SPEAKEASY – The Irony of the Young Lovers’ Duets

Curious Colorful Night – It’s a Dream – Momentary Bliss

Three lovers’ duets that are not what they seem to the ear

couple 1

Ah, young lovers’ duets.  A hallmark of musicals, especially those of the 1920s and 1930s, and so of course also of the musical “Speakeasy – John and Jane’s Adventures in the Wonderland”, set in Prohibition era New York, and influenced by the magical realism of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books.

The story of Speakeasy opens with young ingenues, newlyweds John and Jane Allison, who are very much in love, but who, after individual moments of erotic indiscretion find themselves thrust down a rabbit hole or through a looking glass into a dream-like, disorienting world of New York City’s queer speakeasy subculture.

John and Jane, exploring this world separately, quickly discover that the rules of time and space don’t quite apply anymore.  They also discover that in this world they can sing to express their feelings (why, we must be in a musical!), and after Jane encounters her friend Roberta White preparing to go slumming in Harlem, and John encounters a gaggle of gay florists preparing for the drag ball, the newlyweds sing about this curious night they are experiencing.  (The use of the word curious in the title phrase, and its exaggerated amplification in the lyric “I’m drawn to follow you, curious, then even curiouser, to the curioust sight” is obviously a conscious nod to Lewis Carroll’s “cuiouser and curiouser”, just like everything that happens to John and Jane is rooted in the Carroll books as well as Roaring Twenties queer subculture.)

Curious Colorful Night

 

CURIOUS COLORFUL NIGHT

 

JANE:

WHAT IS THIS WORLD THAT I FELL INTO

WHERE THERE’S NO TELLING WHO

WHAT WHEN AND HOW

WHAT ARE THESE PLACES THAT AWE ME

WITH FACES THAT DRAW ME

TO FOLLOW THEM NOW

 

CURIOUS COLORFUL NIGHT

SHININGLY CLEVERLY BRIGHT

I’M DRAWN TO FOLLOW YOU

CURIOUS, THEN EVEN CURIOUSER TO THE CURIOUST SIGHT

 

JOHN:

WHAT IS THIS PLACE I HAVE LANDED IN

STRANGE WORLD I’M STRANDED IN

WHERE DO I GO

WHO ARE THOSE CREATURES COMPELLING ME

ODD FLOWERS TELLING ME

WHAT I DON’T KNOW

 

CURIOUS COLORFUL NIGHT

FUNNY FANTASTICAL SIGHT

I GROW DELERIOUS

SWEETLY UNSERIOUS

FOLLOWING CURIOUS GLITTERING LIGHT 

 

 

JOHN AND JANE:

CURIOUS COLORFUL SIGHT

MAKE ME A SEEKER TONIGHT

I’LL GO ALONG

BE IT RIGHT, BE IT WRONG

YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME THE SONG

OF YOUR WONDEROUS LIGHT

 

It sounds like a sweet duet for our ingenues, one in which their voices come together in the final chorus for mutual affirmation of purpose.  Almost, but not quite.  The formatting in the lyrics echoes what would also be clear in the staging if not clear through merely listening to the song.  Jane and John are in separate parts of the magical world they have entered.  They are not (yet) aware that their spouse, too, has been weirdly thrust into a strange new world they find odd yet also oddly compelling, and one they choose to continue exploring.  The audience alone gets to see them both, together but not together, separately and simultaneously compelled and confounded by the adventures that follow.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 2.27.51 PM

Jane and John Allison (in last year’s Speakeasy workshop)

This musical irony of Jane and John singing harmonious duets unaware of each other is carried through much of “Speakeasy”.  Several numbers also involving many other characters include John and Jane duetting their reactions, musically congruent, yet unsettlingly unaware of another, as their actions take them further down paths exploring non-heteronormative environments and activities (i.e. the queer subculture) always experienced separately, but witnessed simultaneously by the audience.

And as the couple further explores “this world [they] fell into” (and the audience starts to wonder how all this will inevitably effect their relationship) they get physically and emotionally entangled in the affairs of brash lesbian night club singer Duchess Bentley and famed female impersonator Julian Carnation.  Act One nearly ends with Jane dancing with Duchess and John dancing with Julian in the Wonderland nightclub, blissfully unaware their spouse is in the same nightclub also dancing with someone of the same sex.  John and Jane realize they are crossing dangerous emotional lines here, but they allow themselves to indulge this bliss because they reckon it’s all only a dream they are dreaming, not really real:

It’s a Dream

 

IT’S A DREAM

 

JANE:

WHAT A DANCE

LIKE A TRANCE

AND BY CHANCE

I AM GAZING AT YOU

WHAT YOU DO

WHAT I FEEL

COULD THIS TRULY BE REAL?

IT’S A DREAM

JUST A DREAM

SILLY DREAM

 

MAYBE A DREAM

MAYBE A LARK

HEAVENLY BEAM

MAGICAL SPARK

I’M IN A DAZE

OF SURPRISE

EVERYTHING SWAYS

TURNS AND FLIES

OUT OF TIME

REASON AND RHYME

 

JOHN:

HERE AM I

HERE WE FLY

HEAR ME SIGH

IN DELIGHT OR ALARM

WHAT A CHANGE

AND WHAT CHARMS

IN THIS STRANGE PAIR OF ARMS

IT’S A DREAM

JUST A DREAM

SILLY DREAM

 

BOTH:

IT’S JUST A DREAM

BUT IS IT MINE?

IT DOESN’T SEEM

OF MY DESIGN

I’M IN A MAZE

OF SURPRISE

EVERYTHING SWAYS

TURNS AND FLIES

OUT OF TIME

REASON AND RHYME

 

JANE:

IT’S A DREAM

 

JOHN:

JUST A DREAM

 

JANE:

FUNNY DREAM

 

JOHN:

SILLY DREAM

 

BOTH:

IT’S A DREAM

JUST A DREAM

LOVELY DREAM

 

Once again there is a sweet irony to this song.  Listened to out of context of the staging, it sounds like a traditional 1920s or 1930s love song from one ingenue to her beau, echoed back to her, and then affirmed in blissful unison.  But the truth is they are not singing to each other.  Jane is trilling about gazing in Duchess’ eyes.  John is crooning about being held in Julian’s arms.  The two young lovers keep making beautiful music together while slowly but surely losing their hearts to same-sex others.

 

 

Naturally this can’t go on like this.  Remember I said this is how Act One nearly ends?  The actual ending comes with John and Jane continuing dancing with their partners until each is dipped.  In this fashion, looking at each other upside down and held in the strong arms of Duchess and Julian, John and Jane finally recognize each other in the Wonderland, and realize that they must reckon with their spouse now being part of this dream they are supposedly dreaming.

The intrigue compounds in Act Two.  For a while the foursome of Jane, John, Duchess and Julian make for an uneasily merry and gleefully suspicious quartet.  After separating into same-sex pairs, and throwing all caution aside at the Jefferson Lodge drag ball, Jane makes love to Duchess and John makes love to Julian.  They awake the next morning, in Duchess’ bed in one part of town, Julian’s bed in another, and sing this tender morning after duet:

Momentary Bliss

 

MOMENTARY BLISS

 

JANE:

GIVE ME ONE MORE KISS

PROLONG THIS MOMENTARY BLISS

THAT HAS ME HAPPY AND WELL

CAUGHT IN YOUR SPELL

 

GRANT ME ONE MORE TOUCH

I CANNOT TELL YOU JUST HOW MUCH

I NEED MY FINGERS TO FEEL

HOW YOU ARE REAL

 

THOUGH I KNOW THAT THIS

IS JUST A MOMENTARY BLISS

I WANT TO SEAL IT IN MY HEART

SO I CAN FEEL IT WHEN WE PART

 

SO I AM SURE NOT TO FORGET

NO MATTER WHAT MAY HAPPEN YET

THE LOVE YOU SHOWED ME TONIGHT

HOLDING ME TIGHT

KEEPING ME NEAR

HOLDING ME DEAR

 

JOHN:

GIVE ME ONE MORE KISS

PROLONG THIS MOMENTARY BLISS

THIS SWEET SUCCESSION OF CHARMS

HERE IN YOUR ARMS

 

ONE MORE CLOSE EMBRACE

ANOTHER CHANCE TO TOUCH YOUR FACE

ANOTHER TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS

WARM FINGERTIPS

 

LET ME CHERISH THIS

RECALL THIS MOMENTARY BLISS

LONG AFTER TIME HAS HAD ITS WAY

AND I HAVE FACED THE LIGHT OF DAY

 

I PROMISE I WILL NOT FORGET

NO MATTER WHAT MAY HAPPEN YET

THE LOVE YOU SHOWED ME TONIGHT

HOLDING ME TIGHT

KEEPING ME NEAR

HOLDING ME DEAR

 

 (dialog)

 

JANE/DUCHESS/JOHN/JULIAN:

THOUGH I KNOW THAT THIS

IS JUST A MOMENTARY BLISS

I WANT TO SEAL IT IN MY HEART

SO I CAN FEEL IT WHEN WE PART

 

SO I AM SURE NOT TO FORGET

NO MATTER WHAT MAY HAPPEN YET

THE LOVE YOU SHOWED ME TONIGHT

HOLDING ME TIGHT

KEEPING ME NEAR

HOLDING ME DEAR

 

 

 

 

It is a song of true tenderness and caring, but also a melancholy acknowledgement that the joy they have found in this love may only be temporary, that it may need to be protected by memory, sealed in one’s heart, because the future for these lovers is most uncertain, and likely very fragile.

Once again, just listening to the solos, one would imagine it is Jane singing to John and John singing to Jane.  Their feelings, their sentiments are so similar, but ironically not directed to each other, but to the woman and the man with whom they are cheating on each other.  And so Duchess and Julian join Jane and John and turn this lovers’ duet into the quartet it really is.

But then John and Jane will experience another manifestation of how the rules of time and space just can’t be trusted in this “dream” world.  The two beds they are in magically become one bed, and Jane and John see their spouse suddenly “materialize” next to them in their adulterous bed, and very well see with whom their spouse has spent the night with in said bed.

The following lovers’ duet will not be ironic.  To say the least.

Stay tuned.  For the next post.

 

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 30 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
This entry was posted in LGBTQ Alphabet Soup, Literary Lyricism, The Speakeasy Chronicles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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