From Musings To Musical: An Interview With Christine Rosenblatt

The official event poster - would you look at that cool ocean logo

The official event poster – would you look at that cool ocean logo

Published on Bwog on November 12, 2015.

Missing Gemini, the New Opera Workshop’s original musical this semester, opens tonight at the Lerner Black Box. Conceived by Christine Rosenblatt (BC ‘16), the production, set in a small seafaring town in the 1950s, follows a young woman on her journey to accepting the loss of her twin brother. Bwog writer (and Missing Gemini pianist) Betsy Ladyzhets sat down with Christine, the show’s director as well as its writer, to learn a little bit more about the story behind the musical.

If you visited the dorm room of the creator of an imminently opening musical, you might expect to find a war zone, full of old copies of music scores, half-finished props, and scribbled notes. But when I met Christine Rosenblatt in her dorm room on Tuesday, there was no chaotic clutter to be found. It could have been the room of any music major, with inspirational quotations on the walls and a keyboard sitting in the corner. The only evidence of her upcoming debut was a white board covered with notes and to-do lists.

But this isn’t to imply that Christine is ambivalent about her musical – in fact, Missing Gemini is all she’s thought about for months.

The idea for the musical began to develop, she told me, in the summer after her sophomore year at Barnard, when she and her family traveled to Ireland. They traveled to the west coast, to Connemara and Galway. “I absolutely fell head over heels for those two places,” she said. “They’re both coastal towns, and they’re absolutely gorgeous.”

Upon her return home, she found an ad from the New York Musical Theater Festival for an event called “Music Box: An Evening of Women Composers” that was accepting submissions from anyone. She decided to give the contest a go on a whim, completely out of character for her. Before writing this show, Christine hadn’t written any music besides “fiddling around at the piano” in middle school and composition for her music theory classes in college. Inspired by her trip, she wrote a song called “Greatest Ever Catch” – now one of the songs in Missing Gemini.

“After I wrote that,” Christine went on, “I listened back to it, and I thought, I should keep doing this.” And so, that one song led to the idea of a musical set in a beautiful coastal town, with a nautical aesthetic and themes grounded in the emotional connections of family.

Although she’s only recently taken up composition, Christine has played the piano since the age of five, and has been involved with acting in musical theater since the age of eight. In high school, she started to transition to the other side of the theater world, by first overseeing the music and then eventually directing student-run shows. She’s a music major at Barnard, so all of her semesters of theory and ear training classes have combined with further experience experience directing shows on campus to give her the tools to write a show.

As Stephen Sondheim, Lin-Manuel Miranda, or any other musical composer could tell you, it’s a long journey from idea to concrete story. It took Christine months to figure out a rough outline of the show, and more months after that to build from that outline to the hour-long musical you can watch unfold on stage tonight.

Early drafts of the musical were more “campy,” with set changes that would have been difficult to portray on stage (think actual shipwrecks). The focus later shifted to grief and bereavement. Despite this tonal shift, the central theme remained the same; Christine always knew that the story would be about siblings.

“I’m very close with my brother – he’s only one year above me,” she explained. “So, I knew I wanted it to be about siblings, because that’s something that’s very important to me. But it’s not something you often see as a focus in literature, television, or film.”

Once Christine had a set idea and basic plot structure, she was able to write the script and lyrics, then finally turned to the most important aspect of any musical: the music itself.

The score has a variety of different styles. Christine discussed a few: “Some numbers are extremely Broadway, one has a swing feel, there are happy-go-lucky sea shanties, a couple are very angry.” The range in the score reflects the range of emotions and characters in the story.

But even with that variety, the songs of the show still fit together and compliment each other well. Christine credits this to one of her favorite composers, Leonard Bernstein. “He composed such a wide array of styles, but he still has his own unique mark on each thing he did,” Christine explained. She aimed to do something similar with Missing Gemini.

I asked Christine if she could name her favorite song in the musical. It felt a little bit like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. “I like all of the songs!” she exclaimed. “That’s why I put them in the show!”

One song she’s particularly proud of, however, is the Stranded Sequence: a song that occurs at a pivotal moment in the show in which the protagonist is stranded alone in the ocean and has what Christine calls “a singing soliloquy-type experience.” The song goes through many musical and emotional shifts, and was the most difficult for her to write, but is also one of the most captivating to listen to.

Of course, the score, as well as the script, went through a great deal of editing during rehearsals the past few weeks. “It’s very different, seeing the characters come to life instead of trying to picture everything in your head,” Christine said. But the cast of the show, as well as the pit, production team, and Christine’s assistant director Brittany Berke, BC ‘18, have helped her make the show better.

I asked Christine what advice she would give to underclassmen hoping to follow in her footsteps and write musicals of their own someday.

“Take the time to find a story that you truly would want to see and have a really strong personal investment in,” she answered. “The process of writing is so long that you don’t want to put the time into something you don’t 110% believe in.”

And are there any tools that are crucial to a successful musical’s development?

Christine’s response: “I would not have been able to complete this project without Google Drive.”

Between constantly editing the script and the music, as well as planning rehearsals and coordinating between cast, pit, and production team, Christine has put an enormous amount of work into her musical, and Columbia just doesn’t give us enough printing dollars to keep all of her notes on paper. In technical terms, she has five jobs: book writer, composer, lyricist, director, and music director. Or, as she said: “It’s been a lot.”

And yet, Christine is willing to put still more work into this musical. She sees its current form as something of a first incarnation, and plans to really put more time into it further over in the spring (she’s graduating after this semester.) She aims to increase the musical to 90 minutes from its current 60, and develop it into something beyond a college production.

So, will Missing Gemini be on Broadway someday? It’s not a possibility to rule out. The show discusses two themes not common in musicals (siblings and grief), and it’s a well-written story with real emotional depth.

“I believe in the project,” Christine said simply. “I believe it has a story that can really relate to people.”

And with all the work that’s gone into it, from her as well as the cast, crew, and pit, it’s sure to be spectacular.

Missing Gemini will run in the Lerner Black Box theater tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are free with CUID, and available online and at the student ticket office.

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