Possibility Junkie by David Ippolito and Gretchen Cryer

“Possibility Junkie” is a new musical theater work by David Ippolito (music, lyrics, book) and directed by Gretchen Cryer (“I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road”), who co-authored the book. The story is based loosely on the career of David Ippolito, who is known to hundreds of thousands of people across the country and around the world as “That Guitar Man from Central Park.”

Part singer/songwriter, part storyteller, part social-commentator and humorist, Ippolito has become famous for his simple catch phrase, “It’s just us,” and his ability to turn a large crowd of strangers into a group of friends. Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., NYC will present the work September 28 to October 20, 2013.

Possibility Junkie
David Ippolito (R) plays a street musician who writes a song poking fun at a powerful but thinskinned conservative talk-show host, who sends a beautiful and ambitious young woman (Jillian Louis, L) to entrap and destroy him. Gretchen Cryer directs. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Since 1992, David Ippolito has established himself as perhaps the City’s leading troubadour. Articles have described him as an “organic celebrity,” meaning that his following congealed spontaneously after he turned up in Central Park 22 years ago, shirtless and shoeless, with nothing but precise musicality and boyish good looks (and a small amplifier). His performance space – a lakefront area a few blocks north of Strawberry Fields and West 72nd Street – is now indicated on Central Park maps and his reputation as a New York attraction is international.

Regulars join in, “Rocky Horror” style, for spirited sing-alongs to many of Ippolito’s own compositions and cover tunes like “American Pie” and “Country Roads.”

When his playing and that of many others was blocked (temporarily) by zealous City officials, “That Guitar Man” brought his sounds indoors to venues including Merkin Concert Hall and The Leonard Nimoy Thalia for regular sold-out performances. Other recurring venues have been Soho Playhouse and Hudson River Park’s Pier 45 at Christopher Street. Among the New Yorkers he’s won over was Sid Bernstein, the late rock manager who brought the Beatles to NYC in 1964 and was a fan for years.

Ippolito’s own songs are unabashedly liberal but not heady, relying on Stephen Schwartz-like rhymes and Beatles-like melodies. They include folksy attacks on plastic pop culture (“Tom Cruise Scares Me”) and middlebrowism (“This is a … Stupid Country”). He’s a sometime actor and once (about ten years ago) appeared on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” winning $64,000.

He calls himself a “possibility junkie” because of his addiction to trying anything that could be wished for. He also considers himself to be one of the “luckiest men alive” and delights in recounting the “coincidences” that have brought him to public attention. They include anonymously dropping hand-drawn Christmas Cards at an Upper West Side address that was the former home of Virginia O’Hanlon (“Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”), which caused him to be tracked down for an article in The New York Times.

Possibility Junkie David
David Ippolito. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

In 2009, Ippolito recorded “Resolution (The Torture Song),” a six-minute music video and cri de coeur against American post-9/11 interrogation policies. It was discovered by West Coast activist Cynthia Papermaster, who dipped into her retirement account to boil it down to three :30 commercials that aired in the Bay Area, calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to indict Dick Cheney and others for violating existing laws that should have prevented the use of torture.

It was inevitable that friends and colleagues, including Broadway legend Tony Walton, would eventually persuade “That Guitar Man” to develop a stage musical to bring his music and message to a wider audience. Thus was born “Possibility Junkie,” the musical. It’s the story of a fiercely independent street musician who writes a funny but politically charged song poking fun at a thin-skinned conservative talk-show host, Sean Kilroy, who’s a star of the thinly-fictional broadcast organization FAX News and who considers himself the voice of America.

The satirical song goes viral on YouTube, which REALLY pisses off this powerful right-winger. So Kilroy sends a beautiful and ambitious young woman on a special assignment to entrap and destroy the “Guitar Man.” It sets up a “David and Goliath” scenario and a ride that’s unpredictable, thought-provoking and fun. Throughout, “Possibility Junkie” retains the optimism and fiercely independent spirit that has characterized Ippolito’s career to-date. Tony Walton refers to the show as a “grandchild of Hair.”

The late Sid Bernstein, the rock promoter who brought the Beatles to NYC in 1964, was a fan for 15 years and a unique inspiration for the show. According to Ippolito, Bernstein called frequently with ideas. Ippolito remembers, “Once I got a voice mail saying, ‘David, it’s 9:40 AM. Keep hope alive.’ That gave me the idea for the finale.”

One of the play’s characters, a wise, elderly Black man named Burn, is actually based on Bernstein. Bernstein was inspiration for the title of the show: Ippolito refers to him as the original “possibility junkie.” Bernstein died, at age 95, on August 13, while the show was in rehearsal for this Theater for the New City run.

The project was embraced by Gretchen Cryer (“I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road”), who signed on as co-author and director. Cryer was touched by Ippolito’s “warmth, humor, wit and political edge.” Theater for the New City hosted the piece for a developmental workshop in September, 2012 and will now present the full production.

In this musical, toe-tapping is not enough. The audience is encouraged to sing along, just like the “people on the hill” do when Ippolito performs by The Lake in Central Park. To add to the fun, the score includes adaptations of Ippolito’s perennial favorites, including “Tom Cruise Scares Me” (rewritten as “Sean Kilroy Scares Me” ) and “There Will Always Be People (Who Suck).”

The score draws from Broadway, folk/rock, rap and lyrical pop ballads, all with a main ingredient of audience participation. Visually, the show will look like the essence of its message: that each of us creates the “real world” in which we want to live, offering a starkly visual contrast between a bucolic location in New York’s Central Park, the coldness of a TV news studio and the reality of the city streets.

Music and lyrics are by David Ippolito. Book is by Ippolito and Gretchen Cryer. The show is directed by Ms. Cryer. Musical director is Mike Murray. Choreography is by David Eggers. Set design is by Heather Wolensky. The performers are Jillian Louis, Rob Barnes, Joel H. Jones, David Ippolito, Vanessa Theus, JC Hall and Teresa Reynolds. There is an onstage orchestra of five.

Gretchen Cryer (director) is most well known for writing the book and lyrics and starring in “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road” (with music by Nancy Ford), which won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Musical and a Grammy nomination for its album. Cryer has written numerous other shows with Nancy Ford, including “Now Is the Time for All Good Men” (Off-Broadway), “The Last Sweet Days of Isaac” (Obie Award – Best Musical, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award), “Shelter” (Broadway – Golden Theater), “Hang On to the Good Times” (Manhattan Theater Club), “The Fabulous Party” (Williamstown Theater Festival), “The American Girls Revue” (American Girl Place – Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles), “Circle of Friends” (American Girl Place – Chicago and New York) and “Anne of Green Gables” (Theatreworks, Lortel Theater.) Cryer and Ford have just finished a new show, “Still Getting My Act Together.” “I’m Getting My Act Together…” was recently presented in the Encore series.

Ippolito says, “Gretchen and I and the entire creative team behind ‘Possibility Junkie’ are incredibly grateful to Theater for the New City for presenting this brand new musical to the world. Crystal Field and the crew at TNC create exactly the right atmosphere for a fun and audacious theater piece like this.”

“Possibility Junkie” plays September 28 to October 20, 2013 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., Manhattan. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $25 general admission (TDF accepted). Admission on Tuesdays is pay-what-you-can (available at the box office only). To purchase tickets, go to www.theaterforthenewcity.net. For reservations and further info, call (212) 254-1109.The show’s website is: http://possibilityjunkie.com.