Meet the Two Women Behind 'Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies),' Previewing Tonight at CPT

click to enlarge (L-R) Matt O’Shea, Caitlin Lewins, Melissa Crum, Joshua  McElroy, Madelyn Hayes. - Photo by Steve Wagner.
Photo by Steve Wagner.
(L-R) Matt O’Shea, Caitlin Lewins, Melissa Crum, Joshua McElroy, Madelyn Hayes.

For the last three years, Caitlin Lewins and Melissa Crum have been developing a new musical called Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies), boasting song titles like, :No One I Love is Gonna Die Today," "Bathroom Love," "Laughter is Medicine," "Masturbation Song," "Keep Fucking Going" and "Falling Apart."

Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies) is a "hot mess musical" about a group of close friends struggling to navigate the tragedies of life, guided by poor decision-making and maybe too much alcohol. Together, these friends try just about anything to find happiness while the ties of friendship fray. It's a dark musical comedy celebrating of the not-so-happy ways in which we persevere, grow and change — whether we want to or not.

Despite the popularity of the medium with women, musical theater, especially composition is dominated by white men. Before 1991, there had only been six female composers on Broadway, total. For two women to compose and stage a full-fledged musical is highly unusual, but in Cleveland it's almost unheard of.

Lewins and Crum have known each other for many years and were trying to find the perfect opportunity to work together. In preparation for Cleveland Public Theatre's annual 'Pandemonium' celebration, the duo tackled that year's theme of "Transform" by writing songs about, as Crum put it, "the transformative power of lying to yourself."

"From when we first met, we were really drawn to each other because we have really similar dark senses of humor," Caitlin Lewins tells Scene. Over cups of coffee at Gypsy Beans in Gordon Square, the duo began writing out lists of songs they'd want to bring to fruition, and sharing stories of the similar upbringings and life experiences they'd endured that brought them together.

Above all else, the duo decided that the musical they wrote had to be funny, had to have an existential crisis and had to relate to things they were dealing with right now.

"We just kept writing these one-liner songs that were the lies we tell ourselves to keep going and to get us through our day to day lives when shit is falling all around us," says Lewins. Some of the original titles from their coffee-shop writing sessions made it to the final cut, like "Nobody I love is Going to Die Today," or "I'm Not a Slut, But You Are," Crum chimes in.

The show developed over time with the help of Cleveland Public Theatre's Catapult program, and both women held fellowship positions within the theatre as well. In particular, the women thank CPT's Executive Artistic Director, Raymond Bobgan, for his assistance in making this show a possibility.

"It was an interesting process because we're two different people, so we wanted to find ways to bring honor each other's voices while also finding a collective voice to tell a story that we hope will resonate with others," Crum says.

Stylistically, the music of the show covers a variety of genres and doesn't necessarily feel like traditional musical theatre. As Crum described it, the show feels more like a theatrical concert.

"There are moments where the nerdy musical theatre kid in us comes out, but there's influences of grunge, Italian arias and folksy singer/songwriters throughout the piece," Lewins says.

While the show is created by women and focuses on the journey of  women within their friend group, the duo firmly believes the transformative power of lying to oneself a universal appeal.

"Writing about women's issues from the actual perspective of a woman is critical, because we often hear stories about the women's perspective but they're not actually written by women, and that often feels like a contradiction in a same way because it doesn't feel authentic to our experience," says Crum.

"It's a story everyone can relate to, it's a coming-of-age story about being in your late 20s-early 30s and trying to figure out why the world is falling apart and how they're going to push through it," Lewins says. "And they do it in the wrong way, which I think is something we have all done at some point."

"I hate that we have to think of it as a 'woman's story,' because it's a story about human beings, and no one would look at a film or play that's male-centric and say 'this is a man's story,'" Crum says. "I'd love to break through some of those barriers of having to define it as one thing, but look at it more as the human experience we're all going through together."

Everything is Okay (and other helpful lies) is directed by Matthew Wright. It premieres at Cleveland Public Theatre tonight and runs through Nov. 10.
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