About the author:
Fans of classic TV variety shows have seen the name Kenny Solms in the credits as a writer of The Carol Burnett Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, as well as specials starring Julie Andrews, the Osmonds, Mary Tyler Moore, Lily Tomlin and many more. While earning numerous prizes for his television work, Solms found time to co-write the book of the 1974 Broadway musical Lorelei, starring Carol Channing, and later worked on theatrical revues featuring the music of Frank Loesser (Perfectly Frank), Burt Bacharach and Hal David (What the World Needs Now) and Sammy Cahn (Ain’t That a Kick in the Head). Solms eventually experienced Hollywood’s ever-present age discrimination, and as he considered his career and life choices, he did the only thing possible: He turned them into comedy. Solms' new play, It Must Be Him, begins previews on August 24 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater with Peter Scolari in a role based on the author. Below, Solms shares with Broadway.com readers the roots of his new work.
About 20 years ago, when Les Miserables was the hit of the decade, I had dinner with one of its directors, John Caird. He was a fan of The Carol Burnett Show and was anxious to know if I wanted to write for the theater. When I told him “more than anything else in the world,” he had one caveat. He said, “Don’t write your own life, whatever you do.” I didn’t quite understand what he meant by that, but I wasn’t about to write about the French Revolution or the fall of Saigon anyway.
My theatrical experience up until now has been writing musicals about Lorelei Lee, Frank Loesser, Sammy Cahn and Burt Bacharach. It may have taken a couple of decades, but I’ve finally gotten around to writing about the one person I really know about…me. So, John, I hope you’re not disappointed that I’m not storming the barricades of the Bastille—just the ones at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.
Writing about one’s life is probably what everybody should do when they hit 65. It’s freeing. It’s a living diary. It perplexes. It stimulates. It rationalizes most of the things one never could justify in the first place.
In It Must Be Him, Louie Wexler (Peter Scolari), a whiz kid comedy writer from the heyday of variety television, is now down on his luck. With his devoted agent (John Treacy Egan) and his considerably less devoted housekeeper (Liz Torres) by his side, Louie finds himself broke, lonely and on the wrong side of middle age. Desperate to rekindle his fading career, save his posh Beverly Hills home and find the man of his dreams, Louie searches high and low for one last shot at his own real-life happy ending. While the present is very much alive, the past rears its ugly yet hilarious head with visits from Louie’s deceased parents (Bob Ari and Alice Playten), his high school sweetheart (Stephanie D’Abruzzo), and his brother (Jonathan C. Kaplan).
Writing It Must Be Him made me come to terms with my parents and the things I could never say to them when they were alive. My reflections. My feelings. My questions. The answered ones and the unanswered ones. And even theirs too. Essentially, the play is about the struggle to grow up, to make peace with your parents and most importantly, peace with yourself. In some weird way, it could be looked at as a tilted Death of a Salesman. Instead of a lot of drama, there’s a lot of comedy. And a movie! And a musical!
I also touch on the dilemma of ideation—one’s internalized idea of something sexual. Why older men are attracted to younger men when the right match has been staring them in the face for many years. The more mature match. The more appropriate match.
Finally, It Must Be Him is a play about ageism, a subject I know well by living in Hollywood and working in the entertainment industry, where it’s hard to get a job after you’re 30. Of course, it’s a universal problem. We live in a youth oriented society, where you have to yell to be heard above the crowd. I hope I’ve done that with It Must Be Him. I also hope the audiences will be yelling with laughter, and there’s a crowd to watch our play on 42nd Street.