Music, Book and Lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen
The summer of 1975. Six middle aged guys -- Marty (a used car salesman), Jack (a financier), Georgie (a deli-owner), Aaron (a clarinet teacher), Gil (a real estate broker), and Arthur (a dentist) -- begrudgingly deal with the daily pressures of life and work as they eagerly anticipate Wednesday night’s weekly “jam” session (PROLOGUE/ FAREWELL MERE EXISTENCE, HELLO JAZZ!).
Marty surprises them with their first bonafide “gig”: two weeks in the Catskills playing at Paradise Manor (FOUR HOURS AWAY FROM PARADISE). When Jack and Arthur decline due to family commitments (wife and mother, respectively), Georgie reveals he is having major surgery and encourages them to seize this opportunity: “When was the last time you did something you really wanted?” (TIME OUT) After Georgie leaves, the group decides to accept the gig.
As they prepare to leave, each guy must deal with family and job entanglements (DEPARTURES). Gil boldly tells his wife he may resume the life of a professional trumpet player, which he abandoned when he married into her affluent family business.
Marty phones his nineteen-year-old son and asks him to accompany them on their gig, throwing in a used car to sweeten the deal. Marty’s crestfallen when the young man declines but still asks if he can have the car.
Marshall Wilson, Georgie’s replacement, arrives. A weathered, African American professional who dislikes amateurs, Marshall insists that his bass occupy the front passenger seat in Marty’s van, making for a cramped and bumpy ride to the Catskills (A REAL NICE TRIP). Tempers flare when Aaron questions Marshall’s talent. By the side of the road, Marshall demonstrates his virtuosic skill and earns Aaron’s allegiance when he discovers Marshall once played with his idol, Benny Goodman. Marshall reluctantly agrees to focus on the music as their van reaches Paradise Manor.
Abe Mitgang, owner/proprietor, gives them a personal tour, which includes none of the amenities extended to guests. (A REAL NICE TRIP Reprise). The men are ready to make a hasty exit until they see the stage and experience the anticipation of playing jazz.
That night, Abe proudly announces the imminent arrival of Ricki Valentine, a former TV star staging her comeback at Paradise Manor. The band breaks into a raucous number only to be silenced by Abe who fears their “biff-bam-bang!” will upset his elderly clientele (PLAY NICE). Marshall strikes a deal with Abe – they’ll “play nice” for a price. Abe submits to his blackmail, and the men quickly learn to perform pedestrian foxtrots and rumbas, as Marshall quietly feeds them the chords.
Back in their dilapidated cabins, Jack rips up his share of the “hush money.” Feeling guilty about lying to his wife, who believes he’s troubleshooting at an out-of-town branch, Jack fears she’s falling for a lecherous neighbor on Nantucket. Arthur is worried about his ailing mother, and there are no nearby phones. Gil is feeling no pain, however, after consuming several beers and meeting an attractive waitress, Donna (who provides free drinks), and earning kudos from Marshall for his talent. As the men attempt to fall asleep in their bunk beds (DRIFTING), Aaron is wide awake, having performed with a guy who played with his idol (BENNY GOODMAN). Marty asks Gil to hatch a scheme to distract Arthur from his filial responsibility and then locates the motel’s only pay phone to wish Georgie luck on his surgery. With Jack and Arthur conspiring to leave, Aaron stealing into the night to begin practicing for Ricki Valentine, and Abe stifling the band’s musical expression, Marty lies to his friend, describing the gig as “beyond anything you’ve dreamed” (DRIFTING Reprise, END OF ACT ONE).
The following night, Jack tells Marty he and Arthur are leaving on the next bus. Marty berates Jack for his dishonesty: “I may not know much about fidelity, but both my wife and my girlfriend know I’m here. You’ve been married to the same woman for over twenty years and feel you have to lie about making music. Who’s the bigger cheat?” Jack angrily walks away. Gil, anticipating Arthur’s quitting, has Donna fix him up with a sweet waitress, Lucy. After an awkward initial meeting, the four agree to unwind following the night’s final set.
A chagrined Jack returns and agrees to stay: To celebrate, they all launch into a big jazz number appropriate titled BIFF-BAM-BANG! Based on the thunderous ovation, Abe wisely changes his tune on the music requirements.
Later that night, Arthur is tongue-tied with Lucy until he discovers they share common ground in matters of the heart…and teeth. (BEAUTIFUL). In another part of the forest, Gil and Donna are making beautiful music of their own in Marty’s van.
During the next few days, the men forge stronger relationships while contemplating the life of professional musicians. Jack regrets missing a Belgian jazz festival with his college band after his father told him it was “time to put the toys away.” Gil feels he’s ready to commit to both a professional career and Donna. Arthur is falling in love with Lucy, and Aaron devotes all his time perfecting his clarinet skills for Ricki Valentine’s arrival, which he sees as his ticket to the big time.
Fresh from a detox center, Ricki, makes her entrance with only her manager, Vince Amati. Explaining their regular musicians departed “due to artistic differences,” Vince enlists the band. Aside from Marshall, Gil, and Aaron, the men are not comfortable reading music…or transposing the songs down a half step. Without a rehearsal, Ricki launches into a “sneak preview” of her act for the clientele (RICKI IS BACK IN TOWN) and sings of the new “man” in her life (ME AND MR. ‘G’).
Jack loses control of his playing, causing the other members of the band to follow suit. Ricki instructs Abe to “get yourself another band or get yourself another star!” He fires the band but asks Marshall to stay and hire professionals. The men prepare to leave (TIME TO PUT THE TOYS AWAY), as Gil bids a poignant goodbye to Donna, and Arthur professes his love for Lucy, only to find out she’s married.
Marshall is regarded as a traitor for staying, until he passionately defends his job as a professional (CHOICES). He asks Gil to stay behind and join the pros, but Gil favors his comfortable life. Aaron is crushed that Marshall doesn’t extend the same invitation to him. Alone together, Marshall delivers the sobering news that “music is not a religion – devotion isn’t enough.”
When a flat tire on the highway derails their journey home, tempers ignite. Arthur is upset that he was fixed up with Lucy, Aaron resents Gil for not exploiting a “one in a million gift,” and Jack is furious at Marty for organizing the “gig” and exposing the men to their follies. Marty leaves to find a phone at a nearby service station, and Arthur joins him. When they return, a buoyant Arthur confesses he’s just met a nice waitress who gave him her number. Marty, however, is devastated: he spoke with his wife who told him Georgie died that morning. Realizing they experienced a gig their friend could only dream about, Jack extends his hand to Marty in a conciliatory gesture (I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOUR HORN), as the others concede that despite their differences, their jamming will endure. At the side of the road, the men pay tribute to their friend, Georgie, the best way they know how -- through their music (BIFF-BAM-BANG! Reprise).
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The following artists are featured in the demo recordings:
James Judy, Herndon Lackey, Michael McCormick, Jill Paice, William Parry, Michele Pawk, Charlies Pistone, Steve RoutmanKaren Ziemba
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With the exception of Abe Mitgang, all the principal men should be between 35-55 years of age.
MARTY – Gregarious self-appointed leader of the band and the one who gets the idea to book the group at a Catskill resort. A used car salesman who puts his hot air to good use playing trombone. Although he has a rocky relationship with his son and his second wife, he is extremely loyal to his friends. Baritone.
JACK – Works on Wall Street and plays piano in the band. Very uptight, educated, afraid of being open with his wife regarding his musical passion. Follows in his father’s footsteps and is unfulfilled. Baritone.
GIL – Once a pro trumpet player but married into wealth and works for his father-inlaw’s real estate firm. Ladies man who lacks the inner fire to stick with music on a serious level. High baritone.
AARON – Teaches clarinet for a living but fancies himself a pro, although his talent is limited. In contrast to Gil, he’d kill for a chance at the big time and has tremendous passion for music. Second Tenor.
ARTHUR -- A dentist who lives with his ailing mother and has a non-existent social life…until Paradise Manor. Modest, naïve, and charming. He plays drums. First or Second Tenor.
*GEORGIE – Owner of a deli/convenience store and the bass player. Forthright, downto-earth, a realist. For reasons later disclosed, he’s unable to go to the Catskills. High Baritone.
MARSHALL – Georgie’s replacement on the gig. A black bass player who is a pro, and played with the greatest jazz musicians ever. He is well-read, worldly, and a recluse: he’s not happy being among amateurs. Bass-Baritone.
ABE – Abe Mitgang is the owner and proprietor of Paradise Manor, as well as being a frustrated stand-up comedian. Basically a decent guy…until his back is up against the wall. Early fifties to mid-sixties. Baritone.
MISS RICKI VALENTINE – Ricki is a fading songstress and TV personality who is hoping to make a big comeback at Paradise Manor after a stint in a detox center. Although she’s attractive and personable from afar, a closer examination reveals she’s insecure about an uncertain future. Mezzo with good belt.
*VINCE AMATI – Ricki’s shady manager and boyfriend. He should be physically threatening. Doesn’t sing.
LUCY AND DONNA – Two waitresses at Paradise Manor who are not nearly as seasoned in the game of love as they are at waiting tables. Lucy is younger (28-35) and less aggressive. Mezzo-soprano and Mezzo.
*Can double if necessary