Just We Two – A New Musical

The Premiere of “Just We Two – A New Musical” was in October 2011

The play’s out-of-town two-day tryout was at the Tallmadge Theatre… a performance center and state-of-the-art teaching facility in the township of Tallmadge, Ohio.CAST CURTAIN CALL JUST WE TWO PREMIERE TALLMIDGE OHIO SHOT 2 crop

  

  

Although he did not live to see the premiere of this play…  we remember the late singer Steven Sterlekar… in song. He can be heard doing a duet with another talented singer, Melissa Barber. Both were kind enough to do demos of several songs. But, with this one, “I Remember the Days (Time)”… they sing lyrics that I find particularly poignant today… “Time doesn’t heal… it just ticks away…”… “No one can tell me that I’ll laugh again… though I stopped crying… I still think of then” …  “Chimes of what might have lived… till this day… If time would have stopped… that day”.  (Thank you for sharing your talents, Melissa and Steven)… “Though I’ve stopped crying… I’ll still think of then”.  

I Remember The Days (Time)

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 Just We Two

Click on Just We Two to hear the title song from the show. Music by Dennis Chandler, lyrics by Larry Brenner.

Dennis Chandler’s Dedication

As the composer of this musical and the other mentioned below (more about that later)… Dennis dedicates all to the wonderfully generous teachers he has had. Here is his BACK STORY….

Musician Chandler has had a crazy quilt of life experiences. But, it is why he feels blessed to be able to make ALL the music he loves and in the VARIOUS styles that he loves. That’s due, in no small part, to the following folks he met along his way in the world.

First, as a very young performer in the schoolyards of Cleveland… Dennis was taught stage presence, blocking and entertaining-in-general by his first show business coach and mentor Arlene Blank Rich. She was the director of “KYW Road Show” back when student-Dennis joined that youthful troupe. Being it was his formative years Dennis Chandler aka “The Ed-U-Tainer”… feels he owes it all to her… this enjoyment of “Educating While Entertaining”. 

Bandleader Chandler gives credit also to Arlene’s husband Berni Rich for the strong foundation he helped provide. Early on, Dennis learned how to sense what a crowd might want to hear… and if it turned its interest in another direction… how to get that audience’s attention back… to about the music. The Teachers Rich. What Lights. (By the way, Berni Rich was the famed local photographer who was the first to take pictures of Barbra Streisand during her early days of performing!)

But, back to ’bout the stage play’s music: Talk ‘ bout hearing things, “I’ll try it out on my audiences”, Dennis thought. So he did… at one of his “Masters of Melody” performances at Wiggins Place. For over the past 13 years Dennis has had the pleasure of playing piano all around the campus where Wiggins is (Menorah Park in Beachwood, Ohio). As the “Ed-U-Tainer” he espouses a philosophy of “entertaining while educating”. He does it via a combination concert / community-lecture-learning-format in which he engages all in his audience. He likes to make each and every performance different, he says. And he does. Possibly because he is a pianist who understands music theory… and one who has the resource of reaching into his own vast and varied library of sheet music… he succeeds at making his musical performance… different for himself, too. Dennis dives deep into dozens of drawers that seem to contain an unlimited number of beautiful old sheet music and songbooks. Something old suddenly becomes new, to him… and by extension… his audiences.  

And so Composer Chandler as Pianist Dennis… did his own original music (from these two stage plays). What happened? It was mutually… musically… quite enjoyable, they said. Why? The residents in attendance at the time he tried out his theatrical numbers… were real theatergoers (to the Umpteenth power). How so? Back in their day… the time when there still was melodic stage music being written… they were the typical audience. They experienced the excitement of hearing good melodic stage music. Yes, the kind one can sing long after the play is over… not just walking up the aisle. Many of those playgoers saw the shows in NYC. They shared some interesting stories of being invited to go “Meet and Greet”… the original composers! Only in the good old days of Broadway, eh? So “The Ed-U-Tainer” aka Pianist Dennis played some of his songs from “Just We Two”… right there on their “Campus”. They raved and gave good grades to Composer Chandler. Talk ’bout roadtesting the music… read: Road Show testing…get it?

Speaking of good grades and rave reviews… The below link is to a song that got Kudos back in the day when the great Gamble & Huff were holding songwriting seminars. The legends from the label called the Sounds of Philly were in NYC conducting classes for composers.  There they gave their critique on this song… and we were to follow up with the folks from Philly…  when the Feds found the duo to be in violation (of something or other). It was back in the hubbub days of spinning hits, so to speak. We never did get to “get to the get”. I’ll post the review given by Gamble & Huff of this song…  (notes that I only just found while de-cluttering Dennis’ files). 

Thanks to being laid up recovering from the side effects of chemo treatments for leukemia – type AML .. in ’87, ’88, ’89… Dennis worked on music he had already written (before his battle with cancer). Songwriter Dennis “wrote from the top-of-his-head”… while… healing his body-below. The webpage about his battle and victory over cancer is titled “The Journey“. The webpage about some of the music that came out of his battle… and journey… is titled “Original Music & More”. There you will find “his song for Streisand”. Dennis was working on this particular song to be done as a duet.. for the famed songbird and a partner of her choice. I mean to say he actually was arranging it for her… while sitting with her… under a tree… BUT… it was all in a dream! It was always a dream of his (and still is) to write for her. This song is tilted, “Let Me Be Your Song“. Would that it could be heard by her. “Oh, from our lips to G_d’s ear!”… or… at the very least, Barbra Streisand’s ear. It could happen, no? Where’s Gamble & Huff? In the meanwhile… here’s the talented Melissa Barber singing… Babs’ song…

Let Me Be Your Song

Back to About Being Blessed With Good Teachers

At a very young age… untrained guitarist Dennis befriended Bo Diddley, Lonnie Mack, Chuck Berry, B.B. King and B.B.’s teacher, Robert Lockwood aka “Robert Jr.” (so named in a nod to his stepfather, the legendary Robert Johnson. He was the early blues man at the center of the folkloric Cross Roads fable: selling his soul for musical ability). Well, Dennis did not have to bribe anyone of these gentle souls. When he asked them to show him… how they did what they did… to a man… they invited Dennis to sit and learn the way they were taught… in the Oral Tradition. How gracious and generous these late, great rock pioneers and blues masters were. That’s why Dennis knows so well… how to play the Blues… and rock on, too.

As for the classically trained pianist… Dennis at a young age and while still in school… was coached by piano legends Roger Williams, Ferrante & Teicher and Andre Previn.

As far as organist Dennis’ playing goes… it took a Master of the Hammond B 3…  Bill “Honky Tonk” Doggett to teach him the the finer points of the B 3.  Finer we say… because prior to meeting Bill… all Dennis had was “Basic training on the B3”, albeit really good basic training. He had rigorous instructors. He was a student-turned-teacher. After school in nearby Cincinnati… he worked at Willis Music… as a demonstrator of Hammond Organs. 

Years later…. About those finer points of playing taught him by “Teacher Doggett”? Dennis was able to stand and deliver when “Chameleon Chandler” was made house pianist at one of Bill’s favorite venues here in Cleveland. That’s how he got to be “opening”, playing and jammin’ those finer points taught him. The name of that famed hot spot? The Theatrical Grill. What a thrill. Just imagine learning that music from such great musicians of America’s Golden about Age. And learning it… firsthand, at their knee, so to speak.

Back to About the Stage Plays Composer Chandler Did the Music For

Composer Dennis still does believe the above mentioned play (“Just We Two”) and another musical (“Ruling Passion – A Musical Comedy about Richard III”) might just get mounted, yet.

In memory of playwright Deborah Osment Ryan… allow me to ask you to read about her play… (the second play Dennis did the music for). Scroll down on this webpage for the little bit written. We do have a much more fully fleshed out story about “Richard’s music”, (as I and playwright DOR liked to call it). That back story can be found on the webpage titled, “Ruling Passion – A Musical Comedy about Richard III”. Get the kettle out. Brew some tea. Then read on… as we remember dearly, departed Deborah Osment Ryan (who died December 24, 2016… home alone). May her memory be a blessing… (and her play mounted).

Composer Chandler also asked to dedicate this to another special group of talent.      These folks coached him, but in a different way. To explain, in 1990 we were invited to appear on the National Leukemia Telethon. We met the following stars of stage, screen, television and the written word … the late, great Steve Allen, his wife, Jayne Meadows, Florence Henderson, Shirley Jones and her husband, Marty Ingels. They were some of the telethon hosts who were helping to raise funds for cancer research.

(Note: Since this writing March, 2017… sadly, of this group of stars… only Shirley Jones survives.  It is my hope that I might be able to share with Shirley some of these songs, by way of thanks.)   

Back to being interviewed by Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows…

Dennis, who had battled and beat AML – acute myeloid leukemia, was the only featured adult survivor and was being interviewed about his near death experience. Upon hearing his harrowing tale of being told to “return to Earth”… they all said he must do more with what he was given. And after playing piano host Steve Allen told Dennis, “God brought you back for a reason. I would love to hear what you are going to write … now!”

Thank you, God. Here, it is. And Steve Allen, hear you go.

Back to about the PREMIERE of “Just We Two – A New Musical”

(By the way, why playwright Brenner chose to call it “new” escapes us for it was started so long ago).  And now its premiere in 2011 seems long past, too. But, what a wonderful reception by audiences (in that state-of-the-art “Theatre at Tallmadge High” here in Ohio). Both nights of the two day out-of-town try-out in Tallmadge drew standing ovations and soaring hopes to take the show all the way to Broadway. By the way, a shout out of “Thanks” to director Frank Chaff, the talented cast of grade schoolers, high schoolers, young college and community actors who helped present this musical. Finally, for their spot on accompaniment, Bandleader / Composer Chandler gives Kudos to the following professional musicians: drummer John Mosconi, bassist Dan Horswell and guitarist Michael Dragas, Jr. Your time, talent and tenaciousness are appreciated, still.

So what’s needed next? Angels of the New York theater-type (can you say Tom Hanks, Oprah, Whoopie or Harvey as in Fierstein?) … OR… Grants as in the Genius-type grants (can you say MacArthur Grant?)

2017 Update… No News Is Good News?

Meaning… We have not heard from director Frank Chaff. I’m sure he has moved on. Nor has there been a peep from playwright-turned-producer Larry Brenner. Perhaps, they’ve embarked on their own “yellow brick road”. So, we find Dennis waiting, NOT. He’s moving on, too. Onto various and sundry stages to keep performing and entertaining all the folks with all the good melodic music he loves to do.  

What will be the next big project to write music for? What will the subject be? Only the Lord knows for sure. Dennis awaits direction… confident as a composer waiting in the wings… or is it the pit? (Read the webpage titled “Prophecy for Dennis”)

Back to about those out-of-town two-day tryouts at the Tallmadge Theatre. What was the takeaway lesson from them?  Can’t tell yet. Waiting for the movie to come out. Literally, for there was a two-camera setup. Film doesn’t lie. Put another way, “the proof is in the pudding”. Dennis says he’d like his dose… he can take it. (That, we know.) ‘Tis said, “We die daily” (that’s how we grow). Maybe the film was lost at the drugstore, as old-timers used to say.

BUT… LET’S TALK ABOUT CRITICS … as in A CRITIC’S PREVIEW:

“The music of ‘JUST WE TWO’  is MAGNIFICENT!  Its MUSIC IS GREAT ON ITS OWN, SO IT IS INEVITABLE THAT SOMEONE WILL RISE UP TO THE TOP OF THIS SHOW! BRAVO, composer Chandler and playwright Brenner!” George Foster, NORTH CAROLINA OPERA

Going back in time… HOW GOOD ARE THE SONGS? We were told by the playwright that one critic said if not enough actors were found to do it as a stage play, it should still be done. Perhaps as a musical revue with all 22 songs? This was said after the critic heard only just a few of the songs. The critic and the director both feel this FAMILY piece with its message is sorely needed today.

Going farther back in time… ABOUT AUDITION REACTIONS: When the show was being finally cast, THE SONGS ELICITED TEARS and THEN SPONTANEOUS APPLAUSE from those auditioning and from THOSE ATTENDING THE AUDITIONS. That boded well for the music. For example, Composer Chandler was delighted when a six year old IMMEDIATELY PICKED UP the melody of one particularly (he thought) difficult song. She got the melody IN SECONDS. Sang it straightaway; full out. It wasn’t even her song. It was always his intention to make this play’s music MEMORABLE. He thought, “Out of the mouths of babes”?

Currently… STILL A GOOD PREMISE: THIS PLAY is based on a situation EVERYONE CAN RELATE TO. A loved one lying in a bed in a hospital room. The play begins with family members coming into the room to visit. They are then seen one by one, pondering and reflecting upon their life together with the patient. Emotions come back in flashbacks, emotions come in the moment. They lament. They cajole. They sing their hearts out with their respective “SHOUDA-WOULDA-COUDAS”.  Again, everyone will relate to this play.

FYI & Bears Repeating… Book & Lyrics were written with humor and pathos by former syndicated cartoonist-turned playwright, Larry Brenner. It is semi-autobiographical for both lyricist and composer. First, the lead character as a writer working with words… wants to be taken seriously… delivers his dialogue in short sing-song syllables.  Then, he acts out in lyrical laments… singing all his own “SHOULDA-WOULDA-COULDAS”.

The music was written by Composer Dennis Chandler who wanted all 22 songs to be MELODIC. Even the few rock ‘n’ roll songs are in an older more traditional “MELODIC BROADWAY STYLE”.

For all time… OUT OF TRAGEDY COMES ART (Again) (?) FIRST time for Dennis was when playwright DEBORAH OSMENT RYAN sent her script titled “RULING PASSION – A MUSICAL COMEDY ABOUT RICHARD III”. The music was first written in his head, while he was bed-bound. Wanting to return to life before cancer (how could one ever do that, one may ask). But, Dennis did go on to do business but not as usual. Prejudice for people whom they whispered as “having the C word”… was strong. For the financial devastation alone, he had to put “the Day Job” first and “his music” second. So that is how Dennis took to being low profile and low key, so to speak.

Referring now to “Just We Two”… When playwright Brenner came back into our life he told Dennis he had finished what they both started so long ago. But, he said it wasn’t until after overcoming his own health hurdles (LB had testicular cancer) that he came to understand more fully what the words were saying (when he first wrote them). And Dennis said, he thinks he’s just now really beginning to understand the DEEP MEANING OF THIS PLAY FOR HIM. (Talk about mental blocks!) 

Well, they made it. Out of tragedy comes art. These two survivors “Know from whence they speak!”

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About that above-mentioned “Prophecy for Dennis” that Mrs. Lou Kassouf was “given from above” and “written down” so long ago… might just come about. Who is Lou, one may wonder? She was a neighbor here in our community. We only knew her from when she had Dennis play piano for a “gathering” at her North Hill home. Along with the “Prophecy”, her note shared how she gathered together others to pray when she heard he was first hospitalized. (Dennis did stay for 32 days and when I brought him home… it was the night before Christmas Eve… and we found “Prayer notes from Neighbor Lou”!).

So perhaps the power of her Prophecy will transcend Time. Better late then never. The power of prayer… and the power of music… remains to be seen… and heard. 

Liz Chandler, Website Writer Spring 2017