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Mark Allen makes his Broadway debut with Gettin' the Band Back Together
Nashville-born Mark Allen published his first song when he was just ten years old and spent his early years collaborating with country and gospel performers. But Broadway has always been his dream. The 39 year old has finally arrived with Gettin' the Band Back Together, a broad musical comedy about Mitch (Mitchell Jarvis), an unhappy, unemployed, middle-aged dude from Sayreville, New Jersey who decides to resurrect his high-school rock group.
Allen became involved with the project when Tony Award-winning producer Ken Davenport (Once on This Island, Kinky Boots) invited him to submit a potential song. "Ken and his cowriters [a collective of performer-writers billed as the Grundleshotz] had been working on the show for a while, and they approached a bunch of composers," Allen recalls. "I knew a lot of guys in high school had similar aspirations as our protagonists, whether it was in sports or music. So my job in writing the title number was to convey the show's ultimate message of never hanging up your dreams, no matter what your day job. And I've lived that. I've done everything from customer service work to property management to having about 40 temp jobs, but I was always writing music -- whether it was at 5am or 5pm."
Originally titled Garage Band, the show was developed through a multi-year improvisational process and debuted in an earlier incarnation at George Street Playhouse in 2013. The book was already written once Allen joined the team, and he soon realized he needed to use a hybrid style for this musical fairy tale. "It was originally conceived to reflect the 1980s New Jersey rock scene, but it quickly became evident that it's hard to write true rock songs on stage and have all the lyrics be heard," Allen explains. "So we went with more of a traditional musical theatre sound, yet one that allowed us to bridge both worlds."
Allen -- who attended NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program and whose previous shows include Band Geeks! at Goodspeed -- says some Gettin' the Band Back Together numbers came more quickly than others. "The easiest one to write was 'Bart's Confession,'" a comedic declaration of a clandestine May-December affair. "There were some earlier iterations when it was a bit too aggressive, and whenever we felt we pushed it too far, we pulled it back. Every time I watch the song being done on stage, I love the fact that all ages and genders are laughing at same jokes."
Penning "I Just Want Real," a ballad for a romantically conflicted single mother, was more challenging. "As a man, writing this kind of 'I Want' song was hard," Allen admits. "I continually discussed the lyrics with the women in the cast. And I quickly learned what I thought a woman would want in life wasn't always what they wanted."
He also ran his hip-hop take on "Hava Nagila," which Mitch's reformed band plays at a wedding, by experts. "We had an Orthodox Jewish friend of the cast approve our version!" he says.
But the celebratory anthem that best captures the heart of this it's-never-too-late tuner is "Jersey," which opens and closes the show. Even though Allen is from Tennessee, he's been in New York long enough to know that the Garden State is the butt of many jokes. With his lyrics, he wanted to make sure that audiences would laugh with the characters and not at them. "I asked a lot of people from the state what it means to them, because it was important to me not to take cheap shots," Allen says. "What I learned is that most people from New Jersey don't care about what other people think. In fact, they love Jersey and practically puff up their chests when talking about it. And they're right: that state has a lot going for it. I think someday I wouldn't mind retiring there."
Top image: Paul Whitty, Marilu Henner and Sawyer Nunes in Gettin' the Band Back Together. Photos by Joan Marcus.