After recent successes including Songs for a New World at the St James Theatre, Adam Lenson directs the London premiere of See What I Wanna See, now running at the Jermyn Street Theatre. But it’s not his first meaningful encounter with Michael John LaChiusa‘s 2005Off-Broadway musical…
In the spring of 2006, I found myself in Dress Circle, the now lost and sadly-missed musical theatre shop in Covent Garden. As on any typical visit, I went in to look at the new CD shelves, to see what exciting musicals had been released. I was studying to be a doctor at the time and my love of musical theatre kept me sane during the hours of lectures and tutorials that, frankly, I wasn’t enjoying very much.
On this particular day, I came across a bright yellow CD cover with a big graphic drawing of an eye staring out from it. I was aware of Michael John LaChiusa’s reputation as a writer of thoughtful, complex and unusual musicals and I was immediately intrigued by this new show, See What You Wanna See.
Closer inspection revealed that it was based on three Japanese short stories about truth and perception. I had long been boring anyone who would listen about why musicals needed to include a broader palate of tone and subject matter. I had long felt it strange that plays could cover the territory of Pinter, Crimp and Stoppard but musicals felt straightjacketed to more mainstream concerns.
I quickly became obsessed with the piece. I listened to it incessantly and tried to decode its many threads and intricacies. I was struck by its fresh musical style, the clever lyrics and a story and set of ideas that rewarded and trusted the listener to make up their own mind. I knew that I had to try to get the amateur rights to direct a production with my university musical theatre society. But it had only been first staged in New York at the Public Theater a year prior and the amateur rights holders hadn’t even imagined about a release being anywhere on the horizon.
“Directing the show came with a big realisation; that I could take a show I had never seen, that no one I had ever met had seen, and I could bring it to life.”
So I precociously decided I was going to contact Michael John LaChiusa directly. I found out that he lectured at NYU and asked an administrator if they could forward a message to him. To my amazement, he emailed back and said that, while he was honoured that we had asked, he thought it was unlikely that we would be allowed to stage an amateur production so soon after its professional premiere. But such was my love of the piece that I wouldn’t be stopped. I emailed his agent Charles Kopelman and much to my surprise Charles called me – on my 21st birthday – to tell me they had agreed to grant the rights.
As a result, See What You Wanna See had its European premiere on 7 November 2006. Directing the show came with a big realisation; that I could take a show I had never seen, that no one I had ever met had seen, and I could bring it to life. It was at that moment that something clicked, and I realised I wanted to be a theatre director. I saw the effect this beautiful and unique show could have on an audience, the way it thrilled, intrigued and provoked them, and I knew that I wanted to keep making work like that.
I cannot express how thrilled I am that, nearly a decade later, I am able to direct the professional European premiere and London debut of this piece. It really is something beyond my wildest dreams that I am here doing this. I want to take this opportunity to thank my family, who have unhesitatingly supported me from the moment that decision was made and continue to do so now. I also want to thank all those who were there at Cambridge’s ADC Theatre in 2006.
“At the piece’s heart is the notion that truth is, by its very nature, a flexible and malleable thing.”
I hope you are as enthralled by the piece as I am. It is a work that I think epitomises why musicals don’t need to be constrained to a particular style or tone. Set in three time periods, the stories might initially seem separate, but the more you look at them, the more they interconnect and interweave.
In addition, the show has always been purposely multi-cast to illuminate the connection of characters in the different stories and to enhance the threads running between their narratives. At the piece’s heart is the notion that truth is, by its very nature, a flexible and malleable thing.
No two perspectives are ever the same. We each tell stories and remember moments of our lives; but do we recollect them correctly? And does it even matter if we do? We each have faith in a plethora of things, but are our beliefs ever as solid as we would like to imagine? Whatever our perspective, See What I Wanna See notes how light can become darkness and darkness can becomes light, how truth becomes fiction and fiction becomes truth.