From left, radio personality Cousin Brucie Morrow, George Cameron Grant, Lou Christie and Vince Bandille
Valentine’s Day is special enough, but this last one was extra special at New York’s Cutting Room, which hosted a performance of 3 Egg Creams, the one-act, one-actor play subtitled “The Urban Love Story for the Ages” and starring Vince Bandille.
Joining its writer/director George Cameron Grant in the audience were such notables as The Rascals’ brothers Eddie and David Brigati, author/designer May Pang, and Lou Christie, whose classic 1960s rock ‘n’ roll hits including “Lightnin’ Strikes” and “Rhapsody in the Rain” both inspired Grant and comprise the Bronx-setting show’s soundtrack. In fact, Grant credits Christie as one of the special artists “who wrote the soundtrack to our life”--especially the life of Vin Morrone, the character who tells the story of 3 Egg Creams and voices the four other characters, including love interest Angela.
“3 Egg Creams is a tribute to Lou’s music--and to all those artists who sang directly into our hearts,” says Grant, whose play evokes a time and place while relating one man’s lessons in life, loss and love. That time coincides with Christie’s, though Grant was also a classical music fan as a kid.
“I remember when I first heard ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’ on [famed New York Top 40 DJ] Cousin Brucie’s show. He loved it, and I loved it, and when I heard ‘Rhapsody in the Rain’ a year later --which was musically based on Tchaikovsky--it blew my mind!”
Years later, when Grant began writing plays, his first foray was a monologue for a character named Vin.
“I went to a playwright’s meeting where actors showed up for readings, and I turned around to see who was there and looked at this guy—Vince Bandille—and asked if he would mind reading my monologue from a three-hour epic I’d written,” says Grant. “He was the very first person who uttered the words of Vin Morrone--and has done it ever since. But a three-plus hour epic--with 20-something characters--was impossible to produce.”
Then two years ago, Bandille called up Grant with a request.
“He said, ‘You gotta write me something! I got rid of my agents and everybody—and need something to break me out!’ I thought about it, and extracted Vin and Angela from the original play and turned it into the five-character, one-man show--and now it’s the story it always should have been.”
And most gratifying for Grant, 3 Egg Creams has the blessing of Lou Christie.
“We got the story down to maybe 55 minutes and wanted people to hear it, so I contacted a friend in Hoboken and did a salon for people,” says Grant. “The reaction was so unbelievable that we knew we had something. But from the beginning, it always revolved around ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’: The story is about a guy who as a kid had the opportunity for the love of his life, but not the guts to take it. If he ever had the chance again—if lightning struck twice—would he have the guts to do it? So the whole thing is about second chances, and if you get one, do you cut-and-run, or commit? Does he have the guts to face unconditional love? It all came from that, and ‘Rhapsody in the Rain’ was clearly an homage to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and that’s the undertone love song of the show.”
Flushed with the success of the first salon reading, Grant and Bandille workshopped it at a Manhattan repertory theater.
“I started to feel guilty because I was doing more of Lou’s music, woven in before, during and after the show,” says Grant. “So I blindly reached out to his management—Lightnin’ Strikes Music—and said, ‘You don’t know me from a hole in the wall, but I’m inspired by Lou’s music and want to use it and sprinkle it throughout the show. A day later I got a note saying he’d be at the show! I’m not sure I totally believed it, and when I told Vince, he said, ‘You’re kidding!’ But the night of the show I peaked through the curtain and he was there! He didn’t say a single word the entire time, and I was shvitzing, and the show ended and Vince took a bow and Lou turned to me and said, ‘I love it! You can use the music!’ It was like a fairy tale—and from that point on he’s been our biggest supporter.”
Christie remembers getting the message from his office about 3 Egg Creams wanting to use his music.
“I didn’t know what they were talking about!” he says. “But I went to see it and sat next to George and thought it was very interesting and the acting and writing were very good--and I couldn’t say the music wasn’t good! They used it very appropriately [Morrone punches the song selections into a vintage Rock-Ola Rhapsody 160 jukebox previously owned by late artist Glen Fortune Banse, whose paintings grace the Cutting Room lobby]. Otherwise I’d be wiggling in my seat if it was too obvious. But George was a fan of mine, and inspired because he was into classical music and picked up on the classical feeling of the songs.”
Now a longtime New Yorker, Christie hails from Pittsburgh, where he began his extraordinary songwriting collaboration with Twyla Herbert when he was 15.
“My father was Italian and my uncle loved Caruso, and I heard all these Italian songs when I was young,” says Christie. “I met Twyla, who was a concert pianist and studied classical music all her life and knew nothing about rock ‘n’ roll—and I knew even less about what she knew about, so it really was a trade-off: I had the rock ‘n’roll with a spritz of classical, and she had classical with a spritz of rock ‘n’ roll! So there was absolutely a deliberate classical influence in our songs.”
He and the late Herbert, Christie says, “both wanted something different” in their compositions, “not like anything else—and more.” While record company personnel “wanted me to go in and sound like The Fleetwoods or something, I wanted to come up with my own thing, and we taught ourselves to write songs and never used simple chords, but found chords that we didn’t know what they were—or made them up! As [producer] Charlie Calello used to say, ‘I love what you two are playing, but I don’t know what to do because it’s too strange--so just put it down on tape and I’ll figure it out.’”
The songwriters “took chances with every damn record we cut!” continues Christie. “We put in things that weren’t really rock ‘n’ roll, but weren’t really classical, either. And they were stories, not just ‘I love you’ and that’s it—stories with interesting twists: They were like riding a roller coaster, going up and there’s a big dip—and you hit the hook and go around and come back.”
And now six of those songs are in 3 Egg Creams.
“All of a sudden they’re using six instead of two—and I’m honored,” says Christie. “It seems like they’re getting some attention, and playing a lot around the tri-state area.”
And the show is “very heartwarming,” he concludes, agreeing that in the end, “lightning strikes again.”
Stellar testimonials following the Valentine's Day performance of "3 Egg Creams" at New York's Cutting Room.