Moms: The Musical is not what you think it is. It’s not what you think motherhood is. Kelly Surette and Teddy Hall have put together a musical that’s going to shake things up both creatively and in terms of our perception about moms—and the best news is anyone can check it out at their upcoming workshop!
On July 24, Moms: The Musical will have its first workshop as it strives to land on the Broadway stage, and theater fans can buy tickets to stream it live by going here. Even better is that all of the money brought in from public ticket sales is going directly to support Moms for Moms NYC, which helps single mothers in need throughout New York City. Doing good while having a good time; what’s not to love?
I recently spoke with the musical’s dynamic duo—Kelly Surette (book/music/lyrics) and Teddy Hall (assistant book writer/producer)—to get the inside scoop on Moms, and talk about breaking stereotypes and pivoting to a streaming theater world.
Brittany Frederick: Let’s discuss the logistics of this. How do you play to your actual in-person workshop audience and to a streaming audience simultaneously?
Kelly Surette: What’s kind of exciting and what’s come out of COVID at this point is that we now have the best of both worlds. So one of the things that’s really exciting about this for us is the fact that we can have our small little audience there in person, which gets the actors going. Which gives them something to feed off of. Which gives them that opportunity to have that audience feedback in that circular loop that you get when you’re live with an audience. But we can also invite everyone across the world who probably couldn’t be in New York and now they have a chance to check out our show. So it’s kind of this cool hybrid. But we’re going to find out how it goes because we don’t totally know. (laughs)
Teddy Hall: The combination is exhilarating and a whole bunch of amazing feelings. We don’t know how it’s going to go, but we’re inviting producers. We’re sending packets out. We’re doing lots of fun things, trying to get people involved. But the best thing is, they can watch from all over the world. So even if they can’t get to New York… I mean, come to New York. Come see the show. But if by any chance you can’t, then tune in.
BF: Where was the idea for doing a musical about motherhood? Because this could very easily be dismissed as something cute or campy, but it’s important to point out that Moms: The Musical is not that.
KS: This is not that at all. It came from becoming a mother. Honestly, it came from waking up with this newborn and looking in the mirror, and my hair just being crazy, and my leaking, and just kind of realizing that this is not me. Who is this woman? Just kind of the jarring awakening and life-altering experience that becoming a mother is, and realizing that I didn’t necessarily take to it naturally at first. It wasn’t this rose-colored beautiful image. It was nothing like that. It was not cute. It was not adorable. It was totally jarring to my whole system and my whole world.
One of the things that really inspired me to write this show was just kind of looking at theater and realizing how mothers are usually the supporting roles. They’re the best friends. They’re there, but they’re not. In this show, they’re the leads. I think it’s really time for musical theater to embrace a show that is realistic about mothers—that shows them as the raw, honest portrayal that the mothers across America feel every day, and celebrates their struggles, and shows who they are and the incredible bravery that it takes to be a mom out in Groveland, Massachusetts, where I live. I’m surrounded by all these wonderful neighbors who are mothers. And I believed that a show needed to exist that embraced that and honored that, and celebrated that.
BF: Once you had that sort of motivation in mind, how did Moms: The Musical actually start coming together? What was the creative process?
KS: I didn’t really know how I was going to do it. I was running and the two characters who are the leads in the show came to me. I just saw them meeting. I saw this workaholic powerhouse and this bubbly stay at home mom coming together and what that would look like, and how they could help each other grow, and how motherhood really bonds you even with people that are so different from you. I wanted to explore that. I went to Teddy and I said, “Look, I want to try this. I want to see what happens here.” He was, as he always is, a big supportive cheerleader and was like, “Absolutely.” And that’s where it all came from.
TH: Kelly has been a composer since the beginning. She was an incredible performer, an incredible singer, incredible actress; she did so much theater. But she has written two, three other musicals. She has two albums. And what has been incredible is watching her evolve. Every project, even every song that she’s ever written just gets better and better, and more addictive. So when Moms: The Musical came along, it didn’t surprise me that the material was incredible because I know that it is.
A lot of times I get asked, well, are you just liking the music because you’re her best friend, or are you liking it because it’s really incredible? My answer to that is, one hundred percent because it’s incredible. I’ve lived and breathed musical theater my whole life, and I believe that everything Kelly said is so necessary right now. [It’s] something that we have not seen that just has that guts. I’ll listen to the songs or read some of the script, and I cry. I still cry, and I know them. Or I’ll listen to a funny song, and I know it’s funny. I’ll drive in my car and I’m laughing out loud, because I can see it in my head, visually.
BF: It’s both a really great musical, and as Kelly was saying earlier, a chance for more representation, which is one of the major talking points across all of entertainment right now.
KS: It feels like theater is sort of doing a reset now. It’s kind of taking a step back and looking at what were we doing before and how can we do things better, and differently. One of the things that theater is really campaigning for and looks like is really starting to change is the acknowledgement of underrepresented voices. Women are very unrepresented in musical theater, especially these kinds of raw mothers. That’s why we’re also hoping that this musical takes that step, in the direction of saying we can honor these voices. We can sing these voices. We can tell these stories and theater’s going to be better overall for it.
TH: And also [representing] female composers. That’s a huge thing. I mean, it really is. You have your Andrew Lloyd Webbers and your Stephen Sondheims, and that’s awesome, and you have a lot of male composers and writers. But for whatever reason, women composers and creators of shows are few and far between.
KS: It’s a male-dominated field, for sure. One of our key things that we wanted to do when we were casting this show was, we wanted age-appropriate women. We wanted the sort of 30 to 40-year-old cast aside musical theater actress, who’s been written off because she’s not 22 and graduated from musical theater school. We wanted women who are women, and who don’t normally get cast in these shows, and don’t normally have a place and a voice in musical theater. That was really important to us, to expand and bring out the voices of the underrepresented as much as we could.
BF: What would you consider some of the highlights of the finished product? What should we keep our eyes on when we’re watching this workshop?
KS: I think this is a musical where [with] the title, Moms: The Musical, it’s very easy to go, like you said, “Oh, that’s cute. That’s going to be funny. I’m going to laugh.” What I want people to be prepared for is that it’s funny, there’s comedy and you will laugh, but you will also cry. It’s definitely a poignant story, where you really follow the journey of these women and you want to root for them and you want to see them succeed. And when they fail, it’s heartbreaking.
I’m not going to give away the ending of the first act, but I will say that it’s something no mother ever wants to have happen. It’s really surprising, and I think it’s a really interesting thing that we explore in the show. I also think that there’s some just really fun stuff. We have a mom group chat. They’re literally on a Facebook chat and they’re talking.
TH: Which Kelly introduced me to, because I was not aware.
KS: The mom group chat is a thing. It’s a big thing, and it’s wild. It’s the wild, wild West out there in the mom group chat. These three women—one’s kind of the kooky creative who lives an LGBTQ lifestyle. We have the sort of run-of-the-mill mom who drives the minivan, and she’s got a million kids. And we have the Upper East Side uppity mom, who’s the nanny mom. And they’re hilarious. We watch them go through this journey, and it’s just so much fun to watch them talk about their mother-in-laws and talk about their experience in the birthing room, and talk about these mom group chats and the Mommy and Me groups that so many women can relate to and connect with. So I think watch out for the mom group chat, and definitely stay for the ending of the first act, and the ending of the second too.
TH: Another thing Kelly and I talked a lot about is social media, and media in general, and how that affects the modern mother. Our dream is to have a projector with pop-ups of text messaging, and all three women are on their phone, or they’re on their laptop, or they’re on their iPad. And there really is a big aspect to that.
KS: It really is all of these things that come at us when we’re the modern American mother. The social media, and the comparing yourself to other mothers…We really tried to look at that and bring that into the show because that’s the piece that all of these women are facing on a daily basis, and it’s just not really talked about. It’s not really discussed. You’re supposed to be a mother and fall in love, and have joy, and live in your house in the suburbs, and it just isn’t that way. It was really important to us to bring that element into things. Social media, we actually call it a character of its own in the show, because it really plays a role in the pressures that modern mothers face.
BF: It’s also important to note that even with the title, this is a musical that is accessible to anyone. It’s not only written for women who are mothers.
TH: Really, you feel it very strongly for men, for anybody. Every category, every color of the rainbow who would sit in that audience. I think a really great story and a really good musical is universal. In Phantom of the Opera, nobody is necessarily a Phantom and nobody is necessarily Christine, but you cry and you laugh. I really love the fact that this show does that for everybody. The story is just compelling, and I like to say that it will get to your gut no matter what.
BF: Speaking of everyone, you’re not staging this workshop alone; can we talk about the rest of the creative team who are helping put Moms: The Musical together with you?
KS: Let’s give the first, ginormous shoutout to Victoria Rae Sook, our director/choreographer, who is a two time Drama Desk nominee. She embraced the show with all the love that she has. She is so passionate about this show and she is beyond talented. Wait until you see her work; it’s incredible. We are so beyond grateful for this woman to be involved with this show because she gets it. She sees it. She understands it. And she is so creative and so passionate.
Caitlin Costello is our marketing director. She is the reason behind all of the branding for the show, and she’s outstanding. David John Madore is our music director; incredibly talented, incredibly compassionate, just all around great human.
TH: When we went into the city for callbacks—we had virtual callbacks and then we had physical callbacks—we had never met Victoria before. We had never met David before. Being in that room with all those people for the first time, every auditioner who came in said the same thing—we’re in a room with real live theater. It hasn’t existed for so long. It hasn’t been palpable for so long. That day was the most magical day of my life, just being with those creative people, seeing Victoria and how energetic she was, and how energetic Kelly was. It felt like a family coming together.
KS: We truly are a team. And it really does take a village to raise a musical. It’s a collaborative, creative thing, and everyone just brings something so special to the table. We’re just so blessed to have the people involved that we do. We haven’t announced our cast yet, but it’s coming and they’re going to blow your socks off. These women and men—there are two men in the show as well—they’re just beyond anything you could dream for a workshop like this. They’re so talented, and I just can’t wait to see them do this. It’s going to be amazing.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.