College students sent home during the pandemic found all kinds of ways to wile away the time, but few were as productive as Brooke Di Spirito. She created a musical.
Not only did the 22-year-old Oyster Bay resident adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Beautiful and Damned” for the story, she also wrote the songs, worked with arrangers on the orchestrations and developed the choreography. And she got the show produced — it's now ready to premiere Friday through Sunday at Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington.
“It was certainly not a straight path, from writing it to doing it,” says Di Spirito, a dancer who majored in English at Northeastern University in Boston and is clearly obsessed with Fitzgerald, especially this book (his second). The novel is set at the beginning of the Jazz Age and is filled with typical Fitzgerald characters — rebellious women, disillusioned men. It has a universal theme — money and love and greed and “how quickly you can go down the wrong path … when you mess with those things,” Di Spirito says.
She started working on the musical in 2019, when she says “I didn’t have serious ambitions.” She just wanted to see it performed, and after serious negotiation with her school finally got permission to stage the show on campus in spring 2020.
And then … well you know. Di Spirito, a graduate of Locust Valley High School, was sent home with thousands of other collegians to finish the semester online. As for the musical, “I didn’t think it was going to happen, I was trying not to be discouraged.” But with plenty of time on her hands, she kept at, workshopping the show on Zoom, even expanding her vision to write original music — she initially planned to use existing songs. “What else was there to do,” she says. “I was happy to have something to work on.”
Once she got back to school in fall 2020, the show was back on track with a performance scheduled in the spring. But with a new COVID surge, that performance was also canceled. Undeterred, Di Spirito graduated from Northeastern a year early and moved back to New York, with the intention of doing the show in late 2021. She worked assorted jobs (teaching ballet and tutoring), obtained some grants and sought donations “from everybody I knew” to fund the production, eventually raising a sum she says is in the thousands of dollars. She held auditions (except for the female lead, which she’s playing), hired a professional director, and assembled musicians, scheduling performances in December. Enter the Omicron variant, causing yet another postponement.
SHOWTIME AT LAST
Hoping the fourth time’s the charm, Di Spirito is eager to get this show in front of an audience. The story generally follows the book, though she says she took “some dramatic liberties to adapt it to movement and song.”
“The fusion of dance in this piece is really what makes it unique,” says director Jason Summers, who has known Di Spirito since he directed her in “The Nutcracker” in Huntington in 2012. “We’re seeing more of that on Broadway,” says Summers, who is the artistic director of the Sandbox Theatre in Mamaroneck. “Dance is not just a razzle-dazzle end of the number kind of thing … we’re telling the story with dance, that’s what is making this piece come alive in a special way.”
The music, says Summers, also helps carry the production. Though it doesn’t stay in one place stylistically, “all the music feels of the era,” he says. “We never feel like we’re stepping out of the ‘20s.”
For Di Spirito, who wrote her senior thesis on Fitzgerald, it all comes back to the book. “I was struck by the way words flow on the page, and the way it so clearly paints a picture of the stage in your mind.”
Like any aspiring playwright, Di Spirito has long-range aspirations for her show that include Broadway, though she’s fully aware it will not be an easy road. But her immediate goal, she says, is to give everyone who worked on the show for so long a chance to see it presented. “I really want to see it come to life,” she says, while acknowledging that being so close is a little scary. “We’ve been at this point three times before.”
“The Beautiful and Damned”
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, Landmark on Main Street, 232 Main St., Port Washington
INFO $35, $25 seniors and children; 516-859-0740, thebeautifulanddamned.show