Every two years, a student-written musical is selected by Brownbrokers, the original student-written musical theater organization, and then put on the main stage. This provides one of the only opportunities for students to see their writing performed in the Stuart Theater. This year, it is We Can Rebuild Him by Deepali Gupta ’12. The piece is musically directed by Andrew Hertz ’04, an adjunct lecturer, and is directed by Talya Klein MFA ’12. (Some of you may recognize Hertz and Klein from their time teaching such courses as History of Musical Theater or TA30, respectively).
We Can Rebuild Him is an unconventional musical about a disconnected family that tries to put back together the body parts of their dead son, Sam. As the story goes, Sam’s heart somehow kept beating, even after his body was cut into pieces. This heart is what keeps the family moving forward, trying to connect his body and rebuild the connection to each other.
Gupta, who describes herself as passive, wanted to write a piece about a family’s failure to communicate. Gupta says that she has often wished that her own family could communicate better and wanted to tell the story of what happens when you “let things happen for too long.”
Gupta’s script won the Brownbrokers’ new musical contest in the spring semester of 2011. A musical competition? Is this Glee? No, it’s not, but Brownbrokers made the right decision picking Gupta’s unique and quirky story. Since being picked, Gupta says that the piece has evolved and muddy areas have been clarified, but “all the essentials have stayed the same.”
The music within the show feels modern but pulls on the traditions of melody and repetition when necessary. Do you listen to ABBA? So does Deepali Gupta! Gupta likes to listen to songs with a tight structure, and then write music that plays with these traditional methods. Gupta says, “[I write songs where] they take a while to find their arc, and just as you are settling into them, they end.” This method works well in We Can Rebuild Him, as the characters settle into comfort slowly, but quickly change their minds before it can really set in. Gupta’s score both blends in and commands its own attention within the piece. As an audience, we fall into the songs, but are often abruptly pulled out of them. This reflects the characters’ relationship with Sam during his rebuilding.
Brown’s campus has seen the songwriting of Gupta earlier this school year when she teamed up with Zachary Segel ’13 to bring original music to PW’s production of Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights. However, We Can Rebuild Him is Gupta’s first full-length original musical.
Right before starting this production, Klein and Hertz worked together on Parade at Brown Trinity Rep. Parade had been Klein’s thesis, and she is ending her directing career at Brown (for now) with We Can Rebuild Him. As a director, actor, and writer, Klein understands all the avenues of the collaborative process involved in theater, and it clearly shows when this musical comes together as a cohesive unit. Klein was interested to take on the “first flight” of the production. Klein said that she was “humbled by” the talent of the cast and crew and that the directing process became “more of a conversation.” As the actors set into their characters, the scenes grew and changed.
Michael McGarty’s set design mirrors a cramped suburban hoarders’ garage — watch out TLC’s Extreme Couponing! Director Klein wanted to convey this feeling. When the family is experiencing grief, they turn to objects, paralleling the way the family sometimes objectify each other and Sam. As Klein so nicely puts it, “[in our lives], technology replaces people… stuff and things [replace] relationships.” The play centers on Sam’s beating heart, which is expertly placed in a large metal breadbox standing out amongst the clutter. The light reflects off the box, constantly reminding the audience of the heart the family similarly can’t forget.
According to Gupta and Klein, Brady Waibel ‘12, who plays the quiet and reserved Uncle Bill, orchestrated much of the show. I was digging the “baroque style” (as Gupta calls it) that Waibel’s orchestration brings to many of the songs.
Overall, the cast is strong. They are led by the powerful vocals of Ned Reisley ’12 and Alexis Aurigemma ’13, who play siblings. The spirit of Sam is played by three different actors at once — Lance Jabr ’12, Alexis Shusterman ’13, and Elias Spector-Zabusky ‘15. One of the most beautiful moments is when the three Sams come together to address the audience in the moving number “The Next Day.” As Klein says, “Deepali embraces with both hands the fact that we have three different voices singing one song to make up a whole.”
Besides having wonderful acting chops as the overly organized high-strung mother, Abby Colella ‘12 also has quite the throwing arm. Just wait until Abby starts throwing stuff. Watch out if you are in the first row!
What is next for Gupta, Klein, and We Can Rebuild Him as their time at Brown comes to an end? Gupta says she doesn’t know exactly where her post-grad NYC plans will take her, but she isn’t throwing away We Can Rebuild Him anytime soon. As Klein says, “Theater is really powerful… Musical theater is evolving — as it should. I’m interested in being part of that conversation.” I hope they both continue to be moving voices in this conversation, and that this isn’t the last we see of We Can Rebuild Him or their work together.
When is it playing? March 1-4 and 8-11: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. How do I get tickets? The box office is in Leeds Theatre sells tickets Tuesday-Friday 12-4pm.
Are there any ticket deals? You have discount coupons in your mailbox, so you can buy them for $5 instead of $7. You can also buy them on the online box office. Freshmen get in free on Thursdays!
Last, check out the Facebook event!