Kid Creole and The Coconuts were one of the most popular bands in the 80's and became even bigger in Europe. But before the coconuts came along, August Darnell (Kid Creole), was in the Grammy-nominated band Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band (managed by Tommy Mottola, no less), and they had a major radio hit with “Cherchez La Femme.” Now, Bronx-born Darnell is back in the big town bringing Cherchez La Femme to the stage at La Mama in New York's East Village. Now, Bronx-born August Darnell (Kid), is back in the big town bringing Cherchez La Femme to the stage at La Mama in New York's East Village. It's been a long journey but after sitting in on a rehearsal with August and his creative team, I can confidently say the wait has been worth it. This show will bring back an 80's New York rhythm that is much in vogue in today's pop culture. Darnell spoke of his experiences during that time and how this show came to life.
TR: How did this play come about and how much of it is autobiographical?
AD: Cherchez La Femme, the Musical has its roots in the Kid Creole and the Coconuts album entitled Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places (1981). That album was a concept album that told the story of one man's journey to find the love of his life. I called it my version of Jason's search for the Golden Fleece in Greek mythology. This same story was embellished in 1984 and made into a film for television in Great Britain. It was then called Something Wrong in Paradise. A stage version of this idea was discussed with Joe Papp in New York in the late 80's but never came to fruition. Many years passed and Vivien Goldman and I decided to re-visit this story and change it into a paean to Manhattan in the 80's. Originally it was called I'm A Wonderful Thing. Version 9 became Cherchez La Femme. The story of Cherchez La Femme centers around a bandleader named Caufy Keeps and his reckless mission to rekindle his relationship with the love of his life. There is nothing autobiographical about the play except for the obvious fact that I too am a bandleader (and I too have an oversized ego)! Caufy Keeps and all the characters were inspired by a whole lot of crazy people that I have met on my incredible journey on the treacherous road we call the 'Music Business.' But to be sure, the play is a work of FICTION. Nothing more, nothing less.
TR: What inspired the song Cherchez La Femme?
Cherchez la Femme, the song, was written in 1976. I have no idea what inspired me to write such an ugly lyric about women. I must have been watching too many James Cagney movies!
TR: Your music has a strong bond to the rhythm and energy of 70's and 80's New York City. Describe what the city was like during those days and how it was to work and live during those days.
AD: I am a product of New York City. I was born in the Bronx, and when I escaped from there I lived in Manhattan. I fell in love with the rhythm of the city; so much so that I penned what is arguably my most famous lyric: "When you leave New York you go nowhere!" I lived on Central Park South in those heady days so I had a strong appreciation of the splendor in the grass and the shudder of the streets. Many a lyric was written in the park. And many an inspiration came from hanging out at night with the mad clubbers who seemed to worship hedonism. It was a most remarkable way to spend my youth. Manhattan made me. No other city in the world (and I have been to most) could have created August Darnell. And in my humble opinion, no other city in the world has the good fortune of having so many beautiful women on parade at all hours of the day and night!
TR: The city has changed drastically since then. How would you describe New York's energy today after the major gentrification and homogenization that has occurred? Is it less or more creatively inspiring?
AD: I do not live in New York City now. I recognize it has changed when I visit it but it does not interest me to dwell on it. Why? Because I know I am not trapped in its jaws. I can leave whenever I want to. My New York visits usually last a week. After a week I usually yearn for the idyllic tranquility of southern Sweden (where I live half the year) or the romantic trade winds of Maui (where I live the other half). But my current visit is the longest stay-over in over 2 decades. I am here working on this show and auditions and rehearsals have kept me here for over 3 months. And I have been staying in the East Village. I should point out that when I lived in Manhattan I was always a midtown guy. Living in the East Village is an eye opener. It actually reminds me of the old New York City. There is so much creativity happening in the Village. Every turn I make I see ambition and energy and creation. It's a damn good thing.
TR: You also wrote one of my favorite club hits There But For The Grace of God Go I - what inspired that?
AD: It's a natural outgrowth of living in a city that has its racial problems and outrageous prejudices sometimes, unfortunately.
TR: You collaborated with Vivien Goldman, known as "The Punk Professor" - what were her contributions to this play?
The PUNK PROFESSOR! I love that title. Without Vivien this play would never have been written. I'd be relaxing in the Swedish countryside and Viv would be nagging me day in and day out: "Have you finished the song? Let's discuss this character's motivation! I don't agree with using curse words! Let's discuss page 35!" Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Our collaboration is a very fluid, electrifying one. I'd say the book is an amazing 50/50 creation. And that is very rare.
TR: Where do you see this play going after the run at La Mama?
AD: Well, my dreams are large. They have always been large. We hope a Commercial Producer comes along and brings it toThe Public Theatre. I had a great relationship with Joe and his wife Gail in the good old days. We even worked on a rock version of The Mikado together but then a Kid Creole tour got in the way. Such is life. The dream continues ... after the Public Theatre .... Broadway and London's West End, of course. Why not? If your dreams don't scare you, then your dreams aren't BIG enough.
Cherchez La Femme
The Ellen Stewart Theatre at La Mama
66 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
Previews begin May 20, 2016