Songs sung blue
In a tiny theater in Los Angeles last week, I listened to two women sing about swindling. The actresses, who wore business suits and spectacles, did can-can kicks and shook their behinds as they harmonized about family court, which, if you are to believe the content of their performance, is the worst place on Earth, a breeding ground for lies and emotional and financial manipulation.
The women star as scheming lawyers in "Divorce! The Musical," a show that debuted in LA on Valentine's Day (how appropriate) and has been so popular that its run at the Hudson Theatre has been extended through April. There's been talk of bringing it on tour to the East Coast, and that could mean a stop in Boston.
Michigan-bred writer Erin Kamler, who wrote the music and lyrics for this all-sung, "Mamma Mia!"-style musical, joked with me before the performance that while the story is set in Los Angeles (the divorcing couple is a high-profile doctor and his aspiring-actress wife), there's an audience for a production about divorce just about anywhere. We've all been there or know someone who has. If crowds continue to show up year after year to hear songs about hot flashes in "Menopause The Musical," why not divorce?
"I tried to explore the love, the grief, the greed, and the revenge," Kamler said, proudly.
And she should know all about those conflicting emotions and experiences. Kamler, 34, has been divorced twice.
The writer says her splits were amicable thanks in part to her age, but she learned plenty about the heartbreaking, soul-stripping, expensive process of ending a marriage, at least enough to write some critical songs about an industry that depends on people's splits for income.
There are the aforementioned lawyers, who get songs such as "Winners and Losers," and the show's climax, "Mediation," which likens the legal experience to a game show.
Therapists also get no love in this production. The musical's couples counselor urges the ex-lovebirds to keep returning for treatment because without their misery she can't afford her condo payment. Her song is "Out There," a tune where she scares her clients about the horrible place they must go, now that they're single - "back out there."
And then there's the couple in question, Penny and Rich (how subtle), who start the show with a song called "Till Death Do Us Part" and end parting ways, as the musical's title would suggest.
"It [is] such a painful process to become enemies with someone you really love just because that's what the legal process dictates you do," Kamler said. "What I'm really trying to do in this show is to hold the ambiguity. We're laughing while we're crying. The couple is in love while they're tearing each other apart."
A favorite of mine was the silly-yet-painful number "Rebound Sex." The characters sing, "Numb all the pain, take away all the shame." Getting it on never looked so miserable.
No word on whether Kamler's own ex-spouses have plans to see her reinterpretation of the divorce process.
"We'll see," she told me. "To be determined. I actually think they'd both enjoy it."
Those who have seen the production have been inspired to commiserate. Kamler has set up talk-backs after specific performances for catharsis. She's also opened up what she calls "ethics training" for local lawyers, chats about the legal process and how divorce clients deserve to be treated.
For that reason alone, we should pray for a local run.