When local composer/music director Michael McCarthy and actor/singer Richard Buley-Neumar both discovered their love of writing, they teamed up for the biggest project of their partnership: the completion of a full length musical.
“I’ve been a musician since I was in third grade. When I was a kid, I saw a local high school production of Fiddler on the Roof and fell in love with the art form,” said Buley-Neumar of Amityville.
“I remember my teacher played the soundtrack to Oklahoma and up until then, I didn’t know anything like that existed, so I started to get involved in community theater,” said McCarthy. “I also found a book in the library called ‘Writing the Broadway Musical,’ and read it cover to cover. I loved the idea of being able to do something like that.”
The two attended the Writing for the Musical Theater workshop at the New School for Social Research, where they honed their skills and debuted some of the songs for Deirdre. They were also members of the BMI/Lehman Engel Musical Theater workshop, where the musical began to take form.
“It was the final project for our second year at BMI, and we had to write a 10 minute musical,” said McCarthy, who was looking in the children’s section of the library for inspiration. “There was a book called ‘Deirdre,’ with a beautiful drawing on the cover. I was taken aback and thought that this was something unique.”
McCarthy checked the book out and then gave it to Buley-Neumar, who agreed that this was their project. The duo evolved their 10 minute project into a complete play in three years, and took another year to edit.
Deirdre is a modern retelling of a story that has roots in ancient Celtic traditions. An epic love story about how the beauty of one woman can bring about the downfall of kings and kingdoms, the play details a tragic love triangle of two men fated to pursue Deirdre, and the heartbreak that ensues.
“Our hearts kept going back to Deirdre,” said Buley-Neumar, who along with McCarthy has been working on several other projects. “We have a lot of things that are halfway and third of the way done on other projects. This is our first complete full length musical.”
“Rich is a true Renaissance man; he can do anything,” said McCarthy of his partner. “He has played major roles in musicals including Into the Woods and Evita. We are both natural born story tellers.”
For Buley-Neumar, the main challenge was taking such a small piece of a larger story that is so prominent in Irish culture, and retelling it properly.
“The story is epic and if you ask any Irish person about Deirdre they’ll be able to tell you who she is and everything about her,” said Buley-Neumar. “We had to tone everything down to a core story and get the meaning across—doing the right thing out of pure, deep love and honor.”
For McCarthy, it was connecting the story to the modern world through the eyes of war.
“We discovered that wars are fought at a very high level for personal reason. It’s a big part of our story and world today,” he said. “It’s a story about the character and the love in the context of the war they’re going through, so it was challenging to cut away anything that didn’t serve that message.”
The duo found a world premiere stage for their musical at the Merrick Theatre and Center for the Arts in Merrick. It was important to showcase their work right in their own backyard.
“The artistic director at Merrick said do the show here, and we have worked with them and known them for years,” said McCarthy of the venue and his cast of 16 actors, who are the most critical part of the entire production.
“We’ve had these characters sitting on a page or in a recorder for years, and one of the most important things we impressed upon people in the audition was that the characters are iconic,” said Buley-Neumar. “They’ve never been breathing people before, so the actors have to take on a character that no one has ever seen before, be able to think it through creatively and create new human beings out of the words that we give them.”
Buley-Neumar and McCarthy could not be happier with the level of talent they have put together. The cast loves the music and want to be the ones to truly tell Deirdre’s story, a powerful passion that gives the writers the confidence they need.
“If our actors respond this way, we hope our audience will as well,” said Buley-Neumar. “The story is timeless, and just as important now as it was in the past because of the themes of love, honor and war. We want people to have an experience in theatre that they haven’t had.”
“We have immersed ourselves in Irish culture for years, and if we can make an Irish person homesick, then we did a good job,” said McCarthy, whose goal is to have the musical take the stage in Ireland one day with Irish actors.
Deirdre will soon be alive with sword fights, passion and a deep, encompassing love of homeland. The play premieres Jan. 31 and runs through Feb. 22. The cast and crew have used fundraisers and social media to get the word out.
“We’re excited to see where Deirdre goes but we’re hoping that new doors will open for us,” said Buley-Neumar. “It’s a Long Island product and we can’t wait to see how it’s received.”
For more information on Deirdre and to purchase tickets, call 516-868-6400.