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Meet Playwright Guillermo Reyes

Guillermo is the book writer and lyricist of Hit Music, a musical workshop production heading to Now & Then at the end of January. Artistic Director John Perovich had a chance to speak with Guillermo about the show and his process for the workshop. Hit Music will be presented to audiences 1/31, 2/1, 2/7 and 2/8 at 7PM and 2/9 at 2PM.

John Perovich (JP): Guillermo! It's fantastic to have you join us at Now & Then for Hit Music! I've been a fan of this work for about three years and it's wonderful to see how its developing. I'm thankful to share your work, and the work of your wonderful collaborators, at the end of the month. So far, what has the development process been like for Hit Music?

Guillermo Reyes (GR): It's been a learning process, really, because it was a play with music----with a few songs laid out in acts 1 and 2, culminating in a short concert at the end. But since I had never written any songs, I figured I'd "borrow" some from the Italian Hit Parade. What? Borrow songs? Well, the Dramatists Guild's legal counsel eventually disabused me of that notion. Either get the rights to the Italian songs that inspired the play or write your own. So, I did----I wrote my own. But I didn't realize that the play demanded more songs for the growth of the various characters, for their attempts to do different things, to assert their personality, really, in different languages, too. The characters seemed to demand more. The play was initially conceived with the idea that Italian songs would layer act 1 until the children of the family started to sing English-language songs as a means to express their own experiences in Los Angeles in the 90s. There was (and still is) a generational struggle, but it wasn't that simple. Nobody in Italy ever answered emails about the rights to the original songs (and they did me a favor) because I had to think in Italian.  I've never written songs in Italian, just as I've never written songs in English either. The play has called for me to step up to the plate and develop a new talent----that of a lyricist. The first reading that we did, we ended up with two original songs----one of which ("The Sunset Strip") has survived, and the other was and still is a lovely song that we had let go of. When I heard the actors singing my first song, and the composer Carlos Urtubey creating the music, I realized----damn!----this is invigorating, exciting work! Where has it been my entire life? So, it's four years later and now the play has multiple songs----mostly in English, but three in Italian, one in Spanish, another in English----with some Spanish. It's been a grand, new experience for me, and it's taken that long because I've had to stop and rethink everything----then dedicate time to other projects...then come back.    

JP: It's been quite the journey! I've had the opportunity to write lyrics and it is exciting work, especially when working with a composer. It's a different, special kind of collaboration. And it's wonderful that Hit Music, a play that began with some music, has now developed into a musical. Speaking of how things develop----works often change, of course, as they are written and rewritten. Is there any element of the play that hasn’t made it through the writing process? Might it come back or find itself inside a different play?

GR: The plot points have varied some, but the basic element of the relationships has been fairly constant. What has changed, however----constantly----is the music itself. What types of songs do the characters sing and how do they express themselves? That was the question that we've been asking from the beginning. But since the new generation of kids demanded their own songs, I had to delve into pop music, rock 'n roll and rap, to express the younger characters' needs to have their own music. But then when we had to write original Italian songs, we had to get into the mind of the father who was brought up in the 50s and 60s, and I would then try to express some aspect of that period----songs by Domenico Modugno, Nada, Massimo Ranieri, Mina, Patty Pravo and a few other Italian singers, served as an inspiration for those songs. A Caribbean, tropical sound emerged in "Ecco la Ragazza," which creates a fusion of sounds, and this is a blended family, anyway----they run an Italian-Peruvian restaurant, so their music and their cuisine is fusion.    

JP: There seems to be a great deal to consider in terms of songs and styles for the characters' views----fantastic! What goals do you have for Hit Music during this process at Now & Then?

GR: To take joy in the creation of new songs and to celebrate an aspect of these characters' lives. The play is a form of commemoration for those lost.  There is tremendous loss in these characters' lives, and I think the music helps them (and us, the audience) make that transition into acceptance of what's been lost.

JP: Poignant. Thank you, Guillermo, for providing us with this overview. Join us next time for Part 2 of this artist feature to learn more about Guillermo's thoughts on directing his own work, collaborating with his performers and composer, and the value he places on you----our audience!

Hit Music book + lyrics by Guillermo Reyes - music by Carlos Urtubey, will be presented 1/31, 2/1, 2/7 and 2/8 at 7PM and 2/9 at 2PM. For info and tickets, click here.