Ahead of the show’s previews set for this summer, David met up with theatrical producer, Brooke Gilbert, to discuss the musical, feminist icons, after-parties with Alan Alda, novelty prophylactics, and writing “squirmingly lowbrow show tunes.”
The press release for The Hotwife of Hyde Park mentions your family history in the theater, especially your mother’s adaptation of Free to Be…You and Me. I’m curious to hear more about your memories from that time. I read an interview where you mentioned “fervently discuss[ing] gender equality with leaders of the Women’s Liberation Movement”—when you were 5-years-old.
In the late 1980s, Marlo Thomas, Gloria Steinem, and the Ms. Foundation commissioned my mother to write Free to Be for the theater. Free to Be, originally a multimedia project, is a kind of feminist how-to manual for girls and boys. Not only was I the ideal audience, I was there watching my mother launch its stage production. I saw the casting process and rehearsals. I remember spending time with actors backstage. I saw dozens of Chicago shows before Free to Be was picked up by the Rodgers & Hammerstein catalog. I wasn’t simply getting educated on gender equality; it was the life around me—the politics and advertising of my childhood.
How do you feel about it now?
I think of Free to Be…You and Me as a marvelous playground filled with construction errors.
The New York Times described Free to Be as “a wildly successful franchise” and mentioned the play was “rampant in elementary schools across the nation.” Yet it seems that many people under the age of 30 have barely heard of it.
I thought so, too. And then, a little over a year ago, I attended the 40th anniversary celebration at the Paley Center. The gala had a surprisingly multigenerational audience. I saw many cheerful millennials. Not one, it seemed, had been dragged there by parents. It was actually a stunning event—the red carpet rolled out. After the panel discussion, Free to Be’s inner circle gathered in the Steven Spielberg Gallery. The room was small, very un-Spielbergian, roped off, and guarded. I thought I spotted Stephen Sondheim. But, honestly, if you’re a man over the age of 75 and a culturally iconic New Yorker, you probably look like Stephen Sondheim. If you’re an iconic Manhattan woman over the age of 75, you look like a trim 38-year-old. Or sea salt caramel gelato. I spent an hour just a few inches from Alan Alda. It was like standing next to a distinguished exclamation mark. His twinkly, unmalicious smile is a great pleasure to see in person. The vast infinity of human joy seems to have been planted on Alan Alda’s face.
This might be a difficult question to answer quickly, but what have you learned about feminism having been raised among feminist icons?
A true feminist is someone who hates women and men equally. Let’s move on, yes?
Sure. Moving on, The Hotwife of Hyde Park is being described as a debauched, blackly comic musical about artistic failure and the business of performance. It’s very satirical, almost operatic in its plot. Can you provide a little synopsis?
Hotwife is about a low-level cultural department employee, Maul Tirade, who travels to a sprawling complex called Shotwell Tower. Shotwell houses Chicago’s undesirable artists who’ve been banished to a period of internal exile. Maul is a one-woman review committee there to consider pitches from different artists looking to change their style and climb back into public favor. She has the ability to grant them something like a comeback or repatriation; make them relevant in contemporary culture. During this particular day, she encounters four Shotwellians: a ’90s rockstar trying to reinvent himself as a kombucha house proprietor, a singer-songwriter who wants to write a musical about failing as a singer-songwriter, a dreadful performance artist, and a 125-year-old Broadway star. These four characters are intermittently psychotic, and Maul ends up trapped as a victim at Shotwell.
Maybe it’s been said to you before, but The Hotwife of Hyde Park is like Rocky Horror meets Shark Tank.
That’s probably the best way of describing it.
Thank you. Anyway, before we end this, I have to ask about one of the musical’s standout numbers, “Margarita’s Mood Condoms.” It’s very explicit, like Sally Bowles gone Pornhub. Yet it’s merely descriptions of colors that make the song so dirty.
Emma had the idea for mood condoms. She was very serious about developing them: trying to build a prototype; talking with lawyers, scientists, engineers. We included, or immortalized, her invention in the musical. It’s funny; after a decade of winning absolutely nothing, I now have a sponsorship from an esteemed arts organization. And instead of creating higher works—say, a half-hour performance of wiggling or a six-volume memoir—I am co-writing squirmingly lowbrow show tunes.
That’s not actually a bad thing.
Oh, I agree. Every writer will, inevitably, realize his or her sense of destiny is located in a comprehensive penis song.
David and Emma have been developing The Hotwife of Hyde Park in residency with hcl this season—performance dates for the musical will be announced soon.