Jonah

Cue: Jonah songwriting


Aaron has started writing songs for “Jonah and the Great Fish.”

Typically, the way we work is I’ll write a script, we’ll massage it over time, get it fairly well nailed down. But it won’t have any songs, just “song notes,” which will be usually a quarter to a half page of suggestions on music mood, a description of what the song needs to accomplish, ideas for some fun business that could occur during the song, that kind of stuff. Then Aaron will do his magic, and then we’ll massage the songs a bit, then I’ll work the lyrics back into the script, which may need to be revised with more or less dialogue before or after the song, depending on how much the song covered or to accommodate any changes of direction it may have gone.

For “Jonah,” the first one he worked on is the first song from the movie (it doesn’t always happen like that — Aaron says he takes them in the order that they come to him). This song is a bit of a departure from the full-cast, high-energy opening that most musicals (including Likens) typically open with. Of course, it’s good to give the audience something big and fun to set the mood.

But structurally, this episode seemed to want to go a slightly different direction, because we want to open with Jonah (who’s sorta the star of “Jonah”), but we couldn’t open with him in Nineveh, because he doesn’t go there until the end of the story. So to put Jonah in a big setting, we’d have to create a whole new town, like maybe his hometown. And, not that budgets should matter, but creating towns for Liken and populating them with villagers is sorta expensive. And in the Liken world, budgets do matter. We decided it would be better to save the money on creating a town setting for Jonah’s opening song and instead use it to create a cool set for Nineveh.

But this left us with a slight problem for the opening: it was scripted to feature just one man — Jonah, right after he receives a revelation to go to the dreaded city of Nineveh. So we thought we’d put him in the wilderness, maybe in a tent, like he’s on a mission heading somewhere. A solo opening. Risky. But I felt like if we kept it brief, and kept it lively (there are opportunities for humor as an anxiety-ridden Jonah tries to decide if he’s going to accept this mission), we could maybe make it work.

Aaron sent me a version of the song that had a fairly sedate opening verse, with Jonah pledging to do whatever God asked of him, and then he gets the revelation and it all falls apart. It was nice, but I was worried that we were already pressing the good graces of our younger audience in particular with our one-man opening, and then to give them a minute of this slow ballad before it turns fun — extra risky. I hesitated to mention it to Aaron, because it was the first song he had submitted on this project. But then I realized that this would be the first song in the the first Liken after a lengthy absence, so we really want to get this right. So I mentioned my concerns to Aaron, and he was totally cool about it. We brainstormed some possible revisions to the song, like maybe just lopping off the ballad-like opening as well as some other ideas. Aaron went away to think about it.

A couple of hours later, he calls me and says he wants to go in an entirely different direction with the song, and asks if it would be OK if sometime during Jonah’s song, three fish girl backup-singer types pop up out of a nearby stream and sing a little counterpoint melody that chides Jonah in a fun way. My first thought was water feature (ka-ching), three backup singer fish girls (ka-ching, each with costumes, ka-ching x 3). But my next thought was it would be a great way to make that risky solo-opening a lot fuller and more fun. Plus, as Aaron pointed out, it introduces the concept of fish as sentient beings in this show. All that has to be worth at least one or two ka-chings. When Ken (my brother/producer/budget man) and I sat down to lunch, I ran it by him, and he laughed at just the thought of the three fish popping up and said he thought it would be well worth it.

So the three fish-girl backup singer opening concept was in. Shortly thereafter, Aaron sent me an mp3 of the rough version of the song. He even did the girl fish voices — that guy can truly hit the high notes (although he confessed that after he recorded
it, he had to sit down for 5 minutes because the high notes gave him a massive headache). And talk about a fun song! It’s called “No Way!”, and it is short — about 2 minutes. But it is high energy, fun and will get this show off to a great start.

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