“Feedstore Quartet”, a musical created by Jack Hilton Cunningham and myself, has been selected by Mainstreet Musicals, a non-profit that “promotes development opportunities for new musicals throughout regional America”, as a Director’s Choice Award Winner.
Jack and I met at a composer/librettists get-together sponsored by the Dramatists Guild of America several years ago. He liked my music and suggested I work with him on his musical “Feedstore Quartet”. We’ve been friends ever since, and the artistic fruit of our labors has now been designated with this fine spotlight by Mainstreet Musicals.
“Feedstore Quartet” is inspired by Jack’s childhood memories of growing up in the deep south in the 1950s. Jack wrote the book and I composed the music and we both co-wrote the lyrics. In Mainstreet Musical’s website library page for the piece you can read the script and listen to the score, as recorded during a reading sponsored by the Player’s Club in Gramercy Park.
Feedstore Quartet takes you to a fictional Mississippi town on a sultry summer Saturday in the mid-1950s. There racial and sexual prejudices abound. In front of the town’s busy feed and seed store three old white men sit in rocking chairs “shootin’ the breeze.” Nearby is Joe, an elderly, blind African-American, playing his accordion for passersby. As pleasantries and barbs fly between the men, several townspeople pass, unseen by the audience, triggering conversations about the civil war, the present, the church, and, of course, bigotry. This is the old-South after all. While the old men chat, their former selves appear in memory as boys and young men, revealing long hidden secrets.
A trio of love affairs surfaces: Rufus and his shot-gun wedding to the love of his life Lula Mae, Charlie and his beloved Sara whom he met while calling at a barn dance in Alabama, and the hidden love between a youthful Eugene and Joe. The past and present intermingle as memories are played out and duets are sung between the younger and older versions of the same character.
Finally the full extent of Eugene and Joe’s youthful relationship, its sweet beginning and bitter end, is revealed to the audience, if not to the other unsuspecting men sitting on the feed and seed store porch. In the present, Eugene and Joe are left in silent, sad regret.
As the day comes to a close, the old men drift home. The audience is left with an anthem of love lost and love embraced sung by all characters, past and present.
As stated above, Mainstreet Musicals makes it possible to read the complete script of “Feedstore Quartet” and listen to all the songs as recorded during the reading.
I’ll share four of the songs here:
- Mississippi Morning – the opening, sung by Joe on the porch, while memories of Joe and Eugene as children are glimpsed.
2. A Southern Gentleman – Charlie practices his form of Southern gentility while Joe adds quiet asides.
3. Lula Mae and Me – Rufus along with his younger self remember an idealized version of life with his wife and five children and their Hudson automobile, as well as the pregnancy that precipitated their wedding. We will find out later that their oldest child was not really Rufus’, and he knew this at the time, but went along with the lie out of love for Lula Mae.
4. He Kisses Me – Glimpses of Eugene and Joe as children and young men show when their relationship evolved from boyhood friends to secret lovers.