The Inspiration… By Hollye Levin
As I rummaged through my mother’s old treasure chest after she passed away, I found her pink Dr. Spock Baby Book and the Joe Bonomo 'Handy Pocket Manuals'.
Intriguing and funny, I wanted to explore more. I uncovered a dried orchid and an ivory-colored lace garter from mom’s wedding. Then, peeking out from underneath a worn scrapbook, I could see that red and white cookbook and immediately the chills ran up my spine. I pulled it out and dusted it off. The ‘Betty Crocker Cookbook' of course, which was, always, and in many households still is, front and center in every kitchen in America. I started to smell the garlic from the Shrimp Dijon recipe and The Hungarian Goulash. I could feel the paprika tickling my nose. The recipes not only brought back sweet memories, but it was like I was right back there and in fact, for a few moments, I could swear my mother was standing behind me gently guiding me through each ingredient with her colorful stories and mysterious anecdotes. I didn't want to let go and put the memories back in the chest. I reflected on how much things have changed but in some ways, not really.
This whole experience was truly profound and I had an epiphany that for the audience, just the thought of Betty Crocker would probably arouse the same strong emotions in everyone. Food fills us up when we are hungry or feel empty, comforts us when we are crushed and brings friends and families together. The kitchen is a place where we communicate and commiserate.
The Betty Crocker Cookbook,
I later learned, as I did my
research, was “second in
sales only to the Bible.”
Wow! An automatic audience!
After writing Funny Business, with a cast of 18, for a Kennedy Center workshop, and Debra, after composing Radiant Baby, a big musical with 21 characters, at the Public Theater and directed by George C. Wolfe, we wanted to write a small, original musical that would enchant and capture the hearts of so many people. A four-woman cast seemed ideal. Each of the four characters embodies a different side of a woman’s secret dreams and desires. Following through with our theme of A Taste Of Things To Come, we would have an all-girl band.
Debra and I began interviewing women who were in their 20’s during the 1950’s. Debra’s mother, who grew up in Brooklyn around the same time my mother grew up in St. Louis had the same Joe Bonomo ‘Handy Pocket Manuals’… instructing women on how to behave, manage their weight, improve their personality, enhance their busts, and more. They were all written by one man, Joe Bonomo… (yes, from the same family that brought us ‘Bonomo Turkish Taffy’). While Debra discovered things she never knew about her mom, I interviewed several other women who collectively, put on that old-fashioned devilish smile, when it came to talking about The Kinsey Report On Human Female Sexuality. One woman said she remembered how her mother had it hidden on the very top of the bookshelf and one day she took a stool and tried to reach it. Books tumbled everywhere, but she still managed to get it out of the house to secretly read it with her girlfriends. It was a time when young girls believed smoking Newport cigarettes would help them to grow up faster and be more ‘sexy’…and being a rebel meant not being married by the time you were 23.
To be as authentic and true to the period as possible, we decided to write all of the songs in the style of the top 10 chart hits of the 1950’s, when Rock ‘n’ Roll shook things up. The period was rich with burgeoning musical talent. These are the sounds that comprised the ‘soundtrack’ to life in the 1950’s. We noticed that men sang all these songs. As composers and musicians we imagined it would be fun to write these same kinds of songs and have women sing them with lyrics conveying a different, fresh perspective. Let’s not forget there was a simmering sexual revolution and it was about to boil over.
Note: The living room ‘picture window’ we refer to in the set description, where we can see the Ford Crestline in the driveway in the opening of the show, becomes the ‘window into the future’ (the picture window is actually a screen projection), showing us ‘A Taste Of Things To Come’. Also, on the screen, the audience views the 30-second black and white TV commercials that are used as segues throughout the play.
Debra and I discussed how cool it would be, if in the theater lobby, black and white 50's commercials would be playing. Another fun visual might be a few choice black light posters from the 60’s: Smiley Face, Peace, Keep On Truckin’, etc.
For sale in the lobby perhaps, Bonomo Turkish Taffy, Green Cheese Balls, Pigs in Blanket, Pretzel Jell-O Mold, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Coffee Cake…. If we can serve alcohol. a la Pink Champagne; Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and two 1950’s cocktails- a Mai Tai and a Side Car.
So, now, sit back and enjoy a brand new show with a small but mighty cast of four women and a great little soulful all-girl Rock ‘n Roll band. Be the first to join us in the making of an original musical that could play in any city, big or small, anywhere in America and tour indefinitely.
Thanks for your time and attention and we really look forward to your feedback.
Hollye Levin, 2015