A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Bellagio: The Story behind the Musical, Joseph Loves Mary
Several summers ago my dear friend, Gloria Roe, called from Las Vegas. She had just been booked to play evening concerts at the Bellagio Hotel during the months of November and December. This lady has been a concert pianist for several decades and has amazing talent. She premiered at Carnegie Hall at the age of twelve with Leonard Bernstein, conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Isaac Stern was her coach. We first met some years ago at a conference—she was a featured musician and I was a speaker. I was very impressed with her talent and she mentioned that she liked what I had said in my talk. She said she hoped we’d meet again and I said, that would be great—and added (tongue buried in cheek); “Maybe we could write a song together.” She nodded and said, “That would be nice.”
We did meet again a few years later at a dinner of some sort in California. She was at the piano and said, “Let’s write that song.” I said, “All right.” Not having any experience in this field I didn’t know quite what to do. Finally I said, “Think of the saddest thing in your life right now.” She frowned sadly and said, “My best friend since childhood recently committed suicide.” She told me about her friends’ death and after a few seconds, I said gently, “Play what you are feeling as you think about your friends’ death.”
She began to play a haunting melody and I flipped on the recorder that was sitting on the piano. Then I said some song lyrics to the music. When we played back the tape, we had written a song called, Coming Home. I was so excited about what she had done that I said with characteristic reserve, “Let’s write a musical!”
Over the next few weeks I wrote a contemporary love story about what might happen if the first Christmas was to occur today—in the 21st Century. Our story was about a young Jewish couple on the brink of their marriage—who were both virgins. Just before the wedding the bride-to-be announces to her beloved the good news that she is pregnant—and that the baby’s father is God. From there the story unfolds.
I’d write a song in Texas and Gloria would write the music in California. When we finished and got it recorded, the idea was so scary to the church of that time that it sold only a few copies. We went to New York and presented it to ABC, who were initially interested, but finally sent it back. So I buried it in the files—with a “you can’t win ‘em all” attitude.
Then last fall, over a quarter of a century later, the folks at the Bellagio asked Gloria if she had anything different about Christmas that she could present in her evening concerts. She mentioned the Joseph Loves Mary story. An opera soloist friend of Gloria’s heard the story and the music and suggested they write it into a light opera. The money was raised, advance advertising began and the cast was being lined up as the light opera folio grew. Then suddenly the man with the money disappeared. Once again, Joseph Loves Mary was about to slip beneath the surface.
I listened to our version once more before re-filing it away and asked a few friends to listen to it. The result is the enclosed CD which we and Gloria edited from the original version. It may not break any records—so to speak—but I got to know a great lady and we had fun writing a musical about Christmas. And in our lives at least, the recording has historical significance.