I recently sat down for coffee with songwriter Rori Nogee, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the new rock musical, Siren’s Den, which opens next week. We discussed how she began writing the show, being a Rent groupie, and how music has the power to heal.
How did Siren’s Den originate?
I wrote my first song when I was sixteen years old, when I fell in love, because I write songs when I am heartbroken. I basically write because it’s therapeutic for me, it’s cathartic to make closure for myself and to get my feelings out. That all started with a play I wrote called, Down This Road, which had a little bit of songs in it. The two leads were playing songwriters and the audience said that their favorite parts of the show were the music. The emotions were so heightened I realized that they should be sung. So Siren’s Den started kind of as a prequel to that story, as a big musical, using some of the songs that I had written when I was sixteen. And then as I continued to work on it, I realized these characters need to tell stories that are specific to them so a lot of that got scrapped along the way and rewritten.
But the whole idea for the story was sparked by a situation that I had for about a decade. I was really big Rent groupie, as was Stephen my producer that’s how we met. All of the groupies, it was a lot of girls, and they were just vicious with each other and they would pick their favorite cast member to cling onto. I sort of started having this thing with one of the cast members that I fell madly in love with and then everyone hated me, because I was that cast member’s favorite. It became this whole thing and eventually the feelings were not returned and I was dismissed as a crazy fan girl after seven years of being friends with this person. And that was soul crushing, really soul crushing, and so I just started writing all this music about it. Then I thought that this is the story that I need to tell. I need to tell my side of what happened. I am not some crazy fan girl that was stalking some person. There was a real relationship there.
So I decided to tell my side of the story and hoped the audience will feel what unrequited love is like. I wrote it for me. And as it got out there with workshops and festivals, and as other people heard the music, it seemed to resonate with them. They would come up to me and say, “Oh my God I went through something just like this, I knew a person just like this. I don’t know if this is true, but it must be, because this is so emotionally raw.” And the show just kept going because of the response from the audience that I got. So I want to keep telling it and get it out to as many people as possible.
Where did you get the idea to combine Greek mythology with something so modern as a rock musical?
Originally, when I started to write this it was called Fan Girl and the point was that she wasn’t really a fan at all. She was important to this person and just dismissed as a fan. I always knew that the Greek chorus would be vultures, thinking like paparazzi, how they circle something that’s about to die. So I figured the groupies should be called Vultures. And then one day I came across Margaret Atwood’s poem called “Siren’s Song,” and it was all the personality traits of the main rock star character. How they bring someone in and seduce them, and use them, and take what they want from them and they’re even bored doing it because they’ve done it so many times before. Then they dismiss them when they don’t want them anymore. It was called “Siren Song” and I thought how perfect is that! So I decided to call it Siren’s Den, which is the name of the rock club that the show centers around. So the way the Greek Sirens would draw in the sailors and kill them, in this show it’s a female rock singer who is on her way out, but she seduces everyone that she meets and destroys them emotionally in some way so they are not their former selves. All because I came across a Margaret Atwood poem that inspired me and it changed everything.
Tell me a little about the plot of Siren’s Den.
It opens at the end when this singer named Remy is about to make her Siren’s Den debut. We learn that this rock God named Skylar has died that evening. Then it flashes back to Remy being a cocktail waitress, she just moved to New York to be a songwriter and she’s excited to meet her idol. So Remy meets Skylar and they have this instant connection, it becomes romantic, a romantic obsession. Except Skylar has a boyfriend and eventually a husband. Skylar keeps them both on a leash, using what she wants from them and she makes a lot of promises to Remy, which she doesn’t keep. It inspires Remy to write all these songs, which get her recognized, getting her on the radio. She gets a record deal and her fame starts to rise as Skylar starts to sink, and of course then Skylar becomes bitter when she’s a nobody and she’s crawling back to Remy. Then Remy has to decide; do I take this person back who caused me so much pain or do I not? She begins to question whether she can she even enjoy her own success when all the songs she wrote were about how broken she was and how every time she sings them she has to relive everything she went through. It’s about the double-edged sword of fame.
You’ve been working on Siren’s Den for eight years, how has the show changed over time?
There have been a lot of different changes. A lot of different cast members. Songs have been rewritten, songs have been scrapped, and songs have been added. Scenes have moved around in different places. In the workshop we found out that 2 hours and 40 minutes was really way too long for a show to be, so we had to cut and tighten it, but the heart of the show has remained the same the whole time; which is that love can destroy or inspire you. You can just be completely destroyed by it or you can write about it and make something beautiful out of your feelings. This current cast is amazing. They all have some insane credits like they were on the Rent tour, the Miss Saigon tour, the Jesus Christ Superstar tour. The choreographer is William Bailey and we also have some amazing dancers.
What instruments are in the band?
Unfortunately, due to sound restrictions at The Gene Frankel, we can’t make too much noise so the music is pre-recorded tracks that were made with live instruments; piano, bass, electric guitar, and a couple of the songs have some synth strings as well. It’s really a five-piece band and you hear that fullness of that in the tracks, which is why I didn’t want to quiet it down and do the show with just a piano. But we will be doing a live concert version of the show benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fits AIDS on June 5th at The Laurie Beechman Theatre, right after we close.
The show tackles dark subject matter like addiction, fame, and the music industry. Tell me about that.
The show covers how love is an addiction just as how you can become addicted to drugs. It’s all the same symptoms that you go through. It all came from that fact that I am a sensitive person and when I fall in love it’s no holds barred, it’s all or nothing. It’s awful, but there are also people out there who have never felt like that and that makes me sad too, because music is more meaningful, colors are brighter when you’re in love. But it can also be a very unhealthy situation. Where you can’t think about anything else and you stop focusing on yourself, and you love someone else more than you love yourself. That is something that I went through that hopefully I’m on the other side of now. I’ve found out that there are a lot of people who have fallen for the wrong person at some point in time, because the right person would not make you feel this way.
Does the person who inspired the show know about it?
We have not spoken in years, but social media is everywhere and word of the show is out. I haven’t told them, but somebody must have at this point. We will see if they decide to come and show up. I didn’t villiainize anyone. It’s about a lot of messed up people and you see why they are the way they are. Why they make the choices they do. So even when people in the show are doing shitty things, you feel for them, because you see both side and you know where they’re coming form. So I would hope if my muse came to the show, she would rethink some of her actions towards me.
Siren’s Den runs May 24 through June 3 at The Gene Frankel Theater.