“The Beautiful and the Damned” comes to life in musical form

Every day, enduring works of literary fiction are pulled from the dusty shelves of second-hand bookstores and read for the first time.

This is how Brooke Di Spirito, a Northeastern alumna, discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald. The beautiful and the damned, published in 1922. The 21-year-old said she fell in love with Fitzgerald’s “poetic prose”, its piercing psychic details and elaborate turns of phrase. True to Fitzgerald’s guiding line, the book examines the decadent underbelly of American high society in the early 20th century through the prism of a troubled romance allegedly based on the writer’s own marriage.

Di Spirito, a lifelong ballet dancer with a parallel interest in writing – a passion she describes as a “close second” to dance – loved the novel Jazz Age so much that it gave her a radical idea : she would adapt the story in a musical.

“I found that his writing model reflected very closely some of the aspects of what makes musical theater great,” Di Spirito said.

Portrait of Brooke Di Spirito. Courtesy of Brooke Di Spirito

She cites Fitzgerald’s metaphor-soaked passages, such as: “Peaceful days like boats drifting along slow rivers; spring evenings full of a plaintive melancholy that made the past beautiful and bitter, asking them to look back and see that the loves of other summers long gone had died with the forgotten waltzes of their years.

Di Spirito says that the rhythms and cadences of Fitzgerald’s phrases evoked music and, combined with the book’s narrative flow, helped guide his own artistic reimagining of the novel on stage.

The artistic leap from words to song – and from song to dance – was famously articulated by American dancer Bob Fosse, who said, “The time to sing is when your emotional level is too high. to just talk, and the time to dance is when your emotions are just too strong to only sing what you feel. Di Spirito says she sees these tensions at work in Fitzgerald’s prose.

“He has the literary version of this progression of a movement very well”, Di Spirito said. “Maybe that’s why he became so popular.”

She began fleshing out the elements of the musical during her sophomore year at Northeastern. After completing a draft, the 19-year-old pitched the idea to Northeastern’s Stage Musical Theater Company. The group voted on whether to engage actors and dancers in the project.

In the end, the vote was evenly split – falling short of the support needed for the group to proceed with the plan.

They weren’t super happy that this second-year student came to us and asked us to do such a big project. » Di Spirito said. “I was a little sad. But I kept thinking to myself, ‘I have to do this thing.’

She went back to the drawing board, strengthened her proposal, and came back to the group with a more refined outline of her vision. This time they agreed to go ahead.

It’s not often the case, says Di Spirito, that musicals are written, composed and choreographed by the same person. Besides having never written a musical before, she had to work on cultivating an ear for musical composition. Typically, says Di Spirito, a composer is tasked with writing the melodies for a given score, which is then entrusted to a orchestrator further develop into a complete piece of music.

With the support of the Northeast Theater Group, Di Spirito set to work. There were months of rehearsals, script revisions, and other tweaks along the way. But, as fate would have it, a month before the show was to be played live, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing classrooms, businesses and indoor venues to close.

Disappointed but not demoralized, Di Spirito entered quarantine with the determination to make the scenario even better. She was able to recruit a new cast to rehearse and host the show on Zoom. After another five months of fine-tuning, another wave of COVID-19 has thwarted the plans of first the job again.

Di Spirito then graduated from Northeastern in May 2021. Soon after, she moved to New York, where she again found willing support and interested parties.

Although omicron’s recent push has caused another production delay, Di Spirito says casting for her musical interpretation of The beautiful and the damned is nearly complete, with a tentative premiere scheduled for June 30, 2022 at the Jeanne Rimsky Theater in New York City. The show is expected to last two and a half hours, with an intermission, and includes a live orchestra.

Di Spirito attributes his success to many of his colleagues, friends and mentors in the Northeast.

“I wanted to see if anyone would take any chances with me,” she says. “Turns out I was lucky because a number of people did.”

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