Broadway Recorded in Blanket Forts: Quarantine Turns a Musical Into a Podcast

The cast at work. Photo: Broadway Podcast Network

Nine years ago, writer Jason Schafer, composer Arthur Lafrentz Bacon, and lyricist Harris Doran began writing a musical called Bleeding Love. Basing their story on the Oscar Wilde short story The Nightingale and the Rose, a bleak little fable about sacrificing everything for love, they envisioned a futuristic sci-fi romance. It would be lush musically, told in the creepy fairy-tale vein of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and as cold as a postapocalyptic winter. It would be about a world where — hard though such a thing would be to imagine! — it was too dangerous to go outside.

By 2012, it made it into development at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals; by 2016 they had pressed a studio recording with Broadway luminaries like twice Tony-nominated Marc Kudisch (Girl From the North Country), twice Tony-nominated Sarah Stiles (Tootsie), and Drama Desk nominee Rebecca Naomi Jones (Oklahoma!). But they didn’t have a production. Then on March 3, one of their producers wound up in a conversation with Alan Seales of the Broadway Podcast Network, who said the site wanted to try an audio drama. A week later the world went into lockdown, and the team started converting what they had into a podcastable musical — with dialogue scenes recorded by their actors in quarantine.

Rebecca Naomi Jones, recording at home under a blanker. Photo: Rebecca Naomi Jones

Most of the music was broadcast-ready from the 2016 demo session, but Jones did have to rerecord one song under a blanket, screaming a high G into her mattress. (When everybody’s stuck in their apartment, you can get Broadway actors to do that sort of thing.) The rest of the cast is equally impressive — Taylor Trensch, Tony Vincent — but none so much as the original Assassins star Annie Golden. During one recording session, Golden — in her late 60s — told the group that she’s had an eventful shutdown. The daughter of her 80-year-old neighbor called to say she was missing, so Golden climbed down the fire escape, broke into the apartment, and saved her neighbor’s life. “If you’re going to be quarantined downstairs from a Broadway actor,” says Doran, “she is definitely the one you want.”

This morning at 9 a.m., the first third of Bleeding Love drops. Each episode is about 30 minutes; the other two will arrive on April 30 and May 7. On May 14 all three episodes will be released together as the musical, whole. It’s on all the big podcast channels, or you can go browse around at Broadway Podcast Network. “In 2012 it seemed really edgy,” says Doran, wistfully. Now, of course, it’s accidentally relevant — the protagonist Bronwyn (Stiles) sits watching the world through her window since she hasn’t been outside in 12 years. It’s hopeful, though, too: “It’s this darkened world where the sun never rose again,” says Doran, “and there’s one small person who doesn’t seem to have the skills to be useful — and then she does.”

Stars in Blanket Forts: Reimagining a Musical As a Podcast