Mark Jensen. What can I say about Mark Jensen? Well, he’s a pretty nice guy, and a pretty gifted playwright/lyricist, easy to work with, especially when I want to shape lyrics…such an agreeable fella. We’ve done a good deal of work together over the years. Mark and I were first brought together by Richard Hitchler waaaaayyyyy back in…(when WAS that, Mark, 1995? Richard?) while Richard was Artistic Director of my incubator institution, SteppingStone Theatre for Youth Development in St Paul. Richard was a vigorous and vocal advocate of original work, and he threw Mark and I in a room together (metaphorically speaking, of course) and said “Don’t come out until you’ve finished!” (Rather like Richard Rodgers with Lorenz Hart.)
Larry was well known for his capacious appetite for imbibing, and Mr. Rodgers (not THAT Mr. Rodgers…) would toss him into a hotel suite, strip him of his clothing, and shout pretty much the same thing through THAT locked door. That’s how we got “Pal Joey”, among others, I’m sure…
So Mark and I emerged triumphant from our metaphor with “Young Lindy”, a paean to young Charles Lindbergh, he being the first human to fly across the pond in 1927. (In a plane, of course. So the punch line “and boy, were his arms tired” won’t really work here.)
Mark and I have since collaborated on more than a few musicals, and I’ll write about that in the future, but today I want to tell you about “Mister Toad Hits the Road”, Richard Hitchler’s vision of a musical adaption of “Wind In the Willows”. Richard left SteppingStone in 2015, but before he did, he applied for and received a McKnight grant to finance a couple of creations, “Mister Toad” being one of them. Well, we worked and worked and wrote and erased and scratched and created and argued and cajoled and compromised and had lunch and finally came up with a pretty nifty musical! After the first workshop, Mr. Hitchler ‘departed’ SteppingStone (almost under his own power) and the new administration was left with a ‘what-to-do-with-this-musical’ moment. One workshop later, and it was summarily shelved. (SteppingStone Theatre was leaning toward cutting back on their season.) Turns out, the ‘Right of First Refusal’ term has now expired, so guess what?! Mister Toad is now a free agent!
I really love composing for Mark’s book & lyrics; he is generous in his praise and willingness to collaborate, and we get along famously. I’m particularly fond of the music for this show, (3rd song down in the playlist)and from that wealth of fondness, one song stands out: “Home”, sung by Mole, Rat, Badger, Otter, Portly, King Weasel and Rabbits. (King Weasel and Rabbits are all bad guys: they take up the melody in a threatening minor key at the end of the song.) And a rhyme of ‘castle’ and ‘hassle’ and ‘Vassal’. Come on…!
Lots of other cool songs as well. 8 more, in fact. Lots of vocal harmony in this one, in fact, The opening number, “Messin’ About In Boats”, is reminiscent of “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from GUYS and DOLLS. Nice…)
Mark and I are continuing to create, we have 3 other musicals under our belt, and a brand spankin’ new one from Mark’s own playground-of-a head. (But I want to save that til later.)
Stay cool, everybody, it’s going to be an interesting year (4 years?), but if we keep smilin’ and stay focused, we’re all gonna be alright.