Roger Zelazny's Musical - Godson: A Play in Three Acts

by David G. Grubbs

David G. Grubbs

I am Death. (At least I play him on stage.) Death likes football, chess, classical music and his godson, David, who will be a doctor. (Yes it is confusing that I, David, play Death and David, Death's godson, will be played by Larry Seiler. But I don't speak of myself in the third person, so "David" below is Death's godson.)

You can watch David, his aunt and uncle, his girl Betty and her father, his bicycle, his doctor, and his godfather, Death, in the second world-wide performance of our production of Roger Zelazny's only musical, Godson: A Play in Three Acts. The play will be staged on Wednesday evening as part of Renovation's Music Night.

In 1994, Roger Zelazny's short story "Godson" appeared in the anthology Black Thorn, White Rose ed. by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling. In it he retells "Godfather Death", a tale recorded two centuries ago by the Brothers Grimm.

Zelazny's wit and sense of humor couldn't accept the rather grim tale, a typical cautionary tale from the Brothers Grimm, so he altered it, turning it into something lighter. As in the Grimms' tale, Death still finds David's rebellious nature difficult to control, but in Zelazny's interpretation, David stands a chance of surviving the encounter.

Time passed ... A dozen years later, NESFA Press spent three years creating The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny. Its 3,472 pages in six volumes contain all of Zelazny's known short fiction and poetry, along with 15 introductions and memoria, dozens of essays, 19 unclassifiable curiosities and a 100,000 word literary biography. Michael Whelan produced a panoramic painting for the project, filled with references to common Zelazny themes. Alice Lewis crafted the painting into six dust jackets, each displaying a segment of Whelan's work. And you can see the entire painting splashed across the spines of the six books placed together.

While working on The Collected Stories, Chris Kovacs searched through Zelazny's papers at several University archives. In one of them, he found a copy of an unpublished musical that Zelazny had written, based on "Godson". It lacked a score, though there was a hint in Zelazny's papers that he had planned to engage someone to set the play's lyrics to music. But, sadly, he ran out of time.

Larry Seiler & Pat Lawrence

Both "Godson" and Godson: A Play in Three Acts appear in volume 6 of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny.

After our three-year obsession with Roger Zelazny's short fiction that resulted in publication of The Collected Stories, I couldn't get the play out of my mind. I wanted to see it performed. I wanted to play Death.

Several of Zelazny's friends, some of whom contributed introductions to The Collected Stories, described Zelazny's performance of the play at a party held a few months before he died. In the absence of music, he intoned the musical numbers. The performance remains a happy memory of Roger Zelazny for all who experienced it. I wanted to recreate that.

So I became a producer (and assistant director), cast myself as Death, found actors, singers, assistant producers, stage crew, accompanists, projectionists and other helpers to participate, and staged the world premiere of Godson: A Play in Three Acts at Boskone 47 in February 2010. The premiere performance had started as a plan for a simple dramatic reading of the text at a regional convention. It grew with the enthusiasm of the participants, adding music, staging, sound effects, acting, and props, until what you'll see will be a nearly fully staged musical, with a libretto by Roger Zelazny.

After telling people for three years how much I'd like to see the play produced — and suggesting that I should play "Death" — it was impossible to avoid seeing it through. I wrote the melodies for the play's dozen songs and helped polish the chord changes and piano accompaniment contributed by my musician friends Jerry Sabatini and Debra LeBrun (who is slated to accompany us during the Renovation performance).

The Boskone 47 presentation was well enough received that the cast and crew believe Renovation attendees will enjoy it too.

So, please attend our presentation of Roger Zelazny's Godson: A Play in Three Acts, as part of Music Night at Renovation. It is certain to be a memorable performance.