A little over a year after writing the first song for Addy & Uno, the musical opened off-Broadway on 42nd Street. What started out in a college classroom was now in the Theater District. Featured on CBS, Forbes, Now This News and more, the feel-good musical is in its ninth month running Off-Broadway and one of the top-rated shows in New York.
Addy & Uno is about a puppet named Uno, who has autism and wonders if he can be brave enough to compete in his school’s math competition. The show is about the value of being different and being kind.
I knew I wanted the music to be playful, heartwarming and pure. The revealing of the disabilities had to be sensitive, yet creative and endearing. I could hear the songs immediately and, so excited about the show, wrote the music and lyrics in a month. The anthem of the show, “Watch Me Fly,” is sung by RJ, a puppet in a wheelchair, who dreams of one day building a rocket to fly to the moon. When bullies break his rocket in half, RJ vows to never give up.
While the time from first song to off-Broadway debut was quick, this isn’t the first musical I’ve written. In fact, Addy & Uno represents about three percent of the music I’ve written in my life. It just turns out that this is the first show to roll from a file on my computer to 42nd Street.
My love of musical theater began with performing in New York in the Broadway production of Jane Eyre and the national tour of Annie. In high school, I started writing music on the piano and performing my songs at gritty East Village open mics when I was 16. In college, I wrote my first musical after an A&R at Decca Records heard my music and said, “this is great, but it sounds like theater.” The path was set. It all made sense. This is what I would do.
I love writing shows for people of all ages. It requires a simplicity and honesty I wish every show on Broadway had. I know the power of a beautiful show’s impact on a kid. I was this kid! I’m set on writing inspiring, spirited and heartwarming shows that will incite the spark and love of theater in people young and old. After seeing my musicals, I hope people want to be braver and dream bigger.
If you’re a writer, you know that every week is different. One week you’re happy, grateful, and hopeful, and another week you’re depressed, anxious, and discouraged. The common denominator is the will to never give up. I think you must feel like this is your purpose. If you do, you’ll work through the sadness and the hopelessness—you’ll keep reaching out to people, keep writing, keep reading to find your next story.
Before it opened Off-Broadway, I co-produced the debut production of Addy & Uno at The 14th Street Y with my collaborator Dr. Nava R. Silton (book and concept). It meant putting our own money into what we believed in. I flyered 20 miles of Manhattan and Brooklyn to get the word out. Went up to parents on playgrounds and invited them to the show for free. Sent out 40 emails a day to press. This could fly, or it could crash.
Suddenly, I had to think like a business owner: Hire cast and crew, determine and manage the budget, and constantly have difficult conversations about negotiating compensation, credit, contracts, and next steps. Writing the show was the easiest part. Everything after was the most challenging journey of all.
When two producers, Tom and Michael D’Angora, came to see the downtown production and saw schoolkids giving standing ovations and singing and dancing to the music, they said they must bring this show uptown immediately. A month and a half later it opened off-Broadway. And suddenly, I had to let it go. I wasn’t the producer anymore. I didn’t even have to show up to each performance. Like your kid going off to college, my show was waving goodbye and growing up.
Find the shows worth the difficult conversations. Write the shows that excite you so extraordinarily to write. The ones you’d go to the ends of the earth to get in front of people. The musicals you wouldn’t be okay leaving behind unseen. Hold onto your purpose, and ride it like a rocket into the unknown.
Addy & Uno: As Uno, a child with autism, faces the challenge of competing in his school’s math competition, his friends with varying disabilities – ADHD, visual, hearing and physical impairment – rally in support. Through puppets and soaringmusic, Addy & Uno is a heartfelt and hilarious journey celebrating hope, big dreams and the beauty of differences.