In this day and age, what does it take to produce a new musical called Possibility Junkie, based loosely on a real-life troubadour who writes and sings songs of life, love and the world we live in? If you're David Ippolito, NYC's iconic street musician and premiere possibility junkie, then you start with an organic belief that music can change the world and then present it in a fun, provocative story interwoven with a message of hope.
Ippolito, a folk-rock songwriter known around the world as "That Guitar Man from Central Park" has spent warm-weather Saturdays singing in Central Park for over 20 years. Fans gather in an area now known as the "Hill" to hear him sing songs for nearly six hours, a regular event he started in June 1992 in order to "make a little lunch money," according to Ippolito. In recent years, Ippolito's colleagues and friends persuaded him that the messages in his songs, and his ability to present his opinions with humor and genuine honesty needed to be shared with a wider audience. In fact, Ippolito's personal story is one of possibilities and creating one's own reality.
Ippolito's new Broadway style musical Possibility Junkie tells the story of That Guitar Man and a song he has written which pokes fun at a thin-skinned conservative talk show host, Sean Kilroy, at a fictional news network. When the song goes viral online, Kilroy engages a young, attractive and eager network staff member, Ainsley Louis, to assist in exposing That Guitar Man and his network of friends. As this semi-autobiographical story unfolds, the audience is drawn to That Guitar Man's quest for truth through music and Ainsley's desire to work her way up the corporate news ladder -- each of them creating and living their own reality.
Through the characters, lyrics and narrative, it is clear that Ippolito has been inspired by the music of a generation where artists' ideas about the world's current affairs helped to convey the feelings of a nation. The songs of Possibility Junkie are filled with lyrics about the world as seen through the eyes of the characters and their reality. For example, there is a the young rap artist walking a new sober path, an older black "hippie" who feels the passion in lyrics which are meant to awaken an audience, and Kilroy, who believes it is his duty to protect this country by presenting the truth. Ainsley is swept up by That Guitar Man's commitment to not only believing the words he sings but living them, and his willingness to expose his story through music, yet is torn because she can't fully grasp that an adult male would choose to fiercely stand by his beliefs, even if it means that he sacrifices living a grander life.
Ippolito himself does believe that he can change people through music. Even more importantly, Ippolito lives a fulfilling life doing what he loves, which is evident not only in the music but in the stories he shares with his audience -- both in Central Park and in Possibility Junkie. While Ippolito declares that the show isn't delivering a political message, it's clear that Possibility Junkie has a viewpoint, although at least one song in the musical pokes fun at many well-known political newsmakers on both sides of the aisle. Ippolito most often uses humor to open the door for his audience to understand and appreciate his views.
That Guitar Man's background as told in Possibility Junkie is Ippolito's story. His rise to fame as That Guitar Man from Central Park is unique -- there are no other buskers making a living playing in one place for as long as he has been, and for so many people. On any given Saturday, there are over a thousand people who hear his music. He knows he is doing what he is meant to do in this world: Write songs and sing them for an audience. Possibility Junkie gives him the vehicle to share his messages of love, truth, hope and possibility with a much wider audience.
It is this desire to share his message with more people that incentivized Ippolito to pursue writing a musical, a theatrical production that he hopes to take to a much bigger stage. It is his belief in possibilities that gave Ippolito the determination to move Possibility Junkie each step from workshop to staged reading to its current three-week limited run showcase at the Theater For the New City on New York City's east village. Throughout this process, Ippolito has added creative talents to assist in Possibility Junkie's growth, including joining with Gretchen Cryer, who co-wrote the book and directs the production.
One of Ippolito's biggest fans, and dear friend, was the late Sid Bernstein, who brought the Beatles to America. Bernstein was a possibility junkie who was always searching for the next great musical act and for another opportunity to change the world, especially through music. In Ippolito, Bernstein saw someone who fiercely believed in the power and inspiration of a song. Ippolito isn't naïve in his beliefs, particularly about the complexities and money necessary to create and stage a new musical, but he isn't afraid to take leaps. With a limited budget, he recreates the magic that happens in Central Park, shares his own history and tells an entertaining fictional story, all of this meant to convince each audience member to "Keep Hope Alive."
Possibility Junkie completes its run at the Theater For the New City, 955 First Avenue, New York City on October 20, 2013. See here for more information.