Out composer and lyricist John Bucchino is not ashamed to admit that he's been known to cry watching performances of his 2008 Broadway musical A Catered Affair.
"It's very powerful," said Bucchino during a telephone interview from New York. "Every performance that I have seen has moved me to tearsand much of the audience, too, which is always a good thing."
Local audiences will get to see if a good cry is in store with A Catered Affair since Porchlight Music Theatre is currently presenting the show's Chicago premiere. Some might also get a chance to see if Bucchino is true to his personal tear-shedding statement when he comes to Chicago for an event-filled visit featuring a few teaching and performing gigs tied to the show.
Bucchino came to write his first Broadway musical when out playwright/actor Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song Trilogy) specifically sought him out to collaborate on A Catered Affair. Although Bucchino didn't have that much theater-writing experience (he had some renown for the one-act musical The Lavender Girl which was part of the 2000 musical trilogy 3hree), his songs had become something of a hot property in New York's cabaret scene.
A critically acclaimed album, Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino, debuted in 2000 and it featured a wide array of artists ranging from 1960s pop legends (Judy Collins, Art Garfunkel) to theater stalwarts (Kristin Chenoweth, Patti LuPone). The album's sheet music was even published and heavily promoted by the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization.
However, Bucchino had never truly pursued a career in theater composing when he first started writing songs in high school.
"I don't come from a Broadway background at all," Bucchino said, adding that his ultimate dream was to become a pop singer/songwriter star along the lines of Elton John or Billy Joel.
For a time Bucchino was living in Los Angeles, where he was largely ignored by its pop music industry. Still, Bucchino was able to make some life-long connections in California that laid the ground work for his future career.
Bucchino worked as an accompanist for the lesbian folk artist and activist Holly Near in the mid 1980s and became a dear friend. (Bucchino said they'll be touring again within the year.) Bucchino's work also started appearing at many benefits, which is how he came to the attention composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked) who contacted him in 1987.
"I really didn't know his work," Bucchino admitted with a laugh of embarrassment. Eventually the two became good friends.
"(Schwartz) is really the first person who encouraged me to think about writing for the theater," Bucchino said. "I guess he heard something inherently theatrical in the way that I wrote that he thought would be good for writing for characters."
Now the inspiration for A Catered Affair isn't necessarily what many people might think would make a thrilling musical. It's based upon gay author Gore Vidal's 1956 screenplay (based upon a TV play by Paddy Chavefsky) for the MGM film The Catered Affair, which memorably starred Bette Davis, Debbie Reynolds and Ernest Borgnine. (It was another slice-of-life drama follow-up to Borgnine's to his Academy Award-winning turn in Marty.)
A Catered Affair concerns a working class family in living in the Bronx in 1953. When the eldest daughter plans to get married, conflict brews since the family would have to spend their life savings in order to stage a huge wedding banquet.
In adapting the film for the stage, Fierstein and Bucchino made changes both big and small. The title was slightly altered, but Fierstein and Bucchino also significantly refashioned the bride's bachelor uncle Winston (who was played in the musical's original production by Fierstein himself) to be gay.
"The audience discovers in a graceful and comic way over the course of the show that in fact he's gay," Bucchino said. "I think it was a beautiful layer that adds another level of resonance to one of the themes of the show which is in fact about family and questioning what is family."
Bucchino's looking forward to his upcoming Chicago visit, not only to work with local talent in master classes and to perform a couple of cabaret shows, but to see how A Catered Affair comes off for Windy City audiences. He's especially pleased to hear that Porchlight is presenting his show in a more intimate setting at Stage 773.
"The happiest thing I've discovered in seeing a number of regional, and even recently a community theater production in Helena, Mont., is that (A Catered Affair) actually works better in a more intimate space, because it's really an intimate show," Bucchino said.
Porchlight Music Theatre's A Catered Affair continues through Sunday, April 1, at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $38 with group and student discounts available. Call 773-327-5252 for tickets or visit www.stage773.com .
A John Bucchino Master Class is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at Stage 773. Beckie Menzie accompanies this event where Bucchino offers tips and critiques to singers performing his material. The Master Class is open to the public to watch at $25 and $15 for students.
Bucchino then hosts The Music of John Bucchino Cabaret at approximately 10:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, following the evening performance of A Catered Affair at Stage 773. Tickets are $15.
Bucchino is also slated to a panelist in a free post-show discussion on Sunday, Feb. 26 following the 2 p.m. performance of A Catered Affair.
John Bucchino then performs a rare solo cabaret concert at Davenport's, 1383 N. Milwaukee, at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27. Tickets are $25 plus a two-drink minimum.
Porchlight Music Theatre also hosts a special LGBT Night performance of A Catered Affair scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 2.
For more information on all of these events surrounding John Bucchino's visit to Chicago and Porchlight's production of A Catered Affair, visit www.porchlightmusictheatre.org .