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The Mad Ones finally makes it to Off-Broadway
If you search for the song "Run Away With Me" by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk on YouTube, you'll find viral versions by Broadway stars such as Jeremy Jordan (886K views), Michael Arden (397K views), and Aaron Tveit (1.2 million views). Those stats would be impressive for any show-tune video, but what makes the song's popularity particularly surprising is that it's from a musical few people have seen. After 15 years of development, the show formerly known as The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown is getting its first full production under the title The Mad Ones, which kicks off Prospect Theater Company's three-year residency at 59E59 Theaters.
This chamber musical takes place on the day that Samantha (played by Krystina Alabado) is supposed to leave for college, as she agonizes over what she's leaving behind -- her high-school sweetheart, her single mom, memories of her late best friend -- and the road ahead. Composer Lowdermilk initially came up with the premise when he was dropping out of Harvard, just around the time he started collaborating with lyricist Kerrigan. "Run Away With Me," sung by Samantha's boyfriend, was one of the earliest numbers they wrote for the show and remains a highpoint. "Some of those big emotional moments [we originally wrote] are still the big emotional moments of this piece," says Lowdermilk. "That's neat because the show has large swaths that were written in the last six months, and then other pieces that were some of our earliest attempts at becoming songwriters."
Despite that piecemeal creative process, The Mad Ones feels cohesive because the changes have always been about digging deep into what was already there. "It was about diving into the relationships and trying to allow it to be as dark as we wanted it to be, because it had previously been a little lighter fare," says Kerrigan.
In addition to major tweaks to characters (Samantha's two parents became one mom) and content (new songs and scenes), Kerrigan and Lowdermilk changed the show's branding, rechristening it The Mad Ones, which comes from Jack Kerouac's groundbreaking novel On the Road. It's one of Samantha's favorites, and she refers to it frequently as she debates whether to follow her planned path or charge full speed ahead without a map, like On the Road's male protagonists. "The idea of it was to take that and play with making it a feminist act as opposed to some random guys choosing to be on the highway in the 1950s," says Kerrigan. "There's something still very revolutionary and brave about a woman deciding to go off on her own and not be with a guy or anything, so that's the angle we ended up digging into. It was always in the piece, but it was something that we started pushing further to the forefront."
Thanks to YouTube and the digital sheet music website NewMusicalTheatre.com, which Kerrigan and Lowdermilk cofounded, the songwriters have built up quite the fan base over the years. And those musical theatre mavens are as excited to see The Mad Ones up on stage as its creators. "It's been really gratifying to have those people come up to us and say that this is what they wanted the show to be and more," says Kerrigan. "They're young twentysomethings who formed friendships by singing [the show's much-reprised anthem] 'Freedom' together, and they come to the show together and they're literally holding hands and crying about it. It's just my favorite thing in the world."
The Mad Ones also encapsulates the evolution of Kerrigan and Lowdermilk's creative partnership up until this point. "You can see this piece and see threads of the other pieces we've written that haven't been produced yet, and other pieces that we're planning to write," says Lowdermilk. "This is a tonal structural mission statement for the kinds of theatre we want to create."
Krystina Alabado in The Mad Ones. Photos by Richard Termine.