The musical was staged at the Theater and Performance Studies Black Box.
This week, students performed the musical “Word Nerd” at the Theater and Performance Studies Black Box.
The musical is the result of the graduation theses of four students, three of whom are in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies. The show features a crossword-themed game show broadcast from California called “Word Nerd”, where contestants have been solving crossword puzzles one-on-one for 10 years. The four students each maintained a unique area of interest while creating the show – Will Wegner’s 23-year-old dissertation focused on writing lyrics and books, Simon Rabinowitz’s 22-year-old dissertation focused on producing and creative writing, the 22nd by Bibiana Torres on production and the 22nd by Griffin Strout on orchestration.
“There’s something really exciting about coming out with a good production after everything we’re busy with at Yale,” Wegner said. “As I continue to pursue this career professionally, I now know that I have to think of myself to find ways to save small segments of time to have something extremely valuable, productive and creatively rewarding. .”
The show’s protagonist, Bob Otto, is the word-obsessed host of “Word Nerd” who cares almost too much about the show and its contestants. Bob is happy with his current role, but his manager Brenda thinks he could make more money in the television world.
Crenshaw, the show’s executive producer, tries to convince Bob to invite contestants who are less “square” than they traditionally were. In Crenshaw’s view, the show needs to become appealing to popular audiences in a way that has to do with changing the integrity of the game and its values. At first, Bob objects to this idea, as part of the proposal is to invite candidates who are not as proficient at solving the crossword. When he and Crenshaw face off, chaos ensues for Bob and he must save his show and himself.
Along the way, Bob must accept that he previously underestimated Brenda, who actually created the show with Bob but never received recognition for her efforts. On a broader level, the show deals with concepts like friendship and the power of words and is filled with puns and puns.
According to Rabinowitz, the “true heart” of the series was to make the emotional core of the story a friendship rather than a romance. He, Wegner and Torres didn’t necessarily avoid a romantic plot, but prioritized Bob and Brenda’s friendship in order to break away from a typical musical comedy cliché.
“So often in musicals, I think the golden rule is romance. It’s always about that couple,” Rabinowitz said.
According to Wegner, he and Charlie Romano ’19 first conceptualized the idea of writing something around a game show in December 2020. Wegner pointed out that, coming out of a time when there was little theater live, the band wanted to bring “a little joy” with this production.
Ultimately, Wegner, Rabinowitz, and Romano worked together on the show’s book. As for the production of the show, Wegner wrote the lyrics, Romano composed the music, Strout was the orchestrator and musical director, Torres directed the show, and Rabinowitz was the chief producer.
“[We thought,] why not do a show that’s just going to be silly and fun that everyone will have a great time doing? says Wegner. “And we think in general that has been our experience.”
According to Torres, the show made him realize how important it is for theater to provide an escape for actors as well as audiences. Torres pointed out that while there is “a lot of value” in intense, historical storytelling, there should be no less value in telling stories “full of joy and comedy” than those that have their central themes in serious topics such as trauma and oppression. Torres described “Word Nerd” as a “breath of fresh air”. In her conversations with the actors of the series, she found that they also liked to play “joy”, “fun” and comedy.
For the first two shows, Yale College regulations allowed the cast to have a 75% rating. This rule changed on April 25, allowing the musical to accommodate audiences at the theater’s maximum capacity.
Torres mentioned that in the process of preparing for the show, lead actor Vikram Akwei ’23 was infected with COVID-19 and had to self-isolate until the first night of the actual production. As a backup plan, Wegner stepped in and learned the entire script by heart.
“I’m really proud of this cast and I’m lucky to have worked with a lot of them – a lot of them were people I wanted to work with and we never crossed paths. On my last show, I finally got to work with them,” Torres said.
The Theater and Performance Studies Black Box is located at 53 Wall St.