Waiting for Goodman, the Comedian‘s Son

When he was writing Rooms: A Rock Romance, the two-person musical that premiered at Alexandria’s MetroStage in 2008 before going on to a warmly-reviewed off-Broadway run last year, Paul Scott Goodman inserted a layer of remove from direct autobiography: He based the show’s female character, rather than her male paramour, on himself.

When he returns to MetroStage this weekend, he’ll have no such veil.

Son of a Stand-Up Comedian is the story of a moment in the life of Paul Scott Goodman as written and performed on 12-string guitar by Paul Scott Goodman, 22 or 52 years in the making, depending. The composer/lyricist began working on his solo musical — which he performs in front of a microphone, concert-style, “a rock-and-roll raconteur kind of thing” — in the middle of 1988, when his wife, director Miriam Gordon, was pregnant with Shayna, their first child. Now 21, Shayna is set to graduate from Sarah Lawrence College next month.

“That summer was one of the hottest on record in New York,” Goodman says in the Scottish brogue he’s retained since moving to Manhattan in 1984. “I was working on my first musical, trying to get it on. I was trying to be a father, trying to be a writer, trying to be a husband. It was very trying.”

For most of its life, the show has been called Tiny Dancer, after the Elton John-song nickname he and Miriam gave to their baby during Miriam’s first pregnancy. At one stage, the show had a second character, based on Goodman’s wife, who narrated a day in her life five years after the baby was born. (That segment eventually became its own show, under the title Domestica.) Goodman performed early iterations at several storied Manhattan venues in the days before Rudy Giuliani and the Times Square Disney Store: He played it at The Bitter End and The Bottom Line, and at the West Bank Café Theatre on 42nd Street near Ninth Ave. “I remember being scared walking down the block.”

Though he’s fiddled with the show intermittently throughout the last two decades, it was the death of his father last year that spurred him to revise and rename it. The elder Goodman, who lived to be 75 before succumbing to complications from diabetes, moonlit in comedy clubs and amateur theatrical productions throughout his life, encouraging his son’s interest in performing.

“He used to sell boyswear, clothes — ‘manufacturer’s agent,’ I think they called it,” Goodman says. “But his heart was always in show business. I once asked him why he didn’t make it his life. He told me he lacked the courage.”

He was, however, an active member of the Avrom Greenbaum Players, a Glasgow-based Jewish amateur theatre company that staged two shows every year. Parodies of popular musicals ,with titles like Hi There, Sadie! were typical.

“It was My Fair Lady, the lyrics replaced with topical, local, Jewish references,” Goodman says.

As a teen in Glasgow, Goodman played in a punk band called the 4 Skins. He moved to London in 1977, the year the Clash’s first album was released, though Goodman was more into James Taylor and Elton John. He loved the musicals West Side Story and Sunday in the Park with George. His own songcraft bears traces of the bitter humor of early Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, two other singer/songwriters Goodman counts as influential.

For the musical theatre, Goodman has written original material exclusively, with the exception of Bright Lights, Big City, his 1999 adaptation of Jay McInerney’s novel. He hopes Alive in the World, his romance set in Manhattan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, may get a full production next year. But Broadway isn’t the be-all, end-all for him.

“There a bit in the [current] show where this guy I go to get a job from is telling me, ‘Broadway’s dead, it’s all over,’” Goodman says. “When I wrote that 20 years ago, I would perform it with a lot of anger. Now, it’s more resignation. Because Broadway is never going to die, but you’re never going to get much out of it. Most of the shows are just big and stupid and phony and for the tourists.”

Goodman stands in lonely opposition, an ensemble of one.

Son of a Stand-Up Comedian is at MetroStage through May 9.

This story appears in today’s Examiner.

I wrote about Goodman’s show Rooms, a Rock Romance, for the Washington Post in July 2008.

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