Shanker and Zwetchkenbaum to resurrect 'Legally Drew'

by Will Tackett | 2/1/16 6:00pm

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Daniel Shanker '16 and Drew Zwetchkenbaum '16 partnered to write the musical "Legally Drew," showing in March.

Daniel Shanker ’16 and Drew Zwetchkenbaum ’16’s musical, “Legally Drew,” got its title from a joke about Zwetchkenbaum’s first name, though he wasn’t involved with the conception of the play.

A freshman floormate of Zwetchkenbaum, whose first name is Drew and not Andrew, once asked Zwetchkenbaum about his name, Zwetchkenbaum said. Zwetchkenbaum replied that his name was “legally Drew,” a phrase that the floormate pointed out would be a good name for a musical, Zwetchkenbaum said.

“That night or the next day [he and Shanker] wrote a song and I found out about it and I was like you guys can’t write this without me — it’s about my name,” he said.

As Zwetchkenbaum became more involved in the writing, the other floormate left the project and Shanker and Zwetchkenbaum continued working on the musical.

“It was just us two writing songs every night or every other night for the rest of the term,” Zwetchkenbaum said.

The pair wrote four more songs their freshman fall, Fall 2012. Over winter break, Zwetchkenbaum and Shanker worked on the musical individually and completed it during winter term before staging the musical Spring 2013. Now, the pair plan to bring the show back for another round.

“Legally Drew” follows a “loser character” who sees legally changing his name as a symbolic first step towards turning his life around for the better, Zwetchkenbaum said.

“It’s pretty biographical,” quipped Shanker.

On the creation of “Legally Drew” Zwetchkenbaum said, “We were like, what is an anti-musical, and how could we do that?”

They took multiple approaches to writing, starting with lyrics, a chord progression or melody, but the process was always collaborative, Zwetchkenbaum said.

“Either I’d have an idea or he’d have an idea and we set it to some sort of chord progression that he would have and generally it would be us riffing with melodies and jokes until we completed the song,” Zwetchkenbaum said about the writing process.

In general, Zwetchkenbaum took on lyric and script-writing duties while Shanker handled composing music. Shanker had a year’s experience writing music before they started the musical.

“I just really love The Cure and Elliot Smith,” Shanker said, wryly citing archetypal indie rock influences. Anything he listens to can influence the songs he writes. In terms of comedic songwriting, he largely drew from Randy Newman and Flight of the Conchords, Shanker said.

“They can make something really funny still sound like a real song, which is something I tried very deliberately to do in the musical,” Shanker said.

Sometimes Shanker had a specific style in mind when writing a song, emulating different artists including Rage Against the Machine, Coldplay and Marvin Gaye, for numbers in order to achieve a certain humor or irony, Shanker said.

Josh Cetron ’16, who plays drums in the pit for “Legally Drew,” said “the style of those songs is this incredibly clever, funny, but really almost pop style.”

“It is easy to listen to and it’s exciting to listen to and it’s fun to listen to musically,” Cetron said. “And then when you start listening to it lyrically, it is just incredibly funny and clever.”

Fellow pit percussionist and bassist Simone Wien ’16 added that the music is “really indulgent and fun,” saying that at one point, for instance, Shanker had her playing a “really grungy, rock bassline” as well as Latin percussion, timpani and mallet percussion.

Shanker formerly wrote songs for the campus band Some Kind of Jet Pilot, the members of which are now part of Half the City. For Some Kind of Jet Pilot, Shanker wrote more introspective songs that focused on personal exploration. For “Legally Drew,” in contrast, Shanker took a whimsical approach to the music.

For example, one song consists of a nine piece kazoo orchestra, Shanker said.

Cetron, who played in both student bands, described Shanker’s song-writing style in the context of Some Kind of Jet Pilot.

Cetron said that Shanker’s influences range from ska to alt-rock.

Shanker does not only write music intended for bands or musicals, Cetron said.

“Daniel is somebody who seeks every opportunity he can to inject music into his life,” Cetron said. “His sort of desire to weave [music] into his daily life, write songs for Frisbee formals and banquets, small opportunities to make music — it’s something that’s just a representative part of his life.”

Zwetchkenbaum, meanwhile, started writing for theater productions in high school. He mostly wrote one-act plays and a few skits. During his first year of high school, he got involved with a student group that put on one-act plays by acting in a play his sister wrote, Zwetchkenbaum said.

“I thought it was so fun,” Zwetchkenbaum said. “Every year after that I wrote one. And I realized I really liked writing.”

Though a theater minor, Zwetchkenbaum’s writing extends beyond musicals. He writes for the Jack-O-Lantern humor magazine and has written sketches for campus improv group Casual Thursday as well as a sketch group. He has also written a few plays that “never turned into anything,” including another one with Shanker, Zwetchkenbaum said.

“It’s a very self-aware, B-List kind of musical in that everyone involved and the plot is aware how absurd all this is,” Wien said of the musical’s writing. “It allows you to have a lot of fun with it.”

This kind of musical is an extension of the style of “stupid, goofy plays” Zwetchkenbaum started writing in high school including, for example, a play within a play within a play, said.

“My mom said she liked it better than ‘Book of Mormon,’” Shanker said.

“Legally Drew” will be performed on Friday March 4, Saturday March 5 and Sunday March 6 in Silsby 28.

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