Workplace woes inspire new musical
The cast rehearses “Dial with a Smile: An Office Musical.”
‘Dial with a Smile:
An Office Musical’
Gorilla Tango’s Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave.
7:30 p.m. Fridays, Feb. 1-March 29
(773) 598-4549; www.gorillatango.com
Updated: January 31, 2013 11:58AM
There’s only one thing to do when your telemarketing firm is about to be outsourced to India. Sing.
At least that’s what happens in “Dial with a Smile: An Office Musical.” The prize-winner in Gorilla Tango’s 2012 I’m writing a Musical Competition will be presented at its Skokie Theatre Feb. 1-March 29.
The book and lyrics are by Robert Curtis, who also directs, with music and musical direction by DJ Douglass.
“We wanted to write a musical that took place somewhere that a musical would never take place,” Curtis said. “We thought, ‘How about a telemarketing firm? Everybody’s sitting down. They’re always on the phone.’”
The setting was familiar to the collaborators because each of the two Columbia College Chicago graduates (last year) worked at telemarketing firms when they were in school.
They populated their musical’s office with six characters. These include the owner of the firm and the human resources representative he loves. “He wants to sell the firm so they can move to New Hampshire and get married,” Curtis explained.
Tom, the manager, “is dealing with the stress of trying to figure out a way to keep the business open,” Curtis related. The two main callers are overachiever Laura and Travis, who the playwright described as “this lazy slacker who barely gets by. He’s only working to buy himself a new Xbox.”
Then there’s Susan who hangs out in the background unnoticed, “She’s completely aware that a musical is going on the entire time,” Curtis said. “In the opening number, she’s the only one aware of it but never gets a chance to sing because everybody keeps cutting her off.”
The hour-long show includes nine songs.
Douglass described the musical style as “contemporary. There’s a little bit of jazz in it and a little bit of a swing style.”
Although he has taken musical theory classes, composing has primarily been a hobby for Douglass since he was a small child. He has played in bands as a keyboardist and guitarist.
In a clever touch, the musical instruments used in the show are integrated into the office environment. “The piano is the manager’s computer. We have a guitar that serves as the water cooler. And everybody, when they’re making their phone calls, plays kazoo,” Curtis reported.
Curtis, who earned a degree in theater acting with a minor in creative writing, is working as a teaching artist in a Chicago afterschool drama program.
Douglass holds a degree in musical theater.
In homage to a common side job for performers, the pair’s next musical will be about waiters.
The two friends had never written a musical before they entered the Gorilla Tango contest on a whim. Curtis was astounded when their show won the contest. “I never thought we’d get past the first round,” he said. “Every single round, I was more and more shocked.”
Douglass had a different take on the situation. He said, “From day one, I was so confident we could win.”