John & Jen | Book Musical | Rated G
John & Jen | Book Musical | Rated G
About the Show
A truly original musical that takes a look at the complexities of relationships between brothers and sisters and parents and children, set against the background of a changing America between 1950 and 1990, JOHN & JEN is a gem of a show brimming with intelligence, wit and beautiful melodies.
This is the story of Jen and her relationships with the two Johns of her life: her younger brother, who was killed in Vietnam, and his namesake, her son who is trying to find his way in a confusing world. With a cast of only two people, JOHN & JEN is a tour-de-force for two actors who take them from childhood, through adolescence and beyond.
A chamber musical, beautifully scored for piano, cello and percussion, JOHN & JEN is a musical about connections, commitments and the healing of the human heart.
Jen and John sit in the shadows in opposite corners of an almost-bare stage. Jen worries about her brother, John. Instead of reassuring her, John exhorts her to remember when they were children ("Prologue"). Both wonder how they drifted apart, and what happened to the children they once were, who vowed to protect each other.
Flash back to 1952, when six-year-old Jen tells her baby brother, "Welcome to the World." She can't explain to him why the world works the way it does, especially not why their father hits her. She promises to protect him.
In 1957, five-year-old John is too excited to sleep, and determined to wait up until he sees Santa Claus ("Christmas 1"). Jen, aware that their parents are fighting downstairs, tries to get John to sleep. John, oblivious to the fight, fantasizes about the Mickey Mantle bat he is sure Santa will bring him. But he does notice that Jen has left the room. Convinced that she has seen Santa Claus, he races downstairs and witnesses his father beating his mother. Jen tries to explain that Santa has so many houses to visit that he concentrates on needier children, so he might not come this year. John concludes that there is no Santa, and he and Jen once more turn to each other for support.
John and Jen have made themselves a secret hiding place, where thirteen-year-old Jen plays school with John ("Think Big"). They "learn" about great Americans like George Washington, about how he sold cherry trees from his pickup truck so he could get rich enough to buy a country and live there with his dog, Martha. Jen asks John to name another great American, and John sings a paean to his father, vowing to be like him someday. Jen reproaches John, and sings of her desire for freedom. When John sulks, she looks more closely at him, and discovers a bruise on his face. She tells him that next time he does something bad, to put the blame on her. John and Jen formalize their agreement to protect each other forever.
But by 1962, the agreement has been forgotten. Jen is interested in high school, basketball and boys, and is embarrassed by her little brother, while John chafes against the control Jen has over his life. When John is forced to go watch Jen’s basketball game, they put their mutual hatred in a prayer ("Dear God"). As Jen takes the tie-breaking foul shot at the end of the game, she prays for success while John prays for her failure. But when she makes the shot, even John gets caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowd cheering for his big sister.
Jen, eighteen years old, gets ready to leave for college ("Intro to Hold Down the Fort"). She finds John sulking, and encourages him to channel his anger into baseball ("Hold Down the Fort"). John demands that Jen live up to her promise and stay with him. She explodes, "I thought you of all people understood how badly I gotta get out of here! I can’t hold your hand forever! Grow up!"
As Jen and John write letters to each other and read newspaper headlines, four years pass ("Timeline"). Jen discovers the Beatles, explores New York, gets a boyfriend named Jason, tries drugs and protests the war in Vietnam. John letters in baseball and tries to make sense of his conservative father and Hippie sister tugging him in two opposite directions. John and Jen both lament the other’s failure to understand them. In a letter ("It Took Me a While"), John finally declares his independence from Jen in the most direct way possible: he is joining the Navy. Jen comes home to see him off ("Transition: Reunion"), and both are nervous about how much they have grown apart.
When they meet, they try to resume their connection ("Out of My Sight"), but find they can go neither backwards to the kids they were nor forwards to the completely different adults they are. When Jen says she and Jason are moving to Canada, the tension under the surface bubbles up ("Run and Hide"). John accuses both Jen and Jason of cowardice, and Jen accuses John of becoming everything she despises: their father. When Jen leaves, John won’t even hug her goodbye.
Jen receives word that John was killed in action at the age of nineteen. John’s spirit reminds her to hold down the fort, and Jen says, "I'm sorry, little brother." John salutes as Jen reaches up and slowly pulls off her headband. Their arms slowly descend as the lights fade.
In Canada, 1972, Jen is still grieving over John ("Opening Act 2"). But she has a new son, whom she’s named after her brother. She has saved all of her brother's old clothes and belongings to give to her son as he grows into them ("Old Clothes").
Five-year-old John is celebrating his first Christmas in America ("Christmas 2"). It is also his first since his father left. When he catches Jen arranging presents under the tree, she tells him Santa was too busy. But this John doesn’t buy it any more than the last one did. John wants to visit his grandfather for Christmas, but Jen says no. They exchange presents: a napkin holder John made at school for Jen, and her brother's old baseball glove for John. He complains that he wants a new one, but relents when he sees how important it is to his mother.
John plays baseball, but is mortified by his mother's unbridled enthusiasm ("Underscore/Baseball"). She yells at the coach, she yells at the umpire, she yells advice at John. Privately, Jen bemoans John's lack of talent at the game. But even when he strikes out, she yells, "I'm so proud of you, honey!"
At her brother's grave, Jen talks about her son, and how similar he is to his namesake ("Just Like You"). Jen vows not to fail this John. She won’t let him leave her. John, meanwhile, is preparing to go to camp ("Bye Room"). Jen struggles to reconcile herself to her son growing, and reminds him to think big.
John and Jen imagine themselves on the confessional talk shows that became popular in the late eighties ("Talk Show [What Can I Do?]"). Over four years, Jen laments John’s growing independence as he gets into adolescence. He already smokes pot and has a girlfriend. Jen defends her choices, saying that her son has no one else to love him, denying that it’s she who has no one else to love her. Meanwhile, John accuses his mother of hypocrisy, setting strict limits on him after her experimentation in the sixties. He feels stifled, both by his mother and by the memory of his uncle. John wants to be a writer; Jen says he can be a writer at home. John runs away to his grandfather three times. As John and Jen's fight builds to a climax, John receives his acceptance to Columbia’s honors writing program – two weeks after it was sent, because Jen has been hiding it.
The two Johns collapse into one in Jen's mind, as she wonders how she failed to bring her dreams for her son to reality ("Smile of Your Dreams").
At his high school graduation, John realizes his mother needs him ("It Took Me a While Reprise"). When he tells her he’s decided not to go to Columbia ("Graduation"), she pushes him away. He insists that he'll stay with her forever, because that's what she wants. She slaps him.
Realizing what she's done, Jen stands at her brother’s grave, and finally says goodbye to him ("The Road Ends Here"). Her son comes to her, and she asks his forgiveness for holding him too close ("That Was My Way"). John sets hopefully out into the world, and Jen promises to be there when he needs her ("Every Goodbye Is Hello"). They start to go off in opposite directions, then look back at each other one last time and then exit.
Musical Cast Size:
Protective and controlling, yet deeply loving. This character arcs from a wide-eyed new sister to a free-loving hippie and finally a mother accepting her son growing up.
Female, 25-35 yrs old
Range: F3 - F5
Fun, energetic, fresh, and exciting. The character arcs from a newborn brother to a high school graduate going off to war and finally a young son challenging his loving mother as he grows.
Male, 25-35 yrs old
Range: Ab2 - C5