By Diana SaengerSpeaking with Tony Award-winning playwright and lyricist Joe DiPietro is almost as fun as watching one of the terrific productions he’s behind — like the Tony Award-winning “Memphis” or “The Toxic Avenger.”
DiPietro has a great sense of humor that pops up often when talking about his career and his excitement over his current project, “Chasing the Song,” opening May 13 at the La Jolla Playhouse.
Directed by Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley, “Chasing the Song” was a Page to Stage Playhouse workshop production last year from the “Memphis” team, and features book and lyrics by DiPietro, with music and lyrics by David Bryan, Tony- Award winning composer and lyricist for “Memphis” and Grammy Award-winning keyboard player and founding member of the rock band Bon Jovi.
It was during the workshop that Ashley invited DiPietro and Bryan to produce “Chasing the Song” at the Playhouse.
“It’s exciting to bring this show to the Playhouse,” DiPietro said. “This is an 18-person musical so it’s very complicated, and because you learn things in rehearsal, I’m always re-writing and tweaking; I’m fully in it mind and soul.”
“Chasing the Song” centers on the Brill Building in New York City where the sound of the music charts changed in the early 1960s through artists such as Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Bobby Darin, Neil Sedaka, Carole King and others.
“It’s a fictional story about the first female music publisher in the Brill Building,” DiPietro said. “It takes place during one tumultuous year in her company — from spring of 1963-64 — and how she achieves success and then what happens when The Beatles arrive and that changes the business overnight.”
DiPietro said he is a history buff and loves writing historical pieces — an interest that triggered his desire to work with Bryan on a play about the American history of rock ‘n’ roll.
“I grew up on rock ‘n’ roll in the 1970s and always thought that theater should reflect the popular music of the day on the radio,” DiPietro said. “When I started collaboration with David on ‘Memphis,’ I was so excited that he was a real rocker. He has a real theatrical sense and a story-telling sense, so I was thrilled that we could do traditional story-telling but with a rock ‘n’ roll vocabulary.”
The suggestion that the pair must have had to add an extra room to their homes for all the awards they’ve won, brings a smile to DiPetrio’s face. “We are just two Jersey guys who have the same backgrounds and that helps. We get along and are good friends. I really love rock ‘n’ roll and wanted to bring it to theater, and David also wanted to bring what he does to the story-telling, which has made my stuff a little hipper, and my story kind of grounds him.”
In addition to great music and a superb cast (many with Broadway experiences, some local favorites, and a few from the UC San Diego M.F.A program), DiPietro said he hopes theater-goers will see that like in life, you never know if a song will become a hit or a flop.
“We kind of think of ourselves as the rock ‘n’ roll Rogers and Hammerstein, and I’ll be nervously watching from the back of the theater hoping audiences see our show as one made with heart, compassion and humor for modern ears.”
■ IF YOU GO:“Chasing the Song,” plays matinees, evenings, May 13-June 15 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Sheila & Hughes Potiker Theatre on the UC San Diego campus. Tickets: From $15. (858) 550-1010.
Want to know more?La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley will host a chat with composer and Bon Jovi keyboardist, David Bryan, 7 p.m. Monday, May 12 at Potiker Theatre, UCSD campus. Bryan will discuss his musical influences, the cross-over from rock ‘n’ roll to musical theater, as well as his work on ‘Memphis’ and ‘Chasing the Song.’ The event is free. Reservations required:
2014-2015 Playhouse Season■ ‘Chasing the Song’ May 13-June 15
■ ‘The Orphan of Zhao’ July 8-Aug. 3
■ ‘Ether Dome’ July 13-Aug. 10
■ ‘Kingdom City’ Sept. 4-Oct. 5
■ ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ Oct. 26-Dec. 7