Well, well, well! Let me be the LAST person this year to wish you a happy new year. It was an incredible year for our show and this coming year promises to be an even bigger one for us. This will be THE year we finally get to put on the show the way it was meant to be experienced. However, before we could get to 2012, there were a whole lot of years leading up to it (eight to be exact!). So let’s go back in time and see how we ended up here…
"The entire cast of "Hereafter Musical" (minus Carolyn Mignini) at our Friars Club Showcase in November; (L to R) Frankie Keane, Jenna DiMartini, Shea Hess, Deborah Tranelli, Ilene Grossman, Paul Blankenship, Pierce Cravens, Muriel Remo, Vinnie Favale, Bill Hindin."
Someday Between Heaven And …
When I attended catholic school in the sixties (St Finbar in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn from 1963-1972!) it was made perfectly clear to all of us what would happen after we died. The extremes were Heaven and Hell, with very little leeway. Sure there was some talk about limbo and purgatory but I never fully understood it (and I still confuse the two). It was literally a fire and brimstone religious upbringing. I remember the nuns marching us into the confraternity center when I was in the first grade. We were all excited because we were going to see a film (my first!). The film opened up on a beautiful countryside. Awesome for me cause I think it was also the first time I saw grass! There was beautiful scenery until the ground started to shake and then opened up to reveal (dramatic pause) HELL! This wasn’t a film about hell but it was presented as actual footage of hell! There was no plot, just lots of people tossing and turning with flames all around them. The imagery in the film was so disturbing that it literally scared the hell “into” me. The seeds were planted.
"I think I was praying for a Jewish wife...my prayers were answered!"
IT'S A MATTER OF LIFE AND ...
People often ask me about the origins of our musical. Where did the inspiration come from? In late 2003, a eighteen year old, Middletown, NJ resident, (DJ Wheeler) died in an automobile accident (the car he was a passenger in hit a tree). I didn’t know DJ or his family but his death inspired me to write a song called "Nineteen". It wasn’t my intention to write a musical. But I was haunted by the imagery of the memorial that quickly grew around this lone tree on the side of a busy road. There were photos of DJ and flowers all around the base of the tree (the memorial is still up there almost ten years later). Driving by the spot every week for over a year I was compelled to get what I was feeling out of my system. DJ left behind his parents and two sisters. I kept thinking back to when I lost my youngest (1974) and my oldest (1977) brothers and how unfair and unbalanced life felt to me. My heart went out to this family that I didn’t even know because I could feel their pain. After I wrote the song I turned to two great friends (John Titta and Pat Barry) to record a demo and it came out great. In 2004, I started kicking around the idea of a musical about a group reading with a psychic where the spirits appear and are only seen by the audience. This idea was very much inspired by watching my wife Debbie struggle with the loss of her mother Sylvia in 1993. After her mom died, we both tried to find comfort in the world of psychics and new age books about re-incarnation and the after-life. We had some interesting experiences but nothing really tangible came of it. We never found the Holy Grail. In fact, the more we read about the subject, the more questions we had. But I think DJ’s death caused a chain reaction that led me to wanting to create a world where maybe people who have suffered a loss can get some kind of closure. But what the “hell” did I know about writing a musical?! The only thing I did know was that there was no way I was going to be able to do this alone.
THE HEREAFTER ALMANAC
It seemed like an insane undertaking, but I started writing songs for a show that would be called (at the time) “Life & Death”. I continued to write songs through 2005. I have a long commute so I started writing the songs going in and out of NY from NJ (yes, I wrote most of the songs on the New Jersey Turnpike!). I became more prolific when Eric Garner came on board in 2006 as my music consultant. I knew I was on to something when the first three demos that Eric recorded of my songs (for “Life & Death”, “Nineteen” and “Take My Life”] made my hair stand on end. The energy, vibe and rock and roll that Eric’s demos brought to the table were an excellent contrast to the heaviness of the subject matter. But I lost a great deal of steam due my father’s passing in late 2006. A show that started out as a hopeful message for people who were suffering with the loss of a loved one took a darker turn because I wasn’t feeling so hopeful anymore. I quite honestly wanted to walk away from it. I took some time off from writing. But one day a melody came to me that I could not ignore. Coupled with my dad’s loss, it inspired me to write the song “Hereafter”. Eric’s beautiful demo for this song was the jolt I needed. Dani Donadi came on board in 2007. He did the orchestrations for the psychic’s song (“Talk To Me”) and that demo was so Broadway sounding that I began to think this could really happen. Things then took an amazing turn when Frankie Keane came on board in June of 2008. I thought I was just meeting another singer for some demos but it turned out I was meeting my new writing partner. Frankie’s arrival sealed it for me. She became my co-creator on every aspect of the show from that point on. There was now a focus and a drive and someone to share the load with on a daily basis. Then in an unforgettable two-week period in August of 2008, our musical director Bill Hindin came on board and between Bill, Frankie and the insanely talented Francesca Vannucci, we work shopped five songs for the show. Frankie’s extensive background in performing live gave me the confidence to produce our first live performance of the music in May of 2009 (at the Two River Theater). Together, Frankie and I began writing the book and had our very first reading at the Dramatist's Guild in October of 2009. We learned a great deal from the reading (mainly that the story we set out to write needed to be re-visited). We probably had our busiest year in 2010. We had another concert in May (Ranney Theater), continued to re-write the book, record demos AND we co-wrote our first song together for the show ("The Toe Tag Tango"). We topped the year with a very successful six show, sold out run of staged readings in August of 2010 at the Roy Arias Theater in NYC. In 2011 we completed and mastered the "Hereafter Musical" soundtrack. And we topped it all off with our hugely successful Kickstarter campaign where we raised over sixty thousand dollars to fund our two week, off-Broadway run in April 2012.
FROM THIS MOMENT ON AKA "HEREAFTER"
And that’s how we got here [after]. Now sometimes it takes awhile for me to fully comprehend things (my poor wife can attest to that) but the significance of the word “Hereafter” did not dawn on me till recently. It took me awhile to understand it’s true meaning but I guess needed to look back to see what was right in front of me. When I was younger, every once in awhile I’d hear the word “Hereafter” crop up as another word for Heaven. I liked it because it took religion out of the equation for me and there was a nice poetry to it. As I got older I started to see the word “hereafter” more often but in a different context. For those of you familiar with contracts, you’ve probably have seen it used many times. It literally means “from this moment on”. And one day it just hit me, that this is what this show is all about. We all have “hereafter” moments in our lives. It’s the moment when something so significant happens in your life, that from “that moment on” you are a different person. For the Wheeler family, that moment happened in 2003. For Frankie, her “hereafter” moment happened at the age of eight when her mother died in 1978. For Debbie it was 1993. For Bill Hindin, it was when his dad died in earlier this year. For me, well…you can figure that out yourself. And so on, and so on, and so on… It never ends (even when it’s ending). I think the important thing to take away from all of this, is what you you do with that “hereafter” moment. It would be so easy to shut down when that moment hits you. Who could blame you if you did, right? But like the characters in our show, we all have to somehow find our way when this happens. It’s not always easy and for some people it can take years. But if you surround yourself with special people in your life like I have, you will find that they can help you with the light you need when things get dark.
EIGHT YEARS IN EIGHT MINUTES
This video compiles eight years of memories into eight minutes. I used some beautiful songs to help convey the feelings of love and appreciation that all of us feel for each other. As you can see in the video, our Hereafter Musical family keeps growing and we are honored you count all of our Kick Starter supporters as part of it