Discovering the Unique Treasures of Writing Darlin’ Cory During COVID
This article appears in Alliance Theatre’s Darlin’ Cory edition of Encore Atlanta. Pick up a copy when you attend the musical or take a peek through the whole issue below.
If there’s one thing this pandemic has given us more of, it’s time. Time to slow down and feel bored. Time to watch a full series of a silly show. Time to be alone. And in the process of writing Darlin’ Cory, the creative team found unexpected doors opening as they were obligated to create in slow motion.
“There was more thinking time for me,” says librettist Phillip DePoy. “I had a lot more time to just ponder all by myself than you would if you’re in the rehearsal hall. [Normally when] we’re right across the table from each other, things are happening a lot faster and a lot more immediately. But having that much thinking time, I think, actually did something unusual to this entire process. Don’t you Kristian?”
Composer Kristian Bush replies, “Yeah, I would agree with you completely! There was a time before the internet that I completely recall when I could walk around singing things to myself over and over again. I even remember writing long letters, and that’s what this feels like. It feels very slow without being methodical.”
Without having each other right across the table for immediate and overlapping collaboration, the creative process morphed into a series of waves from one creator to another. Bush says it felt almost dreamlike.
“Very early on, we had a different story in mind, but the same universe,” Bush shares. His process included continually tweaking version after version of the songs, sending them to the Darlin’ Cory creative team for their feedback. Eventually, there could be twenty versions of a song before the team landed on the one that fit the best.
“The songs that were written then, some of them became tent-poles, and I stopped changing them, and they just sat there. And because we’re doing nothing and we’re alone, it’s the one thing you can go back and listen to and re-imagine the world around. So Phillip did this weird thing where he took a song that was meant for something else and kept reinventing it by what he put around it. It was super cool.”
DePoy, Bush, director Susan V. Booth, and the rest of the Alliance’s creative team worked in sync together despite being separated, fostering an environment that combined everyone’s strengths and ideas. Ultimately, this allowed the concepts to percolate while Darlin’ Cory was being workshopped and developed into the finished piece it is today.
“I mean, it’s really true,” DePoy adds. “I would write something in the privacy of my own, you know, cramped little office, send it to Kristian, and he would go, ‘Wait a second. I don’t think that’s dialogue. I think that’s a song lyric.’ So he would take that and turn it magically into song lyrics. So it obviated maybe a third of the scene and made it better, you know? So the scene builds up to the song. The song reveals the content of what had been the scene, and it moves it along so much better and so much more interestingly.”
The King of Driving the Plot
The team kept centering their creative process around this idea that the plot drives everything. Every song was written with a plot-advancing purpose in mind.
“Phillip is the king of driving the plot, right?” Bush explains. “He is! That’s what he does! I’ve only known him for a very short time, and I would trust him with that 1000% because his compass always knows which way to go with that kind of stuff.”
As the writers have followed the story and let it dictate where the music goes, they have stumbled upon quite a unique treasure.
“I would say you could probably categorize this as a new kind of musical too,” says DePoy, “because the book isn’t as much a typical musical book as it is a script that has been infused with musical identity. It’s a much more complex script and much more complex songs than I think you would get certainly in a typical Broadway musical.” DePoy likens their concept to Broadway’s Hadestown, a stylistic retelling of Greek Mythology. “That was a good thing for us to think about early on that we were creating, an almost mythic environment in which the songs and the action could happen.”
Bush says part of his vision was to cater to audiences who binge-watch TV shows.
“We are alive at this time and culture that we all have vocabulary about. We don’t watch one or two episodes of something,” he relates. “We want four seasons of a show, like, right now. You don’t want a story that’s an hour and a half long right now. You want a story that’s seven months long, right? And Phillip’s constantly found a way to put six years’ worth of episodes of a Netflix show into one story.”
The team has landed on a show that feels binge-worthy and unforgettable.
“And it’s dense! It’s also like a really good dessert,” Bush jokes. “You know what I mean? It kind of smacks you around a little bit. You will never freaking forget it. And there’s salt on top.”