Benjamin Kintisch is the creator of a new musical called “LIFE REVIEW:The Hospice Musical.”
Show information: “Life Review: The Hospice Musical” will be performed Sunday, January 26, 2020. 6:30 Doors, 7 PM Showtime, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, Suggested donation: $20/adults, $15/seniors, students. All proceeds support the production.
- What inspired you to write the story?
This whole musical project began four years ago, when I was a chaplain intern at a residential hospice. I visited with patients and their loved ones, and I asked them questions – a process we call “Life Review” (that’s where the name of the play comes from!). The stories that the people told me were so moving and memorable. One night, as I drove home, I called my wife and said, “These stories, they want to be songs!” She replied – “Get writing!” So I did. That night I wrote the first song. Soon, more songs followed, and I began to create a story arc that traced six months of living and dying in a hospice facility. I built this plot with a variety of characters, but tied it together with one main character, Rabbi David Goodman. Rabbi David is struggling in two ways – he is a beginner in the job, both eager and inept – and he is having a hard time moving through his own grief journey. He learns to be present in his grief and to accompany others as they live and die. In his “I wish” song he sings “I have seen so many seekers, I am one too, I turned my heart to You, so Please, God, send me a sign!”
I feel like people can relate to that – we’ve all had tough jobs, and we’ve all struggled with grief along the way. For many of us who hold our faith dear, we can relate to the moment of deep human suffering or grief that made us question our faith.
- How do the songs enhance the musical and move the story forward?
This is a true ensemble piece – and we hear songs from every one of our six principals. The songs help us understand the inner lives of our characters. Here are some examples: “Send Me a Sign” is Rabbi David’s “I Wish” song – and it helps us understand the Rabbi’s struggle with faith in the face of deep sorrow. “Live Until You Die” explains how and why Nurse Marie believes in hospice care. Each of our four hospice patients has a song that reflects who they are – both through the musical styles of these songs. For instance, Murray Moskowitz, a New York Jew in his eighties, sings a song that sounds very Frank Sinatra, while Leroy Washington, an African American man and former church musician, sings a gospel song. The lyrics are the words which “give a glimmer of your glory” and reveal their state of mind as they approach their end of life.
- Tell us about the creative process.
It’s been nearly four years since this project began, and it’s still a work in progress! The earliest song lyrics were sketches, inspired by real-life experiences I had working with hospice patients.
I shared a rough version of “Will it Still Snow?” at a “song swap” workshop at a summer education conference. This ballad got a powerfully emotional response from the room – and the workshop leader, Sue Horowitz, (who has since become a songwriting mentor of mine,) told me “Ben – you’ve created something of power here. Is there more material? Keep writing!”
So I took that encouragement and returned home, where I partnered with my first composer. (The lyrics come easier to me than the music, so I needed to work with other musicians). Jason Spiewak, of Westfield NJ, co-wrote five songs with me over the following year.
The following summer I attended a Jewish songwriting retreat, where I wrote some more lyrics, but more importantly, I partnered with two additional composers. Andy Bossov (of the Chicago area) co-wrote our rollicking vaudeville-style opening number “Spoiler Alert,” and he was musical director of the first workshop performance. Michael Miller (of Rochester, NY) co-wrote seven songs.
Last summer we presented our first ever performance of this musical during the NewCAJE conference in Portland, OR. It was a workshop-style performance, where we performed ten songs and had simple narration. The performers were professional Jewish singers who are friends and colleagues. We gathered feedback from the audience via surveys and a talkback, which we utilized in doing a major script revision for the current presentation.
Now, for this performance on Sunday, Jan. 26, we are working with Miriam Kook as our musical director. Five fabulous actors from the region are joining me on stage in the cast. Four of the performers are actors with deep experience on community and regional stages. One is the amazing young Leo Euraque, 18, who I heard singing in his lifeguard chair at Columbia Swim Center. After drying off, I invited him to audition and he was eager to join the project!
What began as scraps of song has now blossomed into a full-length two act musical, with 14 musical numbers and dialogue that is at times very funny and at other times very moving.
- What do you want audiences to learn from your musical?
For folks in the audience, I hope the show gives them some knowledge and understanding about hospice care. Above all else, I want people to experience through our show how there is so much life and living that happens even in the months before dying.
I feel like aging, illness and death are all rather taboo, and we often try to avoid dealing with or talking about these things unless we have to (because we are hit with an illness or a dying relative or self). My hope is that through the comedy and tragedy contained in “Life Review,” people will reflect on their own lives and mortality with openness, and be ready to remember with open hearts those they have lost.
- After this upcoming performance, what is next for you and for this musical?
We have already begun initial conversations about presenting “Life Review: The Hospice Musical” as a vehicle for community education in different venues. For instance one hospice in a nearby county has expressed interest in producing a future performance to share with their staff, volunteers and donors. I hope to also pursue performance opportunities with houses of worship and professional conferences as we continue to hone and refine the material.
We would be thrilled to move to a lightly staged and then fully staged version of this musical when the opportunity presents itself. I am a big fan of community theatre, and I’d be delighted to bring “Life Review” to a community theatre stage in the region.
We are also planning on entering playwright competitions, beginning in April.
I believe this work has a great future and will be seen by many audiences as it grows and develops.