give a crap about what other people thought of her?

Like a lot of kids my age then, I found kindred spirits onscreen—those characters may have hid behind their defense mechanisms—the masks they wore to get through their school day—but they were able to lower their defenses and proclaim pride in who they are. Inside all of them were the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess, and the criminal. They were not alone.

A few years later in high school drama club, I was cast in As You Like It (my bit role did not make it into our adaptation). We got to act inside a story that’s all about traveling from a restrictive, oppressive place to the magic of the Arden Forest, a place where you can open up and be yourself. And during the rehearsals and production, I formed lifelong friendships.

Cardiff.jpgKnowing I wanted to be a writer, I thirsted to create something like The Breakfast Club—the kind of community I saw onscreen (and experienced in drama club)—and wanted it somehow, one day, to be the kind of show I would have begged my drama teacher to do.

In my third year of the BMI Workshop, I recalled As You Like It, and remembered that theme of opening up and being yourself.  And I remembered how I felt in high school drama—and how I felt during The Breakfast Club.  And an idea was born: set As You Like It in high school.  You know, where high school is the oppressive “court” and the magical Arden Forest is . . . grad night at Disneyland.

Halt. Wait. Rights issues, putting a theme park on stage—hmm, that may be more of a movie.  So, I thought deeper—where did we all feel freer when we were teenagers?

The mall!

I got more specific—I went to high school in the ’80s, so I decided to set the show in my era.  Then it hit me: LIKE you like it.  Like, ohmygod . . . LIKE you like it.

Dan came on board—and he’ll speak more to his love of ’80s music in the next installment—and we began to present songs at the BMI Workshop, where we had been introduced by Jeff Marx and Bobby Lopez back when they were writing Avenue Q (our “kids” played in the same sandbox, along with Next To Normal.)  As we developed the show, we realized the first act hews somewhat closely to the Shakespeare plot and the second act plays out like a John Hughes movie in the vein of Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink.  We watched those movies as well as a slew of others—noting that in all of them, there’s always a big dance, and someone inevitably punches someone else.  There’s the geek on the prowl for a date, a spoiled brat due for a comeuppance, a shy student wanting to break out of his or her shell.

Gallery Players.jpgOur Rosalind blends Shakespeare’s cunning heroine with a touch of Molly Ringwald’s vulnerability and spunk. Orlando is the “unattainable” guy who merely wants to be, well, attained—and not just on a superficial level.  Celia becomes the best friend trope (usually in the movies this archetype comes across as more wise than she really is and goes on her own journey to authenticity). In my high school production of As You Like It, our Touchstone was as horny as his namesake—and we affectionately dropped the “s,” dubbing him Touchtone.  Sylvius and Phebe get gender swapped and become a subplot that delves into what it’s like to be closeted in 1985.  You can still see some of snotty Phebe in Like You Like It’s Audrey, combined with a lot of the “rich girl” tropes from the ’80s movies. The great staple of the ’80s movies—the makeover montage—finds a natural home in Shakespeare’s Oliver—after all, he is magically transformed in As You Like It (though no lionesses are harmed in the making of Like You Like It.)

Finally, there’s the matter of Jacques, Shakespeare’s love-averse denizen of the forest.  Originally, we created a rocker named Jake West, who would be the “Vince Fontaine” at the big dance in the show. When we presented the opening number, featuring Jake as narrator, Maury Yeston at the BMI Workshop felt the music was more Go-Gos than Huey Lewis, so the Lauper-ish/Jett-esque Jackie West was born.

While our show takes place at a suburban mall in the 1980s and is based on a play over 400 years old, we have striven to mine the universal story of self-expression that we hope speaks to anyone who’s ever felt the pangs of desire and has wanted to take the leap to make that desire a reality, for everything to turn out Like You Like It.

Stay tuned for Part 2, but in the meantime, check out these tunes!

 

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