‘Lesbian Musical’ composed by Ravenna lyricist

Nicole Stempak

Breakup story with universal themes to be performed at Cleveland stage

Lori Scarlett never imagined she would be watching her work on stage in her hometown.

“It’s a dream come true to be back here and to see something that I’ve worked on in my hometown,” the Kent State alumna said. “It’s moving. It’s overwhelming. It’s really wonderful.”

Scarlett, of Ravenna, is the composer and lyricist of “The Breakup Notebook: The Lesbian Musical,” which is running on the weekends for the next month at the Beck Center for the Arts in Cleveland. The musical is an adaptation of the 2001 book written by Patricia Cotter, according to Theater Mania’s Web site.

“It’s a lesbian musical, so people thought it would just be geared toward that niche of an audience, but the themes are pretty universal,” she said.

The show begins after Helen, a 33-year-old woman, breaks up with her girlfriend, Scarlett said. It follows the story of how Helen gets through it and puts her life back together again.

“When we did a reading at Baldwin-Wallace College last year, a football player stood up and said ‘I am Helen,'” Scarlett said. “I think the show strikes a chord with everybody because everyone’s been through a breakup.”

Eric van Baars, an assistant professor in theater and leading character in the musical, knew Scarlett while she was still an actress.

“Lori’s music is just gorgeous,” he said. “I don’t think there are a lot of musicians who were actors first. There are a lot of musicians who sing, (but) she was an actor first and then a musician. She writes from a very action-centered place. The songs are easy to act.”

He was passing out fliers last Monday at a lesbian bar called Lydia’s in Akron to promote the show.

When he handed the bartender a flier, he could tell she was touched by the thought of a lesbian musical.

“She said, ‘Yeah, we’ll put this up,'” van Baars said. “I saw her comprehend what this was about. To me, that’s the coolest thing about this show is that it’s reaching out to an audience that has not been represented a lot, if ever, in musical theater.”

It was Victoria Bussert, a professor at Baldwin-Wallace and the director of the Cleveland production, who launched the musical on the national spotlight.

She took Scarlett and Cotter to the National Alliance for Musical Theater festival and directed a reading, Scarlett said.

The annual festival selects eight musicals and showcases them for hundreds of producers and theaters all over the world.

“We were just bombarded with requests from different producers who want to do the show,” she said. “We’re in the process of negotiating a commercial option with Kevin McCollum (the producer of “Rent,” “Avenue Q” and “The Drowsy Chaperone”). It’s not finalized yet, but it looks like that’s the direction that we’re going to go in.”

van Baars thinks reaching out to a new audience will help people identify with the characters.

“I think people come to the theater when they feel like they get to see themselves represented,” he said.

Contact general assignment reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].