Songwriters and musicians Mike Bailey and Ron Gletherow have written “The Crossing,” a magical musical that will soon be performed in the greater New London, CT region, if not beyond. Here is the story behind their story.
How did you two collaborators decide to put together this musical?
RON: It began with Mike’s song, “Crossing,” that he wrote for the last album put out by [their music group] Maggie’s Guitar. Apart from being the strongest song on the album, making it the obvious choice for title track, it also came with such an incredible story, that it was Margaret [Ron’s wife] who first said to me, “You know, this would make a great stage musical.” The gears in my head immediately started turning. A musical is something I’d wanted to do for ages. I broached the subject to Mike, and found he was as enthusiastic as I was.
What is gist of the story?
MIKE: My great-great-great grandfather was a wealthy merchant in Edinburgh. His son eloped with the maid. His father didn’t approve, had the marriage annulled and sent the woman away. The son threatened to leave if his father didn’t bring her back. He didn’t, and the son ran away to America. A few months later, the woman returned with a baby boy. She was dying, and the grandfather raised the boy and his son.
When the boy turned 18 or so, the grandfather told him the story of his father, and the boy set off for America to find him. After a few years of searching across New England, the son was working in a mill. He was telling his story to his foreman, who said, “I’ve heard your story before. I know your father. He’s the man who owns this mill.”
Father and son were reunited. It’s an incredible coincidence, but it’s true.
What kinds of audiences are you hoping to attract?
RON: I believe the show will appeal to all kinds of audience, young and old, and not necessarily just the ones who would normally attend stage shows. The music is so diverse, there’s something for everyone. There’s the traditional show-type songs with full orchestration that you would expect, but there’s also some folky stuff and even some soft rock.
Mike, you wrote the opening song, “Don’t Wait for Tomorrow.” This song has a message of perspective born of experience. Why did you make this song the opener?
MIKE: The play is narrated by George Morrison, the grandfather, and it opens with him towards the end of his life, telling the audience he has a story to tell. He talks about how he worked his way up from nothing, how he’s proud of a lot of what he’s done, not so proud of things he’s missed. So, it sets up the message of loss.
“Je t’aime Toujours,” of course is a love song. The refrain is delicate and memorable. The instrumentation elevates the feeling of intimacy. How did you decide on the arrangement?
MIKE: I just wrote the song and told Ron I envisioned a rock power ballad. Then Ron worked magic. He contacted Jack Moriarty to do the guitar work, which was just superb.
RON: Mike wrote this, quite rightly, as a gentle, acoustic love song. I thought that a piano and some strings would help bring out the emotion in the song, and then of course we were fortunate to have the immense talent of Jack on guitar to add that “something special” like he always does.
Ron, how do you decide on instrumentation and the arrangements?
RON: No two are ever the same. I get ideas in my head as I’m listening to the “bare bones” versions. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Fortunately for me, mostly it does work and I’m able to convey what I hear in my head to the finished arrangement.
Of course, Mike plays a very big part in the musical arrangements, too. Generally, with a song he’s written, he points me in the right direction. He comes up with some great ideas, like the ukulele part on “Captains of Industry”.
Of the remaining songs, “If I’d Only Known,” “Son & Heir” and “Finding My Destiny” which was the hardest to craft and why?
RON: I think Mike would probably agree that most of the songs virtually wrote themselves for this show. The story is that good that you couldn’t fail to be inspired by it.
“If I’d Only Known” was not the hardest, but the one I got most pleasure from writing. It’s such a poignant moment in the story, when George and Violette both realize what might have been. I wanted to write a real, Broadway type show tune, the kind you’d hear in “Sunset Boulevard” or “Les Miserables”. I knew I couldn’t hope to reach those heights, but I was determined to go for it anyway, and I was pleased with the result.
Where will the show be performed?
RON: We have a show confirmed at Unity Hall in New London, the home of “Friday Night Folk” for Dec. 8.
We’re also lining up shows at The Katharine Hepburn Theater in Old Saybrook and The Granite Theater in Westerly. The dates of those shows are yet to be finalized, but we’re hoping for some time in the fall.
How are you working to publicize the show?
MIKE: We’re posting a new song every week or so on our “Crossing: The Musical” Soundcloud page and linking to that from the Maggie’s Guitar and Crossing Facebook webpages. We’ll reach a couple of hundred people that way, but to tell the truth, Facebook is becoming so saturated, its value as a marketing medium is a little questionable, I think.
Beyond social media, we have been playing some of the songs in public here and there, at fund-raisers and such. That fact that we’re working on a musical has created a surprising amount of word-of-mouth interest.
What is the biggest challenge in working as a team?
RON: Mike Bailey? Can’t stand the guy!
No, seriously, it’s always a pleasure to work with someone as talented as Mike. We’re mostly on the same page, so much so that quite often we both come up with the same idea simultaneously. We have a kind of telepathy.
MIKE: I wish we had more time.