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- Posted on Apr 15th 2010 4:00PM by David Chiu
On Wednesday night, the Berkeley Repertory Theater officially debuted the theatrical production of 'Girlfriend,' with a script written by Todd Almond and songs by Sweet. The coming-of-age story, Almond says, is about two boys who fall in love during the summer after graduating high school.
The evolution of the musical began with Almond over a decade ago. He approached the idea to Sweet who gave the musical his blessing, which was the extent of Sweet's involvement. "Todd had this thing for a long time," the musician tells Spinner, "and that kind of story is really special for people who had to hide who they are or had to when they were young. That's why I can appreciate it."
The album resonated with Almond on a personal level then and continues to do so now. "It was my soundtrack when I was a teenager," he says on why chose the record for the musical. "I've come to believe that the music one listens to in heavy rotation as a teenager becomes a major signifier in one's life. It's the kind of music that one always goes home to."
The musical incorporates songs not only from Sweet's 'Girlfriend' album, but also a few tracks from the singer's subsequent records, 'Altered Beast' and '100% Fun.' "The way the music works in the show that it's another character that actually exists in their world," explains Almond. "They put a CD on and listen to the music of Matthew Sweet. It's not a traditional style musical: they just don't burst into song and express their feelings that way."
Almond says that the fun for him on the musical is trying to capture the awkwardness of first love, especially between two boys who don't know if one feels the same thing about the other. "People giggle and laugh because everybody has that experience, gay or straight," he says. "It's very innocent, tender, funny and awkward."
"When I write songs," says Sweet, "the most important thing inside them was an emotion of what you felt. They're all very 'me' and 'you.' I remember I did interviews back then with gay publications [asking me] 'How do you feel about gay people liking the record?' I felt flattered that anybody likes the record."
Early on, Sweet wasn't a fan of musicals but his opinion changed as he realized that some music that he related to came from musicals, like when he went on YouTube to check out clips of 'Doctor Doolittle.' "You look at something again at different times, sometime you can get your head around it in a different way," he says. "I really, really super-hated 'Moulin Rouge,' though the old [musicals] are kind of cool to me now."
Asked about what is his favorite song from the album 'Girlfriend,' Almond responds, "I don't think the song 'Winona' will ever feel old to me. I could listen to that every day for the rest of my life. It just feels very pure. That song feels so perfect to me."
Sweet offers his thoughts about Almond's personal feelings for the album as well as its legacy. "That's not an unusual reaction. The diehard fans are the people who had that reaction," he says. "That's the best thing about it for me: It's not the soundtrack of my life, it's the soundtrack of theirs. You can have a lot of success putting out .records but that doesn't give you anything of use. That's why something like this is interesting to me is because it's its own little reincarnation of it. It's cool what [Todd's] done."
The musician plans to check out the show early in its run. "I feel like it's going to be really cool," he says. "I've talked to a couple of people who had seen the rehearsals and it sounds interesting to me."
'Girlfriend' runs through May 9 at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in Berkeley, Calif. For information, visit the show's website.