Now & Then is the new musical that opens on Wednesday 11 September at Above The Stag Theatre in Vauxhall. It tells the story of a gay couple and their relationship that lasts decades. Dave Cross spoke to playwright Ronnie Larsen about this country infused love story.
Hi Ronnie, how would you describe Now & Then?
Now & Then is a musical about two men who fall in love when they are very young and stay together for four decades. It’s about the ups and downs of a long term marriage and about growing up and growing old and about the complicated things we have to do to make our marriages work. Daniel is a singer-songwriter in college when he meets Greg, a young aspiring comic and they quickly fall in love. The relationship feels perfect, they fall in love believing they are going to become rich and famous together. Flash forward many years and they are now middle-aged adults and things haven’t gone completely as planned. They are still together but the relationship has become strained as they struggle with the realities of adulthood and the difficulties of keeping a long term relationship alive. Greg has abandoned his dream of becoming a famous comic and is now working in a bank while Daniel is still trying to find success in music but nothing is happening so he works as a salesman in a mattress store. Though they are both still in love, these middle years are not easy for either of them. Then we jump forward again and see them at the end of their lives.
Where did the idea come from?
I met the wonderful composer,Dennis Manning, and he played me a bunch of his songs and told me his life story and I just fell in love with his music and his life and I believed right away there was a potential musical waiting to be written. We met a few times a week and he would play his guitar and sing to me and I would just listen and think – and then I started writing the book and six months later we were on stage in front of an audience. Dennis and I are both married to wonderful men and we both share a belief in marriage and a knowledge of the work required to stay married, so in a way the show is really based on both our lives but lots of couples who see it think it’s based on their own lives. That’s been one of the joys of working on this show, so many people come up to us after the show with tears in their eyes and tell us they felt like they watching their own marriage on stage.
How would you describe the music, is it country?
I have no idea how to describe the music. Dennis Manning has written about 150 songs and I literally love all of them and I’m planning more shows with his music. His songs sound so different depending on whether they are played on guitar or on a piano. I’ve known him a year and I’m still wrapping my head around his work. It’s not easily classified and to me it doesn’t really sound like any one else. I love his music and my husband and I often play his songs in the car. I also love listening to him sing his songs. I’m just a huge Dennis Manning fan and my goal in life is to put every song he’s ever written in front of an audience.
The story takes place over four decades, how is this achieved on stage?
Six actors play Daniel and Greg as we jump back and forth over time and compare and contrast the ways that couples stay the same and they ways they change and the things we do to stay married. Two young actors play them when they’re young, two actors play them when they’re middle-aged and two actors play them when they’re older. Three of the actors have to play guitar and they all have to sing and act so it’s a tricky show to cast.
You seem to have a great relationship with Above The Stag, what is it that makes the place so special for you?
Having Above The Stag produce my plays is an incredible gift and I consider it to be a perfect relationship. The first time they produced one of my plays and I saw the production photos it was a revelation to me. I’m so lucky and grateful to have my plays produced by Peter Bull and the incredible team at Above The Stag. We share a love of gay theatre and plays that explore human sexuality and we both love comedies and, though many theatres in America are afraid of this type of material, Above The Stag are embracing it so it feels like a perfect marriage to me and I hope we both grow old together just like the couple in Now & Then.