Has this ever happened before?
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that YOUR OWN THING was the first off-Broadway musical to be optioned and sold for a film that was never made.
But here’s BEAU, a musical that hasn’t even played off-Broadway – just Joe’s Pub – and yet actually was optioned, sold and filmed.
Since 2019, we’ve had a studio cast album of BEAU from Masterworks Broadway. Now we have a movie to fill in the story that enhances the songs.
The film’s opening this month must be quite a thrill for Ethan D. Pakchar, who co-composed the music with Douglas Lyons. The latter is arguably more chuffed; he wrote the book and lyrics, too. Could they ever have expected that their musical without a Broadway pedigree would wind up so soon in cinemas?
At first, we assume that BEAU will be a filmed concert. There’s twentysomething Ace Baker (Matt Rodin), the guitar-playing frontman, and his band, on the stage of a rustic country bar and grill. It’s one of those places where the walls are decorated with license plates from various states as well as posters of groups (such as King Tut and the Tomb Raiders) who’ve played there and elsewhere.
However, the musicians don’t simply perform one song after another in concert; Ace has a story to tell, beginning around the time he was 12. Each member of the band will step forward to play the character that Ace has assigned to him or her.
They include Ace’s mother Raven, who never revealed a word to her son about his absent father. As for her own father – Ace’s granddaddy – Raven has only divulged that he died long ago.
All that Raven’s stony silence achieves is making Ace desperate to know more.
The father that Mom does want Ace to embrace is Larry, whom she expects will soon become her husband and his stepfather. Ace resents the interloper, which causes Raven to demand, “Why can’t you be happy for me?” But once Ace is alone, he sings, “Dad, I’d like to meet you.” His plaintive lyric “Are you coming home?” is touching enough, but “Do we have the same color hair?” is even more so.
As Ace reminisces, the camera occasionally takes us outside the bar. You’d expect that in a film. The difference here is that, much more of the time, scenes are clearly staged right in the pub, even when the action takes us to a hospital. The bed is placed above those license plates and under those posters.
We see it after 12-year-old Ace answers the phone and hears information that will change his life. A hospital worker asks for Raven, for Beau – her still-alive father – had listed her as his contact in the event of a health emergency.
Ace is incensed that his mother lied to him about his grandfather’s existence. He now wants to take a bus from his Nashville home to that hospital in Memphis. Raven, perhaps out of guilt, maybe out of curiosity – or perhaps to spend some quality time with Larry – allows him to take the trip.
Until now, Ace’s biggest concern has been Ferris, the town bully. The bus trip provides a nice respite to get away from the tormentor who enjoys using the F-word – not the famous four-letter one, but the infamous six-letter one. As Ace sadly states, “One word can ruin your day.” Luckily, classmate Daphne is there to soothe wounds. We’ll see if she’ll turn out to be Ace’s girlfriend or girl friend.
(Putting a space between the first four letters and last six of “girlfriend” truly does make a difference.)
As engrossing as the story is to this point, now comes the main event. Ace is happy to meet the man who “called me his grandson,” he says, before ruefully adding “Nobody had ever called me anything.” Soon he’ll be calling his grandfather by a name the man had never known: “Pop-Pop Beau.”
Beau admits, “This heart had been closed for decades.”
Ace opened it.
Beau was once a band member. “We thought we were real good musicians,” he says before adding, “What we were was real drunks.”
No, Beau was more than a mere lush, as we learn from “By Your Side.” It’s the song he wrote to commemorate Ace’s birth. He wanted to sing to the newborn over the phone, but Raven wouldn’t allow that. Finally, a dozen years later, Ace hears it as he is indeed by his grandfather’s side.
Raven’s intransigence wasn’t the first disappointment that Beau experienced with his daughter. During her formative years, she had little interest in music and less in learning to play the guitar. But this disregard of songs and lyrics would only skip one generation, for Ace is soon strumming along to the delight of the proud grandfather.
“Beau had given me music,” Ace says, “and no one could take it away.”
Once again, we’re reminded how wonderfully music brings people together.
However, Beau’s belief that “You take care of that music, and that music will take care of you” is only half-true: songs and strumming can’t solve all of Ace’s problems. So, Beau has more potent advice: “Take some of that love you brought me and use it on yourself.”
As it turns out, Ace and Beau will have something else in common: unrequited
love. Ace will soon endure what Beau suffered long ago, which led to his estrangement from Raven.
Enhancing the country-flavored music are lines and lyrics with fine images: ““I take a breath and you supply the air” … “My heartbeat is finding its rhythm” … “I took his silence for affection.”
The rest isn’t silence. BEAU has a potent message that won’t be divulged here, but one that many still need to hear. At the risk of generalizing, it may well serve those people who frequent such establishments as the one that Ace and his band – called “Beau,” by the way – is playing.
Many of you for the last three years have heard the stirring country score that Lyons and Pakchar wrote. Those who haven’t certainly don’t need to wait as long as Ace did to meet Beau, thanks to both BEAU the film and BEAU the recording.
Listen to “Beau” below:
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book – THE BOOK OF BROADWAY MUSICAL DEBATES, DISPUTES, AND DISAGREEMENTS – is now available on Amazon.