Stage Shows

San Diego’s Extended Relationship with ‘Long Story Short’

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Even as the San Diego Repertory Theatre presents the local premiere of Long Story Short, a musical love story opening tonight at the Lyceum Theatre, the show already has an extended relationship with San Diego.

Long Story Short is the creation of Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, husband and wife, and two-thirds of the musical group GrooveLily. Together with GrooveLily’s other third, Gene Lewin, they performed their first musical Striking 12 at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre during the 2003 holiday season. It was then that Long Story Short began.

The members of GrooveLily, L-R: Gene Lewin on drums, Valerie Vigoda on electric violin, and Brendan Milburn on Keyboard. (Photo: Leslie Lyons)

The members of GrooveLily, L-R: Gene Lewin on drums, Valerie Vigoda on electric violin, and Brendan Milburn on Keyboard. (Photo: Leslie Lyons)

“In 2003, shortly before we came out to do the run at the Old Globe, Tracy Brigden (artistic director of Pittsburgh City Theatre) had heard the score and read the script of Striking 12 and was totally into it,” Milburn told the Entertainer from his Glendale home. “She wanted to commission us to come up with something new.”

After Striking 12 closed in San Diego, Brigden invited Vigoda and Milburn to the City Theatre’s festival of new works in 2004. Brigden and City Theatre’s dramaturg Carlyn Aquiline presented them with a large stack of plays to review and consider adapting into a new musical, and it didn’t take long for a decision to be made.

“The first play in this stack was this play by David Schulner, called An Infinite Ache,” Milburn says. Coincidentally, An Infinite Ache made its debut at the Old Globe the year before GrooveLily’s performance. “It kicked my ass. It was so enveloping and terrific, and funny like a sitcom but way deeper, and there was so much there. I found it moving and overwhelmingly cool, and it seemed like it was already singing on the page.”

“Fast forward five years, and here we are now,” Milburn continues. “We’ve taken David Schulner’s play, bought the rights and adapted it.”

Directed by Brigden of City Theatre, Long Story Short made its world premiere is a co-production of City Theatre and TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Calif. Brigden and Aquiline worked with Milburn (who is credited with the music composition) and Vigota (who wrote the show’s lyrics) to explore the best way to turn Schulner’s play into potent musical theatre.

“We’ve become friends with David and he loves what we’ve done with it,” Milburn says. “He actually came down (to the San Diego Rep) and sat through a run through with us and took a bunch of notes. His main idea was, ‘Cut my stuff. Cut my writing. Go with the stuff you wrote.’ – which I find hilarious.”

Even though he has no official credit in the show, the third GrooveLily musician has even had an impact on the show. “Gene’s influence is felt throughout the score, because there are so many different poly-rhythms and unexpected lapses into seven-eighth time which is all his,” Milburn says.

The final result of all of the creative collaborators is now on the San Diego stage. Long Story Short follows the rollercoaster relationship between Hope (played by Melody Butiu) and Charles (played by Robert Brewer). Hope and Charles’ love story encompasses two different cultures and two distinct mythologies — in play and at play.

“We get to see what looks like a disastrous first blind date between a twenty-something Jewish guy and a slightly more worldly, yet still twenty-something Asian American woman. He is incredibly eager to date her. She finds him charming but clueless, and is not interested,” Milburn explains. “The next thing we know, we are following them hurtling into the future through the rest of their lives together.”

Melody Butiu and Robert Brewer in 'Long Story Short.' (Photo: Elazar C Harel)

Melody Butiu and Robert Brewer in 'Long Story Short.' (Photo: Elazar C Harel)

Time is relative in this wonder-world of storytelling. It stops on a dime and, without warning, flies by with a new phrase of GrooveLily-esque music. Milburn calls it a little bit like time travel, without the science fiction. Unforgettable nights of joy, inexplicable days of pain and a deeply moving catharsis are all present in the couple’s journey as their love grows, fades, is tested and re-tested.

“Through highs, lows, children, divorce, getting back together, watching their kids graduate from college, watching their kids get divorced, watching their kid’s kids playing on the lawn,” Milburn continues. “It never ever stops racing forward through their lives until the very end. It makes for pretty compelling read and, I think, for pretty compelling watching.”

And he says it’s compelling listening, too. A live band joins Hope and Charles in their long story, jumping between dialog and song just as fast as they jump through time. The songs range from the electric flush of first love with “It Happens in a Moment,” to the sexy duet “Live Like This,” to “Empowered,” the sassy ode to middle-aged dating.

Between raising their son, four-year-old Mose, and continuing to tour with GrooveLily, Milburn and Vigoda still have been quite involved in the San Diego production. They have made adjustments, modifications and several improvements from the previous premieres. Some of the biggest changes include shortening the show (condensed from two acts into a one-act play), and a new cast and director.

“Due to scheduling conflicts, we don’t have Tracy Brigden as our director this time around,” Milburn explained. Kent Nicholson, the Director of Musical Theater for Playwrights Horizons in NYC, directs the San Diego production. “And due to more scheduling conflicts, we don’t have our previous cast. But it has been a revelation to me, and I think to Valerie, what a different director and different cast members will do the exact same material.”

Those three new additions to the creative collaboration – director Nicholson, and actors Butiu and Brewer – have helped evolve the show into a customized variation for the San Diego stage. “As a result of watching these different people bring themselves – bring their lives and their experiences – to the table, we have done a bunch of rewrites based on the actors we have and the director we have. It’s pretty thrilling.”

Share in the thrilling tale of Hope and Charles – and everyone who worked to bring them to the San Diego stage – in Long Story Short, playing through Nov. 1.

Long Story Short
The opening show of the San Diego Rep’s new season

Oct. 9 – Nov. 1
Tickets: $34-$53

The Lyceum Theatre Space, 79 Horton Plaza (in downtown San Diego)
Box Office: (619) 570-1100

  • Join playwright, television writer and producer David Schulner, whose play An Infinite Ache became the inspiration for the musical Long Story Short, during a special pre-show discussion, Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. (prior to the 2 p.m. matinee). Schulner, part of the team of writers on Desperate Housewives, will share how he conceived and developed the play, and how it feels to have it reach wide audiences in a new musical form. Check out the many Surrounding Events for this show.


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