Schuster Theatre presents ‘It’s Only Life’

It is a rare opportunity for a Broadway writer to join a small college cast to perform one of his own creations, but Gannon’s Schuster Theatre has achieved the impossible.
“It’s Only Life” will be here and gone in one weekend. With the thrill of never-ending practices leading to only three performances, it will all seem worth it once John Bucchino, the writer and composer of “It’s Only Life,” joins the cast on stage.
The cycle of songs written by Bucchino, a Tony-nominated writer, explores individual experiences and challenges faced in so many of our lives.
Bucchino’s list of accomplishments grows as an award-winning composer, writer, lyricist and teacher.
Based in New York, his work has been performed by artists of all genres including Judy Collins, Kristin Chenoweth and orchestras like The Boston Pops.
His Broadway debut was as the composer and lyricist for “A Catered Affair,” and he’s known for many other off-Broadway shows including “It’s Only Life.”
Bucchino also scored “Joseph: King of Dreams,” a DreamWorks animated film.
In addition to his experience, he has been nominated for and received numerous awards. “It’s Only Life” won Los Angeles’ 2008 Ovation Award for Best Book/Lyrics/Music for an Original Musical.
Although the musical may not be well-known around the world, it caught the eye of the Schuster Theatre’s season selection committee.
Alaina Manchester, director for “It’s Only Life,” noted it was the Rev. Shawn Clerkin, director of the Schuster Theatre, who discovered the piece and instantly fell in love.
“He shared the music with me,” Manchester said, “and I liked the very cool mix of monologue meets poetry.”
Clerkin became a big fan of Billy Porter, a Tony award-winning performer and one of the original cast recorders of “It’s Only Life.”
From there, Clerkin determined the musical to be a strong candidate with the current student talent.
Clerkin said he noticed Bucchino offered master classes, so he emailed him and Bucchino agreed to come down and do a weekend of three performances.
“He has been more than gracious with his time and willingness to help us to bring his music from the page to the stage,” Clerkin said.
Unlike a traditional musical, this piece contains a concert-type performance with few pieces of dialogue and only the variety of songs and tempos to move the story along.
Megan Hamm, a junior theater communication major and assistant student director of “It’s Only Life,” said the musical originally had no set plot line.
With the combined creative effort of the Schuster Theatre department, a storyline was shaped into what is now a company piece.
“I like to describe it as a year in the life of New York City,” Hamm said. “Instead of a continuous plot line, each song is a glimpse of different people’s stories.”
Molly Cooke, a sophomore theater communication major and stage manager of “It’s Only Life,” described the musical as a city filled with people focused on their own life.
Cooke described each solo showcasing everyday struggles people go through, not a definite character focusing on a made up life.
The songs appeal to the larger whole as a symbol of individuals going through similar problems. Whether it is an abusive relationship, heartbreak or just a rough day, each song centers on a specific niche in life.
“The whole idea of the musical is finding and choosing love,” Cooke said, ”rather than falling into your daily routines and petty fears that seclude you from those around you.”
With a different take on a different musical, the Schuster Theatre wanted to make use of the whole community as well.
“I’m excited to be performing in my first show at Gannon,” said Brian Bowersox, a freshman communication major.
“Everyone is so talented and I’ve enjoyed meeting so many new people.”
Both Gannon students and Erie community members make up the cast of “It’s Only Life,” helping to unite the Erie community with the college campus, and adding some extra voices to the already talented cast.
The cast and crew have yet to meet Bucchino, but are looking forward to his arrival Wednesday evening, during their next-to-last dress rehearsal.
Manchester noted the cast has been working hard these past months in preparation for the performance and is both nervous and excited to meet the composer himself.
“Mr. Bucchino has been nothing but nice and supportive on the phone and through email,” Manchester said. “He loves working with students and is looking forward to talking with them and helping them grow as artists.”
Hamm, also interested in meeting the Broadway composer, mentioned the importance of seeing the musical this weekend.
Aside from the few show dates, she noted there’s a deeper reason to join the Schuster Theatre for this musical performance.
“We didn’t realize how relevant the message was when we first began the rehearsal process,” Hamm said.
“Now, in light of everything that has happened in the world, the lyrics speak to people, like the quote ’Fear is what we learn. Love is who we are.’”
Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5 with a student ID.

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