Four years ago Syracuse native Brian Sweeney found himself at a crossroads. Ending the spring with a college degree in hand, the musician -who exclusively wrote for bands – was hit with a streak of inspiration for a genre he never explored before: musical theatre. Deciding to follow his instincts, he looked over his latest songs and transformed them into a narrative with friend Tiffany Smalls to create what is now “Day and Age.”
The musical takes inspiration from Mr. Sweeney’s own experiences and that of his friends. For him and Ms. Smalls, the project became a story they felt needed to be shared with a 2019 audience.
“To me, the musical theatre community seemed out of touch with my generation,” Mr. Sweeney explained. “I didn’t see anyone telling the story of what it’s like to be a twenty-something in today’s world, so I wanted us to tell it ourselves.”
Ms. Smalls, who penned the book, said she wanted to create a piece that would speak to younger generations and “give them a mirror” to look inside themselves for solutions to turbulent times.
The plot revolves around a reunion of sorts with a friend group of twenty-somethings. A true character study, each member of the group reflects on their experiences ranging from troubled home lives, mental illness, and prejudice, said Ms. Smalls.
“I focused on making this the most honest story that I possibly could,” she said. “I didn’t want to shy away from some of the harsh truths that a lot of us face today.”
Both Mr. Sweeney and Ms. Smalls said they garnered inspiration from shows like Rent and Next to Normal – which specifically focus on both love and loss and how it affects the people around you.
As for the music, Mr. Sweeney said he was heavily inspired by the punk rock scene, which he said was the musical language he was most fluent in.
“The bands that I listened to religiously in high school and college found their way into the score, and I think that was because, to me, they embodied youth and rebellion, and everything I wanted the show to stand for,” he explained.
However, Mr. Sweeney said he was also inspired by Jonathan Larson’s work, which was well-known for bringing a rock edge to Broadway.
“My goal was always to make the score sound like the people singing it – high energy, angsty, and above all, honest,” he said.
Those singers making up the cast include performers involved from the show’s inception along with a few new faces. The cast performing next weekend is comprised of the same group who brought the show to life in a concert version in November.
“The most important thing to me when finding people to perform ‘Day and Age’ is making sure that they get it,” said Ms. Smalls. “Everyone in the cast has been where these characters are, to the point where it feels real to them. I think that’s the best way to tell the story. “
Unlike November’s performance, this iteration of “Day and Age” is fully staged with lights, sound, costumes, and a live rock band, said Mr. Sweeney. Both he and Ms. Smalls credit the Cultural Arts Playhouse’s Artistic Director Bruce Grossman for helping make their vision a reality.
“I showed [Bruce] the script, as well as some of the songs from our concert, and I think we both saw a story worth telling,” said Ms. Smalls.
“We worked together to set up a production schedule, and Bruce took on the role of director. CAP has served as our home for all rehearsals, as well as the show itself. Their staff has been very accommodating throughout the whole process, and I’m very thankful for that.”
Looking forward, the duo hopes to stage more productions of the show in the future. Back in 2015, they said they would joke about “Broadway 2020.” However, they agreed they’re more than thrilled to be staging the show at all.
Mr. Sweeney said he hopes audiences will walk away with a new outlook – especially in regards to being a young person in today’s world of drama that rivals Broadway itself.
“I want this to be a raw, honest look at what’s happening to people my age – depression, anxiety, social injustice, debt, addiction,” he said.
“But most importantly, I want it to show people that the relationships we form are what get us through the worst in life, and even when it feels like you can’t handle something, your real friends will always be there to lift you up.”
“Day and Age” will take the stage on Friday March 15 and Saturday March 16 at 9 p.m. and Sunday March 17 at 5 p.m. at the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset. Tickets are available online or by calling CAP’s box office at (516) 694-3330.
Photo: Zoë Carpentieri
Mikey Marmann (left), Heidi Jaye