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The Making of a Musical: ‘Like You Like It’ (Part 2)

In this three-part series, Sammy Buck and Daniel Acquisto discuss how their Shakespeare-’80s mashup musical Like You Like It  came to be. Read Part 1 here.

Part 2: The Totally Awesome Music

Like You Like ItI have a confession: When Sammy and I started writing Like You Like It, it wasn’t Shakespeare that I was excited about. I didn’t know too much other than reading a couple plays by the man. I didn’t hate his work, but the truth was I didn’t really care either way about it. Adapting As You Like It sparked my interest in Shakespeare, however.

So if it wasn’t Shakespeare, what made me psyched to work on Like You Like It? It was the chance to compose a score that was based on the music I listened to when I was in high school in the 1980s. (I pretty much just revealed my age, didn’t I?) What excited me even more was that I already had a good number of songs I had written during the ’80s.

Even though I lived through the ’80s, I realized that if I wanted the music to sound authentic, I needed to immerse myself in the era and even listen to songs that weren’t on my usual ’80s playlist. This was a great deal of fun. It was before the days of YouTube and music streaming services, so I found myself at the library or at a record store (remember those?) buying many a compilation CD so I could study and learn what makes an ’80s song an ’80s song. Watching movies from that time period also helped inform the music on a more subliminal underscoring level.

I decided that the score should sound simultaneously familiar and brand-new by tapping at the back of the listener’s (’80s) psyche and, thanks to my training at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, be able to do that while serving the drama on the stage.

The music of the ’80s was rich in variety. The explosion of synthesizers during that decade opened a whole new world of new timbres and orchestrations. I had a lot to listen to and filter what would be in the show. I tried to include a number of styles throughout the score. Of course, my own musical heroes of that time certainly helped me shape the sound. Everyone from Rush to Peter Gabriel, from The Go-Go’s to Chaka Khan, even the Eurythmics to Peter Cetera influenced the way I wrote.

There is one other major influence on my writing for this show, not necessarily associated with the ’80s: Leonard Bernstein. I played percussion for West Side Story (which coincidentally is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet) in a high school production in the ’80s (so you could say it is still ’80s-inspired) and I was quick to pick up on his use of those three famous “Maria” notes that appear one way or another in almost every song. In turn, I decided to include a three-note grouping in every song in Like You Like It. It could be in the melody, a figure in the accompaniment, or the harmonic changes over all. It could be forward, backward, or inverted. But what three notes should it be?

In much of my research, I noticed that several songs used three notes in their melodies. (It would be the equivalent of F-E-C.) I decided to use that as my three notes. You can hear it on the hook of the opening number, you can hear it in the melody backwards in “Gotta Get Out,” and everywhere else. However, it culminates in a song that is the one song designed not to sound ’80s — but rather an attempt of some 16th Century madrigal —“Be With Me.” After all, this is Shakespeare. I figured that after an evening of characters putting up defensive masks, this emotionally open moment should also be simple and without much disguise. And, fun fact, this song is based on a song my teenaged self wrote in the ’80s.

“Be With Me” is a song about longing to be with someone, and since one of the themes of the show is about that longing, I figured that the three-note hook from “Be With Me” should be the three notes that I sew into every song.

I still remember the first time Sammy and I got together to write our first song for the show. We met in a flea-ridden Times Square rehearsal studio with warping wood paneling. Our first song wasn’t the opening number, but rather “Easy Way Out.” I came prepared with my suspended 4th chords and open 5ths, and we wrote a first draft fairly quickly. The song was a smash when presented at the BMI workshop. The brilliant Maury Yeston gave us both some dramatic, lyrical, and melodic adjustments, and the song became pretty much the way it is now. It’s a powerful song about missed opportunities that almost anyone can relate to.

Another theme of Like You Like It — the message that began to resonate with me as I wrote it — is that we all need to take a risk for our hearts’ desires. The final lyric the lead Rosalind sings in “Be A Little Wild” still rings true: “You won’t know unless you try!” Take a risk.

It was wonderful to relive and rediscover an era that spanned my high school years. Writing, arranging, and orchestrating music based on what was the soundtrack to my formative years has been a rewarding experience. I hope the work we have done in Like You Like It brings back good memories for those who lived through the ’80s, and a fun, emotional experience for those who come across it for the first time.

— Daniel S. Acquisto, composer & orchestrator of Like You Like It

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