It’s Only Life: An Interview with John Bucchino

Broadway composer John Bucchino, will be performing for the S.A. premiere season of “IT’S ONLY LIFE”. With its hauntingly beautiful score, this production focuses on the choices made by artists between their art and their lives on and off the stage. Ben Francis speaks to John Bucchino ahead of opening night…

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Adelaide audiences are about to experience something like no other; two supremely talented casts, performing a stunning work never before seen in Adelaide, with the composer on the keys.

Davine Interventionz’ It’s Only Life, directed by David Gauci and musically directed by Martin Cheny, will feature the award-winning Broadway composer John Bucchino on the piano for all performances. Bucchino, however, is not unfamiliar with Australia.

“I am very fond of Australia. For one, it’s not the States, and especially politically lately, it is a pleasure to not be in the States. I have wonderful friends here now, and I love having the opportunity to see them. I feel very welcomed, and appreciated. A lot of it is because of having worked with my friend David Campbell. Australia is just great. In fact, I have talked to people about a desire to move here some day, and I am considering that.”

With a wealth of material under his belt – ‘literally hundreds of songs’ – it was no surprise when a musical revue was created. Told through a stunningly evocative score, It’s Only Life focuses on the choices made by artists between their art and their lives on and off the stage. It is show that moves from distraction and despair to hope.

“Daisy [Prince] and I had to come up with a clothesline on which to hang these songs, that added up to something bigger than just the original songs. What we came up with was an emotional and spiritual progression from operating ones life in fear, to at least seeing the possibility of operating from a place of love. That is the arc of the show.”

“The personalities on stage represent many aspects of life; there are various ages, genders and sexualities, and all kinds of relationships. But the thing they all have in common is that they are all operating from an anxious, constricted and fearful place. They are not spiritually connected. But we ordered the songs so that, in a very subtle way, the singers could embody a personal, spiritual, and emotional growth. They represent our societal progression from living in fear and doubt, to having compassionate and loving attitudes towards one another.’

But the process wasn’t easy.

 “A revue is a very tricky form to create, because it is not a book musical; you can’t tell a story with songs not especially written to tell that story. Many people have tried to put together a musical revue of my songs, and that is the trap they have fallen into.”

 “When we were putting the show together, I would say to Daisy “Oh I see… there is kind of a story…”  and she would stop me and say “There is no story…” sort of like a zen master. I was grasping familiar concepts to hang on to, but that’s not a revue.”

Whilst in Adelaide, Bucchino is also giving a number of masterclasses.

“There is nothing like working with somebody, and offering suggestions, and seeing the lightbulb go off. They understood! They got it! They made a shift in their performance that communicated the song a lot better. There is nothing better than that. It is my favourite thing in the world.’

 John’s musicality and love for the arts started at a young age.

“I started playing the piano when I was one years old. My Grandmother would babysit me everyday, because both my parents worked, and she had a big old upright piano in the corner that nobody played. So, I just started playing! Then, in high school I had been playing for 13 or 14 years, so I was getting pretty good. I started listening to, and learning to play, the pop music of the time; The Beatles first and foremost, but also people like Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel, and Carole King. I was also playing piano in bars and at weddings, so in addition to pop music, I also learned Gershwin songs and Rogers and Hammerstein, and Rogers and Hart; the classic American song book stuff. I hung out with a lot of musicians, and we started writing songs to emulate our musical heroes. Writing soon became my outlet for self expression. Of course, when you’re a teenager, you’re writing about tortured love and failed romance, and then, perhaps, the occasional love song where you actually get to be with the person!”

A few years later, John received a phone call that would change his life.

“Stephen Schwartz called me up when I was living in Los Angeles, and he told me that he loved my songs and that he would love to meet me. At the time, I didn’t know anything about theatre, so I didn’t know who Stephen Schwartz was. I was waiting tables, and nobody was paying any attention to me. It was a woman whom I had accompanied that gave him a cassette of my songs. We met, and we spent the afternoon playing songs to each other; and we became best friends. That was in 1987, so it has been 31 years of a wonderful friendship. It was him that encouraged me to start writing for theatre.”

Two years later, John received yet another phone call; this time from Stephen Sondheim, echoing Schwartz’s advice, told him that he wanted to meet him and that he should be writing for theatre. He listened, and consequently moved to the Big Apple in 1992.

“One thing that was nice about writing for characters, was that I was out of the tortured love cycle. It opened up a world of other people’s experiences for me to put myself into, and then write from their perspective, which I quite enjoyed.’

John is currently living in Arizona and is currently working on a choral piece for the Boston and the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus.

“I am currently working on a commission, which for those of us who write for a living, is the most beautiful word in the English language. It is a choral piece which is based on this lovely children’s book called A Peacock Among Pigeons. It has to do with a peacock who is bullied by a whole host of pigeons. They tell him he doesn’t fit in, and they make him feel really bad about his flamboyant plumage. Eventually, he needs to leave, and he goes out into the world and he meets all sorts of other colourful birds… and each of them tells him that his uniqueness is something to be celebrated. Atthe end of the book, the peacock sees the most beautiful bird he has ever seen, and it turns out that he is looking into a puddle and seeing his own reflection. It sends such a beautiful message.” 

“After Australia, I am home for a few weeks and then I go to Denmark for eight days. I actually wrote a piece for a company there; a full length musical that was translated into Danish and performed in Denmark. I think it is the best thing I have ever done. I wrote it between 2010 and 2013. It’s called Esaura. Should there be any producers reading this who may be interested, they may contact me through mywebsite www.johnbucchino.com.”

 I arrived ten minutes early for my interview with John, so I could sit in on the rehearsal and have a sneak peak. I was transfixed. Do not miss the theatrical event that everyone will be talking about. And if that hasn’t persuaded you to buy a ticket, maybe John will.

“I just had my first rehearsal with the two casts… and oh my gosh they are really talented! Beautiful singers, beautiful actors and beautiful people. I could not be more thrilled. I think its going to be a spectacular presentation and production. I am over the moon.”

John Bucchino’s website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIjO-EFa2G0

Tickets toe: https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/it-s-only-life-a-new-musical-revue-featuring-john-bucchino-af2018

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