and the river flows logo_r4

Book, Music & Lyrics by Steven David Horwich
adapted from Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters

INFO:

Opened at the Zephyr Theatre (Los Angeles)   1999   roughly 100 performances
Original Director: Steven David Horwich
Cast Size: Male: 6   Female: 6   Ensemble: 0   Total Cast Size: 12, but can be larger or smaller depending on company’s needs
Orchestra: 1 (keyboard); up to 6 (keyboard, drums, bass, 2nd keyboard, banjo/guitar, oboe/flute)
Published Script: None (perusal upon request)
Production Rights: Information upon request.  (Please use our contact us page.)
Recordings: Original cast recording.  (To hear all the songs, go to the bottom of this page, please.)
Other shows by the authors: Call To Arms, The Depression Gaeities, 4 Lives In Two Acts, Loveplay, That’s Scrooge, The Kingdom That Was, The Wheel Turns, Tragedy, Sea Gulls   Collaborative: A Tale Of Two Cities, Eden, Little Tramp, The Third Wish , Beautiful Poison

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

A strong show for colleges and universities, Little Theaters, stock and professional companies looking for an easy fit into a busy schedule, and Off-Broadway.  Classic Americana, for theaters looking for something along those lines.

Be Warned:

The poems of Edgar Lee Masters are frank, and cover every aspect of human life just about. They are full-blooded emotional expressions of passion, love, hate, greed, you name it. A cast not yet mature enough to handle such material will find the show difficult to perform. That said, I did a non-musical version with a cast in its early-mid teens, and they were quite good. But I doubt they could have done the musical or sung the score.  That said – a well-trained group of High School singer-actors might make a fun go of it.  (If you do it with a High School, cut “The Curse”, a nearly operatic solo dealing with sex.)

An audience uncomfortable with the subjects of sex, greed, what have you, won’t support the show, probably. There’s a lot of comedy to leaven the message, but still.

THE STORY:
ACT ONE: A small, overgrown, forgotten cemetery on a quiet hill, overlooking Spoon River, Illinois. Perhaps the rusty, wrought iron gate can be seen toward the back, closed to visitors that long ago gave up their visits atop this hill. The sun has just dropped over the horizon. The last song of the daytime birds is heard as the moon rises, full and bright. That moon will rise, move across the back of the stage, and finally sink as this night ends (at the end of the show).

It happens for just one night, every hundred years. The spirits buried in this forgotten place rise as the moon rises. (“And The River Flows”) They each of them have a story to tell, the tale of their life. And they inform us, those of us who happen to be there and listening, that they have just this one night under a full moon to let us know who they were, and why we should remember them.

One man speaks of a trap set by a vengeful ogre for the living, a maze from which there’s no escape and the ogre, life, watches and laughs. A woman watching him reminds us that she was wealthy, adored, followed by the newspapers. But a look at her deteriorating gravestone assures her that she’s forgotten today. A man, Oscar Hummel, speaks of his death, drunk and confused, at the hands of the local banker, A.D. Blood, even as the banker watches and prepares to strike him. Only Hummel scoffs at the banker – he’s already dead and can’t be killed again. The local fiddler steps up to offer his view of what’s important. (“Fiddle!”)

Several of the “residents” watch a young girl go by, shaking their head with disapproval. She was the local prostitute, but as she points out, none of the “moral bastions” of the community donated to any charity, while she gave to them all, and made life better for many of the people of Spoon River. Another woman of dubious profession talks about how her life of crime started. She maintains that if enough people call you a thing often enough, well, you’ll become that thing. A man staring at the first prostitute speaks of his love for her when he was young, and how she refused him her affections, and was then stolen away by a handsome young man, Lucius Atherton. So he learned his lesson, went to work, and wasted his life working. He was a fool, and only death makes him the equal of other men. But he’s wrong, as Atherton himself tells us that he was once a young stud, but became old, and the women all rejected him, and now both men lie in the same forgotten cemetery.

Romance and sex are the subject of the moment. A woman who dreamed of being a poet sings angrily, betrayed by her needs for her husband and her damned fertility. (“The Curse”) A young girl tells her dark secret – that she was raped at an early age. She finally wed a newcomer to town, but when he discovered she was not a virgin, he left her. She died shortly thereafter. Another woman, a German immigrant, speaks of a tryst she had when young, and her unwanted pregnancy. She gave the baby to raise to a family willing to do so, and the boy became a great politician. But no one ever knew he was her son. A shifty young man tells of his desire to see the world, and to wed Delia Prickett. But his rich Aunt refused to die and leave him her money – so he sped her death along, got the money and the girl. The cruel banker, A.D. Blood, miserably bemoans the fact that others now use his grave sight for their evening trysts, in “The Pillow”, and in his own words, “I’m getting more sex now that I’m deceased.”

A woman complains of her shiftless husband living off a small pension while she took in all of Spoon River’s laundry to make ends meet. But the people’s laundry told her the town’s dirty secrets. And everyone apparently had some. A tango begins, couples pair up and sing woefully about their various relationships and marriages, and the fact that once married, there’s “No Escape”. Their stories, serious to them, are comic to an outsider, but have the stamp of truth to them. But an older couple steps forward to offer a vision of true love, after a very long life spent “In Each Other’s Arms”. There can be love.

A woman compares the handsome young man she loved to a horse – unreliable, wild, too dangerous to have a life or children with. A man complains that after his long life of tedious labor, his wife was left a fortune, spending it all on easy living after his death. Yet another man married the wrong woman, and felt trapped, unworthy of the woman he actually loved.

The sounds of war intervene. A teacher laments that her best young student, her favorite, was lost in the world despite her prayers, and as he tells us, he was lost to a dissolute life until one day he thought of that kind and loving teacher. The thought of her saved him.

Visions and sounds of the Civil War intervene. A young man’s girl deserts him as he goes off to war to die (“Ain’t That Fine”). He is dead, and all he can think of is that girl he left behind, the life he left behind. (“I Just Want Her Back”)

The moon is now high in the sky. An ancient woman who died past 100 recalls her last years, cared for by an ancient daughter-in-law, longing for a long dead husband to return to her. The others watch her speak, and long to go back, to have a few of the more precious moments to live again. (“Stand Still”) In pairs, longing for life, they each look up at the moon, high in the sky, and realize the night is quickly passing.

ACT TWO: We are reminded that this one night under a full moon each 100 years is all the spirits have to relate their stories. And they are each in a hurry to have a turn.

One cocky man declares that life is “A Gamble”, some win, some lose, all one can do is play the game. Some of the winners and losers of that game step forward. A Reverend complains that when he died, a trunk of his was sold that was filled with his sermons, and they were burned as waste paper. Money is the issue as a woman speaks of the great house her father bought, which he could not afford to keep. A man married her assuming she was wealthy, then left her to care for the house and her father when he discovered they were poor. A man complains that some of the people he now lies near made fortunes in grim ways, whereas he committed one crime and was hanged. They all sleep together, now, side by side, bankrupted by death. After all, you can’t take it with you…or can you. Several of the dead step forward to praise “The Almighty” (dollar), and declare in waltz time that there are ways you can take it with you.

A woman steps imperiously forward, Bible in hand, and points to a statue. (Another actor, posed.) It points heavenward (after it’s corrected). She claims she knows the truth to salvation, but others must find it on their own. A man, smirking, apple in hand, relates the tale of his own death at the hands of a Catholic guard in jail. His crime – taking the Bible seriously and assuming Adam was a moron, and perhaps God inexplicably cruel.

Then, a gentle rain falls. A man who in life was the town watchman passes through, dead now, but still singing of his life keeping everyone safe, and still on the job. (“All Is Well”) A woman who also stuck to her profession, laughed at when young, who then became a world class astronomer. The accomplished speak their mind, now. A blind woman speaks of a life of accomplishment and love. (“As Sure As Sight”) Another man dared a bull, as a demonstration of his free will – and was gored to death. A woman tells us of her one great accomplishment, memorizing the Encyclopedia Britannica “A To Z”. Indeed, she goes on and on demonstrating her expertise until the other spirits, unable to get a word through her enthusiastic and educated banter, pull her off.

But the topic of the night is life and death, and what makes life of value. A woman tells of her great pain, and her husband’s patience for ten years as she partially recovered. But realizing she would never be whole, she took her life to spare him more agony. But her husband, now also passed away, lets her know he did not see her pain and suffering, telling her that “I See Only You”.

The moon has moved in the sky, and is near setting. The final theme is heard, a variation of a Brahms’ symphony, quietly. A woman speaks of the great love of her life, and how wonderful life is. She reminds the world that it takes strength and life to love life. Finally, as the sun rises and the spirits vanish, they remind us, the living, that the responsibility and joy for continuing the game of life is now ours. (“The Answer”)

The sun rises, morning birds sing. The spirits are gone.

THE SONGS:

“And The River Flows”, “Fiddle”, “The Curse”, “The Pillow”, “No Escape”, “In Each Other’s Arms”, “Ain’t That Fine”, “I Just Want Her Back”, “Stand Still”, “A Gamble”, “The Almighty”, “All Is Well”, “As Sure As Sight”, “A To Z”, “I See Only You”, “The Answer”

Musical Numbers:
(Note – All songs are copyrighted by the author for all media, and may not be reproduced except by express written permission from the author.  All orchestrations by Steven Horwich.  The wonderful original cast is credited below. )

Act One

And the River Flows (Company)
Fiddle (Rich Brown and Company)
The Curse (Sisu Raiken)
The Pillow (J.D. Smith)
No Escape (Paul Cross, Kate Orsini, J.D. Smith, Noel Britton, Christopher Rath, Sisu Raiken, Rich Brown)
In Each Others Arms (Paul Landry, Lori White)
Aint That Fine (Kate Orsini, Brian Michael)
I Just Want Her Back (Brian Michael)
Stand Still (Dana Reynolds, Christopher Rath and Company)

Act Two

A Gamble (Christopher Rath and Company)
The Almighty (Paul Cross, Sisu Raiken)
All Is Well (Paul Landry)
As Sure As Sight (Dana Reynolds)
A to Z (Noel Britton)
I See Only You (Rich Brown)
The Answer (Sisu Raiken and Company)


MY OPINIONS:

I don’t offer opinions on my own original shows. One critic who saw it (and we didn’t allow many to see it) wrote “This production has so much to offer that people should be dying to get in.” We did receive a spontaneous standing ovation at every performance.

The show is not a revue, as there is a context driving each character into his moment in the moon. It does not, however, have a “through narrative.” It is not quite a “book musical.” It’s a hybrid with a powerfully compelling reason for the characters to do what they do, but no particular story. Rather, it has a hundred stories.

MY RATING: We do not rate original shows.

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

Requires a capable Musical Director, one comfortable with theatrical musical forms. Styles range from folk-influenced pieces (with bigger ranges and more complex music than is usual for folk), to pop/theater power ballads, to a hoe-down, a waltz, and a variation of a symphonic piece by Brahms. No rock, it’s all theatrical forms. The songs tend to be on the rangy side, and there’s a lot of ensemble singing, requiring strong harmonies.

If you go six men-six women, each should sing fairly well. In our original cast, we had 3 women and 1 man who had okay voices and no better, but they were strong actors. The rest sang quite well.

Woman # 1 should be an alto who sings with a lot of character and personality. A decent voice with a belt, the instrument doesn’t need to be particularly trained.

Woman # 2 sings “A To Z”, and should be a mezzo with a big character belt and endless energy and enthusiasm. Your best comic performer.

Woman # 3 should have a nearly operatic voice, a very well-trained and modulated mezzo who can sing with real anger. Must have some great high notes, full and supported, and a strong mid-register. Sings “The Curse”, “The Almighty”, “The Answer”, your strongest overall singer and performer.

Woman # 4 is more an acting role. You need a mezzo who can sing decently, any range, as she’ll harmonize, and does have some solo material.

Woman # 5 sings “Stand Still”, and “As Sure As Sight”, and must have a terrific pop/theater belt voice with a clear upper register, a lot of emotional and vocal strength. Your best theater/pop voice.

Woman # 6 sings “In Each Other’s Arms”, a warm mezzo, with a decent voice, more an actress than a singer.

Man # 1 sings “I Just Want Her Back” should be a tenor with clear, ringing high notes, and a very expressive emotional voice of the pop-theater variety. A strong mid-range, your best male voice.

Man # 2 sings “In Each Other’s Arms”, and “All Is Well” is a lyric baritone with a good, strong upper register, and an ability to express emotion and character while singing.

Man # 3 who sings “Fiddle” and “I See Only You” should be a tenor, with clear and strong high notes and a decent belt. Must express powerful emotions while singing. A talented performer. If he can actually play the fiddle well and aggressively, that would be fantastic!!

Man # 4, sings “The Pillow” should have a comic character voice, lyric baritone, doesn’t need a great voice but should carry a tune easily and act well while singing.

Man # 5 sings “The Almighty”, and is a lyric baritone with a pleasant voice, almost that of a crooner.

Man # 6 sings “Stand Still” and “A Gamble”, and should have a lyric baritone belt, pop/theater style, very strong and clear. One of your better singers, a leading man type.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This show requires the actors to do a lot of movement. There is not hard “dance” needed, but the show will drag down without a kinetic sensibility. Even when not singing, the actors reposition and move about the gravestones and trees that are the set in a dance-like fashion, requiring the whole show to at least feel staged, even choreographed. That said, the performers are almost all going to be singers and actors first. The Choreographer for this show will need to be experienced, and know how to work with non-dancers to get strong results.

There are numbers that can benefit from dance, however. These include “Fiddle”, “The Pillow”, “No Escape”, “Ain’t That Fine”, “Stand Still”, “A Gamble”, “The Almighty”, “A To Z”, and “The Answer”.
The opening number, “And The River Flows” should be staged rather than choreographed. The stage fills with the newly-risen dead (who should look just like people, please). They assume places seated on gravestones or under a tree, or standing, and speak directly to the audience. No real “choreography” is required.

“Fiddle” is a quasi hoe-down celebration of a life spent doing the thing one most loves to do, in this case play the fiddle. It should be an energetic full-cast expression of joy that remains focused on the man singing and playing the fiddle. It’s his life he sings about, and the rest of the cast plays out in a simple dance the many occasions he played for them, each taking turns being married, buried, or being part of an event calling for music. It’s light, comic, celebratory, a burst of energy.

“The Pillow” is sung by one man as the rest of the cast…um…has sexual relations on top of his grave. The grave should be faced away from the audience, its back facing front, and a willow tree hanging overhead, so the audience sees only the occasionally flailing limb, or an exhausted face as it clambers to the top of the stone before being pulled down for more business. This is entirely comic, never sexual, it’s ridiculous, over-the-top. The more silly it gets, the more dry and forlorn the singer becomes. The number should just about stop the show.

“No Escape” uses the entire stage as the cast pair and re-pair, tangoing as they relate tales of their various horrific romantic affairs. High energy and darkly fun, the dance should be slightly different for each couple, reflecting their various relationships as they change. The overall idea is that once wed, there is no getting out, no escape, no release from the arms of your spouse. That should be the motif. You can dance the character about to speak or sing to the front or center, have the others keep moving in a slower, more contained pattern of joined tangoed agony as the soloist speaks or sings, and then when the group sings again, open the movement up (with the lights). A large production number with a strong central image – couples locked together in dance and unable to escape.

“Ain’t That Fine” is a two-character number, high energy, comic theater piece with a country feel to it. It shows us the on-again off-again relationship between a romantic young man about to go to war, and the less-than-romantic object of his amorous attentions. She is brash, forward, a country girl who wants it all, takes what she wants, and doesn’t think much of him. Their run-in is comic in general, but painful for the young man, resulting in his running off to war. Keep this one energetic, fun, alive. Some real movement can be useful here.

“Stand Still” again uses the entire company, as they try to stop time and hold on to the moments that most mattered to them, the moments when they were loved. It is entirely positive, entirely romantic, wistful, yearning. The movement should be simple and not distracting, the moon is high in the sky and perhaps it ends with the actors silhouetted, looking back at that moon and realizing the hours are flying by. The singing here takes priority, with the mood and the message.

“A Gamble” is a gospel-ish revival. The company is involved, and the lead singer is the “preacher” of sorts. A high energy opening to Act II. It is a celebration of risk, which is what life is all about per the song. The number could contain some clever and funny images of risks gone right or wrong, staged in. Have fun with this one.

“The Almighty” offers tribute to…the dollar, the greenback. It is a delicate comic waltz/minuet where a man and woman essentially politely fight over who shall take the money with them when they each go. And they are convinced you can take it with you, if you have enough. Comic, topical but character driven (as everything in this show is). The actor and actress can become more determined as the piece transpires, more brutal even in their response to each other, but keep things comic.

“A To Z” is the big comic solo, the show’s 11:00 number intended to wake the audience up before the end. It is endless. You may wish to cut some of it, but the endless quality is a big part of the joke. The character’s enthusiasm over sharing everything she’s learned from the Encyclopedia Britannica is infectious, and entirely comic. It irritates the hell out of the other characters after a short amount of time and repetition. The number is all joy, commitment, and the bad taste to not know when to get off.

“The Answer” is a final joining of the spirits in this place to offer us, the audience, a last truth – that life is for the living, and that just as we love those who have passed on before us, they love us and watch our accomplishments with joy. It should be very simple, as the disparate company become one for a moment. As it ends, they part ways with perhaps a fond look at each other and us, with regret, with frustration depending on the person. And they fade into their graves as the morning birds start to sing. Don’t let the movement get in the way of the number, it should be very easy and simply beautiful. It is a parting of the ways.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Each actor will be playing 10 or more roles, and must be versatile. They never change costume, make-up, or anything physical. They assume the role through their ability to portray age, types, emotions. This is a show that experienced actors will love, and newer actors will learn and grow from.

Woman # 1 should be beautiful, a woman in her 20s-early-40s in full bloom, sexy and intelligent. Cast for acting, type, voice, dance in that order. As is true of all the parts, everyone will need to be good at everything, but it is a matter of degree for each role. This role sings less (but must belt), acts a lot.

Woman # 2 sparks with vitality and commitment to roles and songs. Early 20s-30s, bright and alive. Must be a strong comic actress, while able to flip into drama. Cast for voice, dance, acting in that order. Your best comic female.

Woman # 3 requires an experienced, gifted musical theater performer in her 30s-40s. Must be a truly fine actress as she plays into old age and a wide variety of emotions, with a sensational voice. Cast for voice, acting, dance. Your best performer goes here.

Woman # 4 should be a character actress, 30s-50s, perhaps tall and thin-ish, with a soft vulnerability about her, and intelligence. Plays a wide variety of roles. Cast for acting, type, voice, dance.

Woman # 5 is 20s-40s, lovely, a bit of a firebrand, deeply emotional when performing. Cast for voice, acting, type, dance.

Woman # 6 is 30s-50s, perhaps short and heavier, more a character actress with strong acting skills. Cast for acting, type, voice, dance.

Man # 1 is 20s-30s. A very strong actor able to play comedy and tragedy. Young-ish, boyish, handsome enough. Cast for voice, acting, type, dance.

Man # 2 is 30s-40s. A sweet personality, simple, often direct, a fine actor with a good range for ages and emotions. Cast for voice, acting, type, dance.

Man # 3 is 20s-40s. Must play a range of roles with a range of emotions, often on the harsh or bitter side. Requires a fine voice. Cast for voice, acting, type, dance.

Man # 4 30s-50s, a character actor with a good range. Strong comic ability required. Can be played by an energetic, bubbly, somewhat overweight man. Cast for acting, type, voice, dance.

Man # 5 30s-50s, a mature man, somewhat stately, a good actor able to play drunk convincingly, among other things. Cast for acting, voice, type, dance.

Man # 6 20s-30s. Virile, leading man type, young and strong, tall and handsome. Good comic actor required, excellent voice, good energy. Cast for voice, type, acting, dance.

SETS:

There’s only one set, a cemetery at night. It is a small, forgotten, somewhat overgrown cemetery in Spoon River, Illinois. There are numerous stones, as many as the set will sustain and still leave room for movement. A large central area should be clear, except perhaps a willow overhead. Another willow hovers over a particular grave stone, faced away from the audience.

The stones are old. They’re weathered, and some are deteriorating. Most are neglected, though a few may have a rotted flower or two left from a visit. The trees are old, too, and weary. There is an air of neglect – this place is forgotten. But the stones as set pieces should be strong enough to sit on, and perhaps stand on if needed.

Perhaps a wrought iron fence and gate can be seen toward the back of the stage, behind the action.

A cyclorama would be of real use, showing a projected or painted natural scene, as we’re on a wooded hill. A river runs somewhere far below. And most important, the only effect or difficulty, a moon makes its way across the sky, rises from right, rises high center, and then sets left at the end of Act Two. It is in motion, soundless, inexorable. It can be done by using scrim for the cyc, and placing 3-4 such moons in various locations, lighting each one right to left as the night progresses. Or perhaps it can be done as a projection, actually filmed or computer generated. But we need to see a full moon move across the sky at the back of the stage.

The sun will rise after the moon sets, but it is represented only as light rising stage right.

Not too hard a set. As the actors rarely exit, wings are not really needed.

COSTUMES:

Period costumes, the mid 1800s – early 1900s. The clothes they might have been buried in. These should not be any more distressed than the actors wearing them. They are the character’s Sunday Bests, for the period. Each actor needs only one costume. You could change costumes at the act break to get a new look, if you like. Work that out with the Director. Shawls, hats, canes, gloves, other such paraphernalia can be added to give certain characters a distinctive look and feel, and that should be done as often as possible. Men could change jackets for specific characters, a Civil War northern coat for a lowly soldier could be used for “Ain’t That Fine” and “I Just Want Her Back.”

Do evoke the period in any way you can think of. But keep it simple, and keep costs down. These costumes can be rented from any decent costume shop, and some could be built, or possibly bought in thrift stores. Best in the hands of someone with some experience.

PROPS:

Period Civil War northern flag, a period rifle for the Civil War. Period money (just a few bills). A fiddle. A lantern with candle in it, the type a watchman would have carried at night. Some other objects, not too heavy a show for props.

It will be different from production to production, however, and your Prop Master should work closely with your Director.

LIGHTING:

Very important for this show. Each monologue and all the songs except group moments should be isolated to some extent, though we should be able to see other actors react to the solo or scene or monologue in many cases. No one really leaves the stage, or stops responding and acting. So there must always be some spill, even though you focus audience attention to one or two actors.

This is a Musical, with Musical Comedy elements. Large numbers should be well-lit, and even pop a bit. The show needs energy, starting with the opening dialogue and into “Fiddle”, to let the audience know quickly this isn’t going to be dour. Throughout, look for upbeat numbers and monologues, and opportunities to “lighten” things up. There are many.

There are many moods in the show, and they change rapidly. Work closely with the director, there’s likely to be many cues. Also, the moon must be “lit”, “shining” and visible at the back. As described in the set section above. You’ll need to coordinate with your Set Designer and Director to create the illusion of the moon slowly passing through the sky. At the end of the show, sunlight must start to rise from stage right, clean, pristine, the promise of a bright new day.

A job for an experienced Lighting Designer.

MAKE-UP:

No, please, no zombies, no dark rings under the eyes, no skeletal features. We’re looking at spirits, whole and alive, not bodies buried in the ground. Perhaps a hint of something different, a slight paleness, that would be it. These people look as they did more or less in their lives. And as each actor must play many roles, you won’t be able to get too specific. Keep this simple.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Costume Designer, Lighting Director, The Cast

MY THOUGHTS:
This is a show written to be done inexpensively, by a very talented cast of singing actors. The cast of 12 is flexible, and can easily be expanded to almost any number, but probably can’t be reduced much, certainly not below 8. I’ve done it with as many as 16, and that worked easily. The division of material becomes the only issue.

A note on sound – we need to hear birds from that part of Illinois (more or less) singing as the sun sets, and as it rises again at the end of the show. There are available CD recordings of these effects that work well. It would not be bad to hear the night song of a few birds, or crickets, during the show as well.

Finally (obviously) this is a celebration of life, not death. It’s not about death. These characters are usually uninterested in their graves. (There is one exception.) They’re interested in the lives they led, and in sharing the joy and grief that life inevitably brings. They’re interested in being remembered, and in remaining connected up.

I personally found this show very rewarding to work on as a writer and director. It is fun, funny, and deeply moving. I think it will work almost anywhere. The period in which these characters lived is not particularly relevant, their lives and what they did and felt is. It’s unlikely that this show will date. Master’s poems certainly have not.