Writing So Good, You’ll Burst into Song
For some, a character bursting out into random song and dance induces an eye roll. But for those who feel more inclined to buy the soundtrack and belt out every memorized line in their car, Yes! sought to discover the magic behind the beats.
We started with a young local composer, Giuseppe Ritorto, 33, a drama teacher at Guilford Technical Community College, who just recently composed the music for a new production, 3XL: The Musical. The brand new show, which took more than two years to craft, is coming to the Jamestown campus in April.
“It was the toughest two years of my life,” Ritorto said in a comment laced with laughter and affection. “It started out being a small musical and then we realized we’d need a large space and a cast of 1,000 to pull off what we were picturing!” So from where does the inspiration to write a new musical come? Well, from the love of musicals, of course. Giuseppe first got a taste for acting at the age of 10 when he performed in the chorus ensemble for Hello Dolly, a production by Greensboro Livestock Players.
However, it was when he saw Phantom of the Opera at his school that he fell in love with music. In fact, Ritorto recalls immediately buying the soundtrack on cassette tape. “This is what I want to do,” he recalls thinking. “When everything comes together, it’s powerful.”
Giuseppe went on to write his first compositions, the musical Sweepstakes! and the opera On a Falling Leaf.
Now with his comrade Lori Mannette, a North Carolina native, he co-produces his third work.
“The creative process isn’t always as glamorous or complicated as some artists would have you believe,” says Lori Mannette, playwright and lyricist for 3XL, “though it is also never as easy as it looks.”
Ritorto met his co-creator while they were both pursuing a master’s in fine arts in theater writing from New York University.
“Giuseppe and I had been working on a much more dramatic piece and there was something about it that just didn’t fit,” said Mannette. “I think we are both better suited for comedy.
“We discussed topics that we found interesting, funny and relatable and came up with a list that included food, love, and how impossible the ‘industry’ is.”
The product was 3XL, a play about a couple of chefs that want to break into Hollywood with a cooking show but must first lose a bunch of weight.
“The show is about just loving yourself,” Ritorto said. “Be happy with who you are.”
After Mannette wrote the script, they talked about different moments that felt deserving of a song. Ritorto would set snippets to music and the two would converse.
“We usually play off of each other’s energy,” Ritorto said, but at times that was difficult considering the distance. From New York City to Greensboro, they shared and refined their ideas through Skype and emails, and the occasional face-to-face sessions when Mannette was in town visiting family.
“We’ve had the usual growing pains that come with creating together, but our styles match nicely and we’re both proud of what we’ve created,” Mannette added. “This production has been full of helpful lessons and we are excited to continue writing once it’s closed.”
The musical has also been full of lessons for area students from GTCC, A&T and UNCG, who are taking part in the show’s production and making it a possibility. Ritorto added that the experience for them is invaluable since they are creating it from scratch, without the help of videos or references to past productions.
“I’m extremely nervous to see this production as I have not had the privilege of being a part of the (production) process,” Mannette added. “It’s the first time I’ve handed my work to someone else. At this point, I have not attended a single rehearsal.
“I’ve heard recordings and seen a few videos—enough to show me how marvelous this cast is—but the performance will be almost as much a surprise to me as the audience.” !
3XL: The Musical performs at the Joseph S. Koury Hospitality Careers Center on GTCC’s Jamestown Campus, 601 High Point Road, April 3-5 and April 10-12. Tickets are $15. For tickets and more information call the High Point Theatre Box Office at 887-3001 or visit highpointtheatre.com. On April 3 and 10 there will a pre-show dinner offered by GTCC’s Culinary Arts Program at 7 p.m. Must make a reservation at culinary.gtcc.edu.