The following was written by Harmony professor Michael Wartofksy, who teaches musical theater at Berklee and serves as advisor to the Musical Theater Club.
The road I traveled to opening night of the premiere production of Car Talk: The Musical!!! at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts was definitely a fast journey in the H.O.V. lane. Based on the beloved National Public Radio show and featuring prerecorded voice-overs performed by the actual Click and Clack, a.k.a. Car Talk hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the musical is the brainchild of my collaborator Wes Savick. Wes called me in February 2011 to invite me to compose the score to his original lyrics, for a student workshop at Suffolk University’s Modern Theater. I immediately said yes, before Wes explained that rehearsals were about to begin and the workshop production was slated to open at the end of March. Wes had planned for the entire score to consist of parodies, and soon realized he needed an original score to truly tell the story he was creating.
Luckily, I was on my sabbatical from Berklee at the time, and one of my officially proposed projects had indeed been to write a musical with Wes—just not this one, and not in less than a month! Since I habitually ask the moon of the students who take my courses in Musical Theater Writing and Writing the Film Musical. I needed to prove that I too could write a killer score while accelerating from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds.
At the first script read-through, I got to meet the “Tappet Brothers” Tom and Ray, two of the most genuine, charming, and generous guys you could ever know. They actually sing in the show! (Well, prerecorded.) Their voices come out of a giant steampunk-ish car puppet that “talks,” designed by David Fichter.
The six student workshops sold out and made quite a P.R. splash. At the dress rehearsal, Debra Wise approached us about our plans for the show. Debra is the producing artistic director of Underground Railway Theater, a resident company of Central Square Theatre, and is married to our puppet designer.
Next thing I know, the show is slated for a professional premiere on June 14, 2012 for a five-week run. We assembled our fabulous cast and design team, and started writing several new songs to expand certain characters and enhance their story arcs. I recruited two amazing Berklee student musicians for the band: drummer Aaron Drescher, who plays almost every Berklee musical theater show, and bassist Alexander Trampas, who just graduated and had never played in a musical before. Alex is from Greece and was able to take the job on an OPT visa (Optional Practical Training.) The four-piece band really helped bring my score to a new level of excitement for me.
The show opened to mostly positive reviews, and the audiences have been very enthusiastic. In fact, the show has extended not once or twice, but three times! It’s practically unheard of in Boston for a local show to run so long. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the popularity of the radio show, or the coincidental announcement that Tom and Ray are retiring. Whatever it is, we have been ecstatic to get so many miles on one tank of gas.
As a teacher of musical theater writing, I feel much more knowledgeable about the nuts and bolts of theater production after this process and a practically concurrent Boston world premiere of my other show, Cupcake. Many of us writers and composers of new musicals spend years presenting our work-in-progress at music stands and in classrooms. It has been amazing to make the leap to the colorful sets, costumes, and large audiences.
I hope Car Talk: The Musical!!! will take a road trip to other theaters across the country in the near future. But for now, I am ready to start another semester re-energized and validated by field-work in what I actually teach.
Car Talk: The Musical!!! runs six times a week until September 16. Tickets available at centralsquaretheater.org. CST is pleased to offer both advanced and rush tickets to students with a university ID. Advanced tickets are $25 ($30 for musicals) and available by calling 866 811-4111 or ordering online. Rush tickets are $20 on the day of performance, based on availability.