We are now arriving at the beginning of Sweet Willow although at this point the show had no name.
It is 1991 and it is the last year I worked with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
The season was a disaster.
The Artistic Director had either been fired or quit (can’t remember which) and no one was running the festival. Somehow the plays got rehearsed and up but it still feels like a miracle that anything got staged that year. One of the shows got shut down due to full frontal male nudity.
Can you imagine full frontal male nudity on an outdoor stage in Boise, Idaho?
The production in question was Wedekind’s Spring Awakening. I thought it was a good show and was pleased with the music I had composed for it but local church groups and a young Republican firebrand Attorney General made sure we awakened nowhere no-how. Like I said the season was a disaster.
I was now living in Seattle and commuting to Boise for the festival. The night before I was due to return home I couldn’t sleep.
A sound kept running through my head.
It was the sound of the baritone saxophone. I was hearing some of those great old R&B horn lines playing and replaying in my mind’s ear over and over and over and…you get the idea. The next logical step for me was to think, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to write something that used a baritone sax?”
What could it be? What could it be?
A song? No.
A play? Well, I’ve never written a play but heck, why let that stop you? Okay, a play but what should it be? Shakespeare? Hmmm, maybe.
I began to mentally audition Shakespearean plays that might have musical possibilities. Romeo and Juliet had already been turned into West Side Story, The Comedy of Errors was The Boys from Syracuse, The Taming of the Shrew was Kiss Me Kate. There’s actually quite a list of them. I was sure that the musical genre I wanted to explore was in the blues/jazz, R&B camp.
You know…, baritone saxophone.
What could translate to a gritty, urban blues powered story?
‘Ding’, the bell rang, the light bulb went on and Othello jumped into the ring. Yes, he literally jumped into the ring because I knew instantly that he had to be a boxer.