The award-winning duo of Melanie Adelman and Ellie Dvorkin are back with Mel & El: Show and Tell, a new comedy with music starting in May. Amidst rehearsals, the pair was happy to answer questions about the new show via e-mail. *
With your last show, you performed it in whole or in part at many a cabaret, nightclub, boîte and comedy club. How did the new musical come to find a home at Ars Nova?
Mel: I love the word boîte.
El: Me too! I’m totally naming my first child boîte.
Mel: El, focus.
El: You started it…
Mel: Jason Eagan, the artistic director of Ars Nova, saw our full length show – Mel & El: This Show Rhymes – at The Duplex.
El: He has since told us that he had to be dragged out that night – he almost didn’t come at all. But he did and he was really glad.
Mel: He scheduled a meeting with us and offered us the opportunity to either keep our show as it was and perform it as a special comedy event right away OR to develop a new souped-up show, a process that often takes a long time.
El: We said we liked soup. The rest is history.
What might audiences expect to see in this new piece? What will you be showing and telling, as it were? I hear there will be puppets involved?
El: I think a better question is what WON’T we be showing? What WON’T we be telling?
Mel: Don’t get the wrong idea. We remain fully clothed in this show.
El: Totally. What I meant to say is that no topic is taboo.
Mel: It’s like a grown-up Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
El: It’s like Laverne and Shirley with curse words.
Mel: It’s like Sesame Street meets Sex and the City.
El: Sex-a-me Street.
Mel: Something like that, yeah.
What was the writing process like? Were you two locked in a room, typing away at your respective laptops?
Mel: We always start our writing together and do as much of it together as possible. Sometimes we need to go away and give our brains separate space to sort through something, but our best stuff is created when we’re in the same room.
El: We like to start with the songs. The songs inform all of our material. Often we start with a song title. I’ll say, “Let’s write a song called ‘I Can’t Poop in Public’ and then we’ll fill in the rest.
Mel: For the record, I’ve never suggested a song title quite like that.
El: That’s because you CAN poop in public.
Mel: Stop saying words.
For This Show Rhymes, you worked with a number of different composers on the music, this time it is solely Patrick Spencer Bodd. Has that helped refine your musical style?
Mel: Totally. Now that Patrick is the sole composer the music seems more cohesive somehow.
El: We loved all of the composers we worked with previously but now that our show is less of a cabaret and more of a two-person musical, it’s good to have one composer. The songs all have different feels and styles, but they clearly belong in the same land.
Mel: Patrick and I went to Ithaca College together. He is an amazing singer and songwriter. During This Show Rhymes we learned that we loved collaborating with him.
El: He thinks about the humor and the story and the music all at once.
Mel: He’s really smart.
El: He should be in MENSA.
Following this production, do you have plans to do a proper recording of your songs?
El: I once accidentally stumbled into a hip hop recording studio on 36th Street. There were gold records all over the walls by artists like Snoop Dogg and Mary J. Blige. I think we’ll record there.
Mel: Yes, we plan to do a proper recording of our songs.
Friendships have been torn asunder by such (relatively minor) things as deciding to share an apartment. You two are collaborating on your second theater piece. How are you able to maintain your relationship, or is it just an act?
El: It’s not an act.
Mel: It’s all about knowing what you can and can’t do together. We probably couldn’t live together, but doing this just feels natural.
El: It just works.
Mel: We couldn’t begin to explain why.
El: It’s just one of those things.
Mel: And listen… we have our moments.
El: It’s not all hugs and high fives.
Mel: We’re just really honest with each other. When one of us is being a way, the other will say, “You’re being a way. Stop it.” And then it takes a minute, but we stop.
El, because it is in your bio you were in Kenny Rogers’ Christmas from the Heart, I must ask if you have any anecdotes about Kenny you care to share?
El: Kenny keeps bowls of M&Ms in his dressing room and he lets you come in and have some whenever you want. I think that’s a really good quality in a person.
The gays, they have embraced Mel & El! What is the secret?
Mel: We’ve both been surrounded by wonderful gays our whole lives.
El: My mom used to be a hairdresser so there were always fabulous gay guys around, and then I started taking dance classes at a studio that let me into adult classes even though I was only a kid and I met lots of cool gays there.
Mel: And I was always tall for my age so I got cast in musicals with adults, many of them gay, and they just embraced me. The gays taught me how to apply makeup when I was 13 and I’m still doing it the same way.
El: And I think that once you forge a friendship like that it’s something you’re always drawn to AND it’s a vibe you give off that draws certain people to you.
Mel: It’s just like our song “Fagnet.” We’re magnets. And it’s WONDERFUL.
In 2008, “overshare” was selected by Webster’s Dictionary as the Word of the Year. Your work is very candid about dating, relationships, childhood, plastic surgery, etc. Are you worried you might be oversharing?
Mel: Oh, I worry about that all the time. Like, “Who are WE? Who ARE we? Why does anyone want to hear anything we have to say about anything?”
El: I worry about it for a nanosecond but then I remember that the things we talk about on stage are the same things we talk about with all of our friends all the time in real life. Exposing all of the ugly details of the human experience can be pretty entertaining.
Mel: You just said “human experience”. WHO ARE YOU???
El: I don’t even KNOW!
Mel & El clearly have a fan base of women and gay men. By what means will you lure the coveted straight male demographic to the theater?
El: By any means possible. Gentlemen? What’s it gonna take?
If after reading this interview there are still people on the fence about seeing the show, even with tickets priced at a recession-friendly $25, what encouraging words can you offer to get their butts in the seats?
Mel: Stop saying words now.
El: But they were good words…
*Full disclosure: I’ve known Ms. Dvorkin since college, and am a “friend of Mel & El” — FoM&E? — so I’m slightly biased as to their appeal. You should be wanting to see this show.