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The Wildness tells so many stories at once
Kyle Jarrow and Lauren Worsham would appreciate it if you didn't call their new show a musical. For the husband-wife duo, who created The Wildness, currently running at Ars Nova, the term feels deceptive. "If someone came expecting a traditional musical… they certainly wouldn't get that," Jarrow says. "There's a book and songs, but I don't think it feels like a musical."
"It cannot be classified as a musical or a straight play: it's kind of nebulous," agrees Worsham (pictured above).
Jarrow adds, "Well hopefully not nebulous. But hopefully a hybrid that is--- "
"We hate the word 'hybrid,'" Worsham interjects. "Remember? We decided not to use that word either."
"The good version of nebulous."
"How about borderless?"
"See that's better," says Jarrow happily. "We just threw it together. That was amazing."
Their sense of openness is one of the things that informs the couple's creative collaborations.
Granted, the two are successful artists on their own. Worsham is a classically trained soprano who was Tony-nominated for her performance in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, and Jarrow is a composer who won an Obie for A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant and who wrote the book for the Broadway-bound The SpongeBob Musical.
Together, they push each other to experiment. They moonlight, for instance, as the indie glam-rock band Sky-Pony, with Jarrow as the primary songwriter and Worsham as lead vocalist.
The Wildness, presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with the Play Company, marks the first time the couple has created a full production together, using Sky-Pony's songs and a co-written book. In the show, a band comes together to perform their annual pageant, acting out the story of a village where the water is poisonous. To save everyone, two girls decide to foray into a beast-filled forest surrounding the village, only to discover everything they've been told about life in the outside world was wrong.
"It felt like a fun way to tell a fairy tale but also to deal with some real issues that we all deal with," Jarrow explains. "Which is, like, what are the things that we do believe in our lives and what are the things that we doubt in our lives? And how do we deal with doubt and uncertainty?"
With its metatheatrical trappings, The Wildness explores the inherent tension between a simple yarn and the complicated lives of the people spinning it. "[It's about] the fact that they are telling this sort of fairy-tale story – which does have answers, it does make sense – and yet their own lives don't," Jarrow says.
Meanwhile, the storyteller characters are slightly autobiographical. The members of the band play heightened versions of themselves (with the same names), and the bandmate banter is influenced by real-life interactions. And because Worsham is almost six months pregnant, Lauren Worsham the character is also expecting. "It's going to be very interesting and polarizing to see someone throwing themselves around and doing choreography and wearing high heels and skimpy outfits while pregnant," she says. To which Jarrow adds, "To be clear, everything that Lauren's doing is safe."
Given these levels of reality, the structure is unsurprisingly fluid. One minute the piece is a concert, the next it's a narrative story with characters bursting into song.
It's the kind of experience that can surprise an audience. "There's a certain way a theatre audience goes in to see a piece," Worsham says. "You sit down; you say, 'Entertain me.' Whereas when you go to a concert, you're standing up from the beginning; you have a drink in your hand. Versus a pageant or a ritual, where you are there to be involved and to be a part of it. So the audience [can expect] all three of those things to happen."
And to really drive home the band-theatre combo, Sky-Pony's debut LP, Beautiful Monster, will be on sale during the show. A sample lyric, which gives a sense of the production's dark undertones: "If you leave me/ I will rip your face off/ that's how much I love you."
While there's no doubt that Sky-Pony will continue playing concerts and releasing albums, it begs the question: do Worsham and Jarrow consider themselves a musical theatre composing team?
"Absolutely not!" Worsham deadpans.
"That's Lauren's words," says Jarrow with a chuckle. "I don't know. [The Wildness is] a show about our band, with songs from the band. We are in it playing ourselves. It's very much tied to us. I think for both of us, that's what made it so exciting."
Photos by Ben Arons. Top photo: Lauren Worsham in The Wildness.