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Thoreau: The Musical

Updated: May 2, 2023

Black-and-white portrait of Henry David Thoreau

For the last (embarrassingly long length of time redacted) or so I've been poking around on a novel project: my first musical! (A ten-minute musical, but a musical nonetheless.) The genesis of it came from a discussion with my brother Marty, who's a talented guitarist and lyricist (note: I am neither of these things.) He's also quite versed in the American classics, which is where the subject of Thoreau came up - and the fact that the dude only lived a mile or two from Concord and walked into town so his mom could do his laundry.

Not that we both don't admire the hell out of Thoreau; few people have so eloquently described their attempt to get at the root of the human condition. But the inherent contradictions in his so-called wilderness lifestyle are hard to overlook, and make for a fun play. "Sojourn!" details Thoreau's decision to abandon his all-bean diet - insert fart joke here - to invade his sister's house in Concord for pizza night, where he discovers she's about to go out on a date with his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, who's been married for 10 years. Emerson sidesteps the moral indignation by arguing that transcendentalism means sleeping around is a-okay. It's all bit ludicrous and a lot of fun (as one person noted in a very genial rejection letter, it's "utterly moronic - and I mean that as a compliment.")

Two things worth noting about "Sojourn!:" first, I did a whole bunch of research for it, including re-reading Walden and a couple of biographical books about Thoreau. Then I proceeded to write a narrative rife with historical inaccuracies. The two biggest ones: Thoreau didn't actually eat beans - he grew them for sale - and pizza was an early-20th-century invention. Also, the play has Tinder in it, but that's a fictionalized 19th-century version, so I'm cool with that.

Second, it's been really fun working with Marty. This is his first play and my, like, 80th, so he's way more enthusiastic about everything than I am. That includes filling out all of the applications, actually badgering people from whom we don't hear back, and getting disappointed at the rejections. Which is a little touching. We're both quite fond of the play and hope it finds a home somewhere - which may be easier said than done with a format as unwieldy as a 10-minute musical. But we're keeping our fingers crossed.

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