PLAYBILL For an Imaginary Musical in One Act With Three Scenes

<em>PLAYBILL</em> For an Imaginary Musical in One Act With Three Scenes

Written by Don Kaplan

Back in 1962, a musical opened on Broadway called Stop the World – I Want to Get Off – an intriguing title since we've all felt that way from time to time. But when your troubles on Earth are making you tense, stressed, irritable, and otherwise grumpy you don't have to get your life back in control by putting the planet on hold.

This fictional Playbill, similar in form to the programs distributed at Broadway and some Off-Broadway performances, provides information about an all new, entirely original, and completely imaginary musical assembled from old ideas and previously recorded music. The musical doesn't have a title. There isn't a written text: just a series of musical selections used to tell the story. It doesn't have a large number of performers (only one character named U played by an actor or actress who improvises dialogue and movement) but does boast an all-star cast. In fact, other than the title, it has little to do with the 1960s Stop the World...except for that show's minimalist production. This Playbill parody is based on the early to mid-20th-century experiments of the Dadaists (who aimed to create new forms of visual art, performance, and poetry as well as alternative visions of the world), Futurists (who emphasized the vitality, change, and restlessness of modern life), and avant-garde writers who engaged in wordplay. These groups sought to subvert traditions, reject the past, and bring chaos to, among other art forms, the theater world.

Feeling anxious? Need to stop, rest, put things back in perspective, and move forward instead of continuing to spin in perpetual motion? Follow the story of U in a musical performance where you, too, can learn how to lower your anxieties, ease those tensions, and ultimately "pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again." [1]      





"Trouble in Mind" (vocal)


The first scene introduces the play's major conflict. U wanders around the stage and through the audience (if there is one), obviously stressed. There's too much to do in too little time, too many responsibilities to juggle, too many dangerous world situations to think about, and too many commitments at home. There's pressure on the job, bills to pay, and not enough money to pay for them. There have been promising relationships but too many disappointments, some grief to deal with, and increasing periods of nostalgia. Life is spinning out of's enough to make U want to sing the blues, which is exactly what Nina Simone does here. But as "blue" as Simone's song is, there's hope just ahead.

Selected lyrics

Trouble in mind, I'm blue
But I won't be blue always,
'cause the sun's gonna shine
In my back door some day. [2]

  Lyrics by Richard Jones


"Ain’t No Use" (vocal)


This isn't Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" so don't prepare for a hootenanny. Sarah Vaughan sings about an affair gone bad – a source of tension and pain no doubt experienced by many people including U. In situations like that, it just ain't no use to sit and wonder why.

Selected lyrics

Verse 1
There ain't no reason for us sitting down
To try to talk our problem out
'Cause we know the truth, it ain't no use
Each other we must do without
There ain't no reason trying to force a smile
When pain is really in its place
'Cause we know the truth, it ain't no use
Let's part before we lose love's trace

(we've got to say)
Whoa oh oh
(bye bye, bye bye bye)
Whoa oh oh
(bye bye, bye bye bye)
Whoa oh oh, oh oh, oh oh oh

Wyche and Kirkland


"I'll Never Go There Anymore" (vocal)


U is standing at a bus stop, talking to a bowler hat on the ground. During an improvised monologue, U tells the hat how stressed, frustrated, and helpless she/he feels. U knows the bus with its sole occupant is on the way and, when the bus arrives, the owner of the hat will step off to solve U's problems. While waiting, U starts reminiscing by saying "Things aren't like they used to be: I miss some people and places but will never be able to see them again," then falls asleep on the floor. In the background jazz pianist Bill Charlap, who sometimes performs with his wife Renee Rosnes, accompanies his mother (vocalist Sandy Stewart) in a performance of a moving song about grief and loss...somewhat melancholy, but in keeping with the moment.




"Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" (instrumental)


U wakes up, realizes the man in the hat still hasn't arrived, goes offstage to bring back a folding chair (although a fainting couch would be better), and sits down to reflect on what to do next. U is interrupted by music still playing in the background. U starts to listen more carefully and suddenly realizes that the world has stopped spinning. The longer the music plays (this time performed by the Bill Evans Trio), the more confident U becomes that chaos can be controlled when problems are addressed in a relaxed manner. Spending time with nature makes U calm down even further...the music continues, now played by Costel Nitescu followed by Eliane Elias, as U daydreams about the birds, the bees, and how every living thing plays a role in the natural order of things. 

Selected lyrics  

When skies are cloudy and gray
They're only gray for a day
So wrap your troubles in dreams
And dream your troubles away

Until that sunshine peeps through
There's only one thing to do
Just wrap your troubles in dreams
And dream your troubles away

Lyrics and music by Koehler, Moll, and Barris


"Nightingale" (instrumental/Costel Nitescu)


"A Sleepin' Bee" (vocal and piano/Eliane Elias)



After further controlling her problems by spending time chatting with the birds and the bees, a newly-relaxed and confident U can once again appreciate life with all its ups and downs. U is ready to take on those world-spinning challenges as they appear...this time in a manner guided by the music of Shirley Horne and Cleo Laine. And if U ever needs to stop spinning and take another breather, U can always return to the music thinking: "Take it from the top. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again."

"Here's to Life" (vocal/Shirley Horn) 


Selected lyrics

No complaints and no regrets
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets
But I had to learn that all you give is all you get
So give it all you got

I had my share
I drank my fill
And even though I'm satisfied
I'm hungry still
To see what's down another road beyond the hill
And do it all again

So here's to life
And every joy it brings
So here's to life
To dreamers and their dreams

Funny how the time just flies
How love can go from warm hellos
To sad goodbyes
And leave you with the memories you've memorized
To keep your winters warm

For there's no yes in yesterday
And who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away
As long as I'm still in the game
I want to play
For laughs for life for love

So here's to life
And every joy it brings
Here's to life
For dreamers and their dreams
May all your storms be weathered
And all that's good get better

Here's to life
Here's to love
Here's to you
May all your storms be weathered
And all that's good get better
Here's to life
Here's to love
Here's to you

Butler and Molinary


"I'm Still Here" (vocal/video/Cleo Laine)


Selected lyrics

Good times and bum times,
I've seen them all and, my dear,
I'm still here.
Plush velvet sometimes,
Sometimes just pretzels and beer,
But I'm here.
I've stuffed the dailies
in my shoes,
Strummed ukuleles,
Sung the blues,
Seen all my dreams disappear,
But I'm here.



Recordings by the Artists

Nina's Choice: Live at Carnegie Hall/Nina Simone/"Trouble in Mind" (Colpix Records LP)

The Divine Sarah Vaughan/"Ain't No Use" (Blue Note CD)

Love Is Here to Stay/Bill Charlap and Sandy Stewart/"I'll Never Go There Anymore" (Blue Note CD)

California Here I Come/Bill Evans Trio/"Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" (Verve CD)

Forever Swing: Grappelli Forever/Costel Nitescu/"Nightingale" (Le Chant du Monde/Harmonia Mundi CD)

Something for You/Eliane Elias/"A Sleepin' Bee" (Blue Note CD)

Shirley Horn with Strings/"Here's to Life" (Verve CD)

Cleo Sings Sondheim: Cleo Laine/"I'm Still Here"(RCA CD)


[1]  Lyrics from "Pick Yourself Up," a popular song composed by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It was introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1936 film Swing Time.

[2]  "Trouble in Mind" was composed by jazz pianist/songwriter Richard M. Jones and first released in 1924. Nina Simone was only one of many interpreters of this song that has been called "one of the enduring anthems of the blues as hope for the future even in the darkest of times." In many versions, new lyrics have been added: However, most include the well-known verse above. Blues historian William Barlow calls the song "the anthem of the classic blues genre" and writer Steve Sullivan describes it as "one of the most indelible blues compositions of the 1920s." [Wikipedia]


Header image: Sarah Vaughan. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain; photo by James Kriegsmann.

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