After getting invited to see SF’s longest running original show “Shopping! the Musical”, funsherpa sits down with Morris Bobrow, the genius behind numerous musical comedies and revues, including Party of One, Are We Almost There?, and With Relish. Morris talks to us for the first funsherpa San Francisco interrogation and shares his thoughts about musicals, shopping, and the magic of Costco.
F: What got you into Music/musicals?
M: In college, I was in a comedy folk-singing group, and we wrote a lot of our own material. I was also listening to the songs of the great satirist, Tom Lehrer. I performed in satirical musical revues and became fond of the format. After school, I started writing parody lyrics to existing melodies, and, then, I realized that since could compose, I should write original music for my lyrics. The ’50s and ’60s were The Golden Age of Broadway, and I spent lots of time listening to cast albums. I also discovered recordings of the revues which were hot in New York – Downstairs At The Upstairs, Plaza 9, New Faces, etc. I loved the clever writing in those shows, and I started to emulate that style of show.
F: What are some of the musicals that you enjoyed watching while you were growing up?
M: The first musical I saw on Broadway was Promises, Promises, which starred a young Jerry Orbach. Other early favorite shows included Stephen Sondheim shows (Company, A Little Night Music, Follies), A Chorus Line, Gypsy (with Ethel Merman), Fiddler On The Roof, My Fair Lady, Bye, Bye, Birdie and Hello, Dolly!
F: How did you know this was what you wanted to do for a living?
M: I loved writing songs, and I loved hearing the audiences laugh and enjoy them. My favorite venues for my work theaters and cabarets. But, I found that corporations and private events would hire me to write entertainment for meetings and parties, and that field is very lucrative, so, I was able to combine my passion with business.
F: How difficult is it to make music/song funny? Where do you typically draw inspiration from?
M: They say that comedy is serious business. Indeed, it is difficult to get an audience to laugh at your ideas, without physical slapstick. In a drama, you can’t tell if the audience likes the play, because they don’t react audibly as it goes along, but, in a comedy, they’re either laughing or they’re not. (Though, audience often love a show they’ve sat silently through, appreciating its wit and craft.) I guess you have to think funny, in the first place. My humor generally mocks current and social styles and trends. I notice small things and hold a mirror up to the audience. The structure of lyrics is crucial and will determine whether a funny idea gets a laugh. You have to have a sense of comic timing, rhythm, poetry, the audience’s sensibilities, the personality and context of the person delivering the song, and much more.
F: Can you tell us what your first play was like? If you could redo it again, what would you change?
M: My first commercial show was a musical revue, called Let Me Say This About That (an expression President Kennedy used). It was advertised as a topical show, but, there was much that was not topical, but general humor, so, I guess I would put more topical material in – or advertise it differently.
F: I love lightbulb moments, when and How was Shopping the Musical born?
M: I decided to write Shopping! when I was standing in line at a store behind a woman taking forever to check out – fidgeting with her purse, getting the right change, writing a check, etc. The best humor often comes out of frustration. I knew this would be fodder for a show. Then, I realized I had never heard of a musical about this subject – shopping – which we all can relate to.
F: You’ve won the Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award four times. That’s an awesome achievement, what would you do if you win it again?
M: The great value of a show winning a critics’ award is that it gives the show instant credibility. Most shows that win awards have already closed when the awards are given, so, they can’t use the honor in their advertising. Fortunately, we are in a long run, so, we are able to capitalize on the award. If I won again, I would be most proud. It’s a nice recognition of one’s efforts.
F: There’s a segment about Costco in your play, Shopping! What do you love buying from Costco?
M: Costco is just a fun place to shop – you go in for a few packs of gum and wind up buying $200 worth of stuff you can’t live without. There’s so much visual stimulation there. Actually, the song was written when the store was named Price Club. Fortunately, Costco has the same number of syllables.
F: MY record for shoppaholism was 6 pairs of shoes in under 1 hour. Do you shop much? What was your worst shopping experience?
M: Besides the above-mentioned standing in line behind a take-forever shopper, there are other situations in the show that reflect my bad experiences – not getting help in a department store, not being able to buy if the computer goes down, experiencing pushy salespeople, being unable to get technical support after you’ve bought some product, being unable to open those impossible plastic packs, etc.
F: What are your favorite things to do for fun in SF?
M: I like the theater, of course. There are also great free events I go to: Stern Grove concerts, Opera In The Park, San Francisco City Tours, for example. Biking in Golden Gate Park and the Great Highway is fun. And, just walking around this beautiful city is a pleasure.
F: Can you share some of your favorite restaurants with us?