New Paltz-based jazz musician Rebecca Coupe Franks has released a half-dozen or so CDs of original music, but Hubert’s Block is the first musical that she has written – a project in the works for the past two years. Franks undertook the challenge of writing both book and music out of a sense of wanting to do something different. “It came together very spontaneously,” she says. “The whole thing is kind of a jazz improv.”
Most of the action in Hubert’s Block takes place on Cornelia Street in New York City’s West Village, where Franks lived for a time, as the main character, Hubert, seeks a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The quirky young man is in the process of applying to medical school, looking at the possibility of blocking proteins that might cause the disease. Hubert’s father had once been a researcher on the topic, with vast archives of his findings; but living with the disease now himself in his elder years, he can’t remember what he did with the material. Other characters in the play include the rest of the people living on Hubert’s block: his teenaged sister, his mom (a psychiatrist) and various neighbors, who range from a homeless woman to a psychic who owns a store devoted to angels.
The underlying message of the drama/comedy, says Franks, is about appreciating life and helping others. Love, hope, forgiveness…and guardian angels. Franks doesn’t have a personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease herself, but says that the play encourages finding a cure for the disease. She’s calling it an “all-ages” musical, but while there’s nothing inappropriate in it that would prohibit taking young children to see the show, the medical references in it would probably go over their heads.
The first performances of Hubert’s Block will be somewhat experimental. “This will be a chance to get feedback from audiences and see what works,” says Franks. Up first will be a show at the Rosendale Café on Saturday, May 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10. The show is interactive, notes Franks, and with the venue being an intimate one, it will be fun for the audience to be somewhat immersed in the action as the actors move around them.
On Sunday, May 29 the show will take to the stage of the Falcon in Marlboro. Admission is by suggested donation. Later that week, Woodland Pond in New Paltz will host performances of Hubert’s Block on Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and 5 at 3 p.m. each day. Admission is free to the Woodland Pond shows, and they’re open to the general public.
The cast includes SUNY-New Paltz student Daniel Manning in the lead role of Hubert. Fellow cast members Meghan Tobias and Adrienne Patashny also have a connection to the college: Tobias is a current student and Patashny an alum. Theatergoers familiar with productions of New Paltz’s 90 Miles Off Broadway company will recognize 15-year-old Oona Stoever of New Paltz, a standout vocalist. Rondout Middle School seventh-grader Ethan LaSalvia and high school student Alix Guzman round out the cast. Rebecca Coupe Franks directs her troupe and plays trumpet and piano for the production, accompanied by Anne Belmont on guitar. When Hubert’s Block is staged at SUNY-New Paltz’s Studley Theatre later this year (September 25 at 2 and 7 p.m.), Franks hopes to expand the musical with more staging and a full rhythm section.
Franks teaches trumpet at the college in New Paltz. Originally from the Bay Area in Northern California, she came to live in the Hudson Valley after years in New York City interspersed with years back in California. Familiar with New Paltz from hiking, it was an attractive choice of place in which to settle. In her earlier years, Franks lived in Venezuela for a year, playing in salsa and merengue bands.
She describes her music as genre-crossing, an amalgam of jazz, Latin, bebop and rhythm-and-blues, with bits of gospel and inflections of pop in the mix. “I’ve never fit into the categories,” she says, “so I do what I want to do.”
Hubert’s Block, Saturday, May 28, 8 p.m., $10, Rosendale Café, 434 Main Street, Rosendale; (845) 658-9048, www.rosendalecafe.com. Sunday, May 29, 3 p.m., The Falcon, by donation, 1348 Route 9W, Marlboro; (845) 236-7970, www.liveatthefalcon.com. Saturday/Sunday, June 4/5, 3 p.m., free, Woodland Pond, 100 Woodland Pond Circle, New Paltz; (845) 883-9800, www.wpatnp.org.