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Storied pairs and single luminaries – the Gershwin brothers, Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephens Sondheim and Schwartz – mastered the genre in the 20th century. With “La La Land” and “Hamilton,” Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul, and Lin-Manuel Miranda made it cool again in the 21st.
Homegrown composer/lyricists Godfrey and Hauser are more than mere fans. This weekend they will be taking bows for creating their own production, “Breadway Bound,” which pays homage to traditional musical theater even as it strikes an original note.
Howard Godfrey and Jonathan Hauser conceived the plot, wrote the script and music, cast the parts, directed rehearsals, and play in the pit orchestra for the seventh annual fall musical at The Musical Offering (MO), the community music school at 743 Custer Ave.
Keeping up with their homework has been a challenge.
The very grown-up talents of this creative team belie their youth. Jonathan, a junior at Evanston Township High School, and Howard, a freshman, assumed responsibility for the production from the start. Rick Ferguson, their mentor and the co-founder of the MO, says he “super-vises” but for the most part keeps hands off the student-run event.
Howard and Jonathan came up with the idea and then spent the summer creating the show together. Given the demands of such a collaboration, they say, “It is important that we’re good friends.”
Early on, they wrote a script but “realized that [15 pages] wasn’t long enough. So we kept adding scenes, expanding and giving the story more depth.” The plot
centers on the naïve and overconfident Janice Skilton, who leaves her family’s small-town peanut butter and jelly stand to pursue a musical career in New York. The show deals with “the conflict between dreams and reality,” Howard says. It has a message, Jonathan adds: “No matter what, you should never give up.”
They tried dividing the responsibilities for the score, having Jonathan write lyrics and Howard write the music. But they found it worked better if they both did both. Their aim was “to make music that was not typical [of a musical],” Jonathan says. “People think of ‘Wicked,’” he says (adding that he liked the show a lot), “or of stereotypes.”
At ease with the sophisticated vocabulary of music, he elaborates on what they were hoping to avoid: the “specific sonority associated with musicals … major keys, 4/4 time, chord progressions.” They composed 10 songs in all, Howard says, “some with a classical feel, [others with] a pop feel. I think that makes it interesting.”
Mr. Ferguson calls the two “precocious musicians,” which seems an understatement in light of their achievements. In various ensembles at school and the MO, Jonathan plays keyboard and piano and Howard the clarinet, saxophone, cello, flute, keyboards, and guitar.
Both say they owe a lot to the MO. Mr. Ferguson says he and Kirsten Hedegaard founded the organization in 2000, purposely locating it in south Evanston “to serve a somewhat underserved community” in that part of town. The MO remains true to its mission and is, he says, “a labor of love.”
Jonathan says his mother brought him to the MO for piano lessons after he “tried to play the guitar at 4… and failed.” Mr. Ferguson, who has been Jonathan’s piano teacher for the 12 years since, sees him as “an accomplished pianist and now, composer.” Jonathan says, “The Musical Offering means the world to me.”
About 3 1/2 years ago, the pastor of Howard’s church “suggested I take piano from the school down the street,” Howard says. The proficiency of the then middle-schooler, who played the piano by ear and sang in the choir, prompted the pastor to call Mr. Ferguson.
“It was clear to me [Howard] had a considerable amount of talent as well as motivation,” Mr. Ferguson says. He decided to “adopt [Howard] musically,” the sort of act Mr. Ferguson sees as being “at the core of [the MO] mission.”
Beyond his obvious capabilities and unbeknownst to his teacher, Howard had been working on a symphony, “a significant thing for a student,” Mr. Ferguson says. While still an eighth-grader, Howard orchestrated the 21 different instrument parts and did his own transpositions for instruments that play in different keys. He conducted his fellow King Arts musicians in the piece at an assembly and at the school’s spring band concert in April.
The MO, Howard says, has helped him mature. Through “the friendships and programs [there],” Howard says, he has “grown as a musician and a person. It has helped me know what I want to do.”
Jonathan and Howard brought their expertise and personal warmth to bear in directing the 14-member cast of the show. Jonathan says, “Student-run theater is a very valuable thing. It’s great for peers to see each other in leadership positions.” As producer/directors, Jonathan and Howard say they have forged lasting friendships with their cast and orchestra.
A summer’s work and two months of Sunday rehearsals culminated in the first performances of “Breadway Bound” last weekend. Tickets for the last three shows, Nov. 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 19 at 3, are available at www.themusicaloffering.org.
This reporter was treated to a preview when Howard sat down at the piano to sing and play one of the songs from the show, “My Not-So-Little Little Girl.” He wrote it as a lament by Janice’s mother after her daughter leaves for New York. The song captures the poignancy of a mother’s farewell to her child’s childhood. Improbably, a composer younger than the young character has managed to imagine himself in the place of the mother. And impossibly, his song succeeds in leaving a huge lump in the listener’s throat.