In Good People Lindsay-Abaire returns home to Boston South. He was born David Abaire in 1969 (he attached Lindsay when he married the actress Chris Lindsay in 1994) and was raised there. Boston South, or Southie, has become a known setting through the films Good Will Hunting, The Town and the novels of Dennis Lehane. It is as distinctive as the Mississippi of Carson McCullers and Eudora Welty. It is a neighborhood of narrow streets and small houses jammed together on a peninsula jutting into Boston Harbor. Until recently it was mainly populated with Irish Catholic working class. Abaire escaped from there by winning a Boston Boys and Girls scholarship to the exclusive prep school Milton Academy. It was at Milton that he began acting in and writing plays. He was then able to attend Sarah Lawrence College and finally studied playwriting at Julliard School of Drama with Marsha Norman.
Good People is his first play to explore the neighborhood in which he grew up and to feature a character, like him, who moved away, became a success, and now lives in a different affluent and social world. The play raises the intriguing questions of belonging and identity: how much is a person defined by geography and how much by upbringing, education, profession and choice of friends.
The opening two scenes introduce us to the people of Southie: Irish, Catholic, blue collar, stubborn and independent. Margie (pronounced with a hard g) is fired from her job for her continual tardiness. She needs a job to support herself and her developmentally disabled daughter. With the encouragement of her friends, she decides to look up a successful medical doctor who was briefly a boyfriend in their high school days. What follows is a comedy, a study in class differences, and a drama of why can some individuals escape from their backgrounds to become successes and others remain mired in their environment. The play is spot on and specific in the characters and their surroundings, but it is, also, a picture of the America we inhabit today: a country divided by class, wealth and race. It is a well plotted play that seldom shows the twists that are coming and keeps shifting the alliance of the audience with various characters.
JUKE BOX MUSICALS
Mamma Mia! Music, lyrics, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus; book, Catherine Johnson. Springfield Little Theatre opens a production at the Landers Theatre on September 15.
Mamma Mia is a collection of songs composed by and performed by ABBA, a Swedish performance group. The songs were originally independent entities and not part of a story. A juke box musical is a work that draws together music/songs and puts them into a contexualized dramatic situation. The English producer Judy Craymer commissioned writer Catherine Johnston to develop a book for the songs of ABBA. She worked closely with Andersson and Ulaeus to devise Mamma Mia, using one of ABBA’s songs as the title. The original production opened in London in 1999 and is still running today.
Juke Box musicals may be a recent term, but the form is an old one. In the 18th century pasticcio was a term applied to an opera or other musical work in which most, if not all, music/songs were derived from different composers or a single composer to be given in a new dramatic context. George F. Handel was famous for borrowing from himself. Weiner Blut (Viennese Blood or Viennese Spirit) first performed in 1899 is attributed to Johann Strauss II, but he took no actual part in the composition. The operetta drew on earlier music of Strauss and took its title from one of his waltzes. He had died five months before the premiere.
What is the difference between a juke box musical and a musical revue. It is mainly the dramatic context. A revue usually has little or no story line. Ain’t Misbehaving (songs of Fats Waller), Beehive (songs of the 60s), Jerry’s Girls (songs of Jerry Herman) are examples of revues. Jersey Boys (songs of Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons), Beautiful (songs of Carol King), An American in Paris (music of George Gershwin), All Shook Up (songs of Elvis Presley) are examples of juke box musicals. The distinction is a line in the sand.