It’s a musical Nick Blaemire [pronounced BLAY-mire] began writing in 2003 as a freshman at the University of Michigan, where he was studying musical theater performance. “It’s about the experience I went through with my four best friends in high school, realizing we were going through our first major transition from being kids to actually taking responsibility for things. It was a really important juncture.”
Although Blaemire is a musician, the first chords he ever wrote, he says, were for the opening number in Glory Days. As he penned the music and lyrics, his friend James Gardiner wrote the book. “We started writing about that first transition when you become a man before you realize it. We showed it to [artistic director] Eric Schaeffer who was kind enough to help develop it with us at his Signature TheatreÂ in Arlington, Virginia. He fostered the hell out of it and gave us our world premiere in January 2008.”
The response, says Blaemire, was shocking. “We thought we’d get a sweet little response and we’d go back to our lives. Instead, we got this overwhelming sell-out, critical surprise.”
The interest was so intense, and the hope so high, investors opened their checkbooks and lines of credit. The result was a quick engagement at Circle in the Square Theatre on 50th Street in New York City. Only five months after the premiere, the show was on Broadway. “We wanted to get in under the Tony wire, which meant we had to open in May” — early in May. “We rehearsed, went into tech and did 17 previews. Then our opening night [on May 6] was a fucking great show.”
Blaemire, who was 23 at the time, 24-year-old Gardiner and the cast were stoked. Simultaneously, Blaemire was acting in the musical Cry-Baby on Broadway, feeling pulled in all directions. The day after Glory Days opened, he was teaching a song to a group of college students. His phone rang. “I found out then that Glory Days was closing. It couldn’t have been more poetic. It was a bad situation and it was sad but I think it came out okay for everybody.”
The irony is not lost on Blaemire: He wrote a musical about the moment boys become men and, five years out of high school, he opened and closed on Broadway “in a minute and a half. Our reviews were tepid, and I think the producers figured they couldn’t get the money to continue through the summer. But to be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”
When it happened, Blaemire felt sad because he thought the cast had more to give. “But I was sadder for our actors because they’re my friends and I told them to leave jobs so they could be part of my thing, and I felt bad about that. But to be honest, nobody gets the chance we got.”
For Blaemire, his moment of realizing he had become a man occurred when his phone rang with the news the show was done. “I had been feeling really out of my league. I think James and all the other guys who were in the show — Steven Booth, Adam Halpin, Andrew Call and Jesse J.P. Johnson — all went through a big metamorphosis with me and we’re like, okay, we won’t take things as seriously from now on. There’s a way to do this that’s still fun. We learned to be careful about whom you trust and those are all good lessons. This show now has a special place in my heart because of it.”
The idea of writing about emerging from high school on the journey to manhood first occurred to Blaemire in 2003 when he was 18 and home from his freshman year in college. “Everything was different with my friends when I got home and it freaked me out, so I wrote a draft in three weeks. We did a reading at the end of the summer and realized there’s something here.” He previously had written only one other piece, a one-man high school senior thesis called When I Grow Up.
“I started writing songs [with no chords] about girls I liked at 15,” says Blaemire. “I didn’t really know what I was doing but taught myself guitar and piano when I started working on this show. My dad’s a huge Beatles and Bruce Springsteen fan and my mom’s a huge theater fan, so I got both and it’s a good mix. I feel very lucky in how I was brought up musically because it’s allowed me to have an open mind about what’s possible.”
The musical style, he says, is a tamer, more suburban version of American Idiot. “It’s not a particularly ‘cool’ show but I’d put it somewhere between Suburbia, the play by Eric Bogosian and, I guess, American Idiot. It’s a good mix of electric and acoustic guitars.”
He cites Jason Mraz as a good example of the style of music that Glory Days tries to embody. “We tell the actors, ‘the songs should feel like things you’ve heard on the radio but they’re speaking like the most important, most emotional moments in the scene’.”
And they need to be sung without turning people away — capturing youth without its often accompanying immaturity. “No one wants to come see a show about teen angst because it’s a lot of whining. So we were trying to figure out a way to make them speak more like us [now], thinking back then [that] we were older than we were — and that was the point.”
He took cues from Kevin Williamson who wrote Sony Pictures Television’s Dawson’s Creek. “He had this erudite speaking voice for his teenaged characters. Aaron Sorkin is another one who does a good job portraying youth in an intelligent way. We tried to make sure we could do that. I certainly don’t want to see a bunch of whiny teenagers on stage and they start to sing, it’s like, oh God. We were careful to keep characters with a sense of integrity but who also have a lot to learn, which they learn over the course of a night.”
Blaemire is humble in discussing what he has learned, including feeling his talent is far from fully developed. “I don’t know — I’m still waiting for it to fully begin, to be honest with you. I feel like I’m learning exponentially every day these days. But now I can work on new projects feeling like I cut my teeth on just an experiment.”
These days, Blaemire is able to earn a living writing music for others from his home in Harlem. “I am a self-sufficient composer. I’m able to pay my rent through writing. I’m doing two new projects. I got really lucky and I think one of the reasons why this show has been such an important thing, it has allowed me, in a not-so-glorious fashion, to sustain myself as an artist which is a great feeling.”
Glory Days opens in Los Angeles on March 19. The director is Calvin Remsberg, a former resident of Arlington, Va., where he used to live within two blocks of the same Signature Theatre that would later stage the Glory Days premiere. From his current LA home, Remsberg tracked the progress of the show in Arlington and in New York, although he didn’t see it.
The text hasn’t changed since that one performance on Broadway. “We actually had an offer to do the show at a really wonderful theater and to really re-open it, fix some of the things we didn’t have time to do during previews and to rewrite some songs,” says Blaemire. “It sounded really interesting and I started to really get into it. I talked to James [Gardiner] and he was like, ‘You know, we could work on that show the rest of our lives or we could go write other things’.” Blaemire, who’s an actor as well as a writer, will be in the cast of the tour of Bring It On, the high school-set musical that will play the Ahmanson Theatre next fall.
Blaemire says he and Gardiner agree they are proud of Glory Days, even though there are changes he would like to see. “I think the show could be better but, intrinsically, there are other things I would rather work on. It’s been nice to come back and see the show and see how others interpret what we wrote. I’ll come out for the opening and just take it for what it is.”
**All Production Photos by Nick Stabile
Glory Days, produced by Anthony Gruppuso, Calvin Remsberg, Tricia Small Stabile and Bella Vita Entertainment, opens March 19; plays Thur.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 3 pm; through April 24. Tickets: $32. Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood; 323.960.7792, plays411.com/glorydays or brownpapertickets.com/event/159876.