1955: Bill Haley & The Comets hit the top of the pop music charts with “Rock Around The Clock.” Two 14-year-old boys begin coming of age, Nick in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Eddie in New York’s quintessentially suburban Borough of Queens.
“There’s something in the wind I can’t deny and it’s blowin’ around things I thought were mine,” young Nick sings in “11th Street,” a transitional song, with one foot in the American pop songbook and the other in the emergent music that’s “in the wind.” The song opens “Leaving Pleasantville.”
Meanwhile, the changing times begin to turn young Eddie’s life from the summer games he sings of in “Astoria Park” to “a quest for goals and aims.” Nick and Eddie meet as teenagers, playing their now-edgier music in an “Early Rock ‘n’ Roll Band.” They become lifelong friends, players swept up in the period of great social change, from the mid-‘50s through the end of the ‘60s. The new music of rock ‘n’ roll provides the soundtrack.
The exploits of those out front in these transformative cultural and sociological campaigns were subjects of ongoing exposure in the media of the day. The country watched and read about civil rights leaders and martyrs, feminist activists, radical anti-war agitators, along with those who wrote the accompanying music and lyrics. There were the folk icons, Sun Studio rockabillies, invading British bands, the musical innovators of progressive jazz, and the beat poets.
But what of the boots on the ground so greatly impacted by these cultural and sociological movements? In particular, American-born descendants of European immigrants, the first in their families to attend college and aspire to more than blue-collar jobs. What of the young women caught up in the female ascendency, wanting to take their places, if only as part of the movement’s new rank-and-file?
As an adult, Eddie is a frustrated writer, who dreams of being an acclaimed novelist, but can only land jobs writing press releases or ad copy. Nick wants to prove he can play in the great financial theatre of Wall Street but battles his father who wants him to take over his “grease-on-your-hands” machine shop. Sara, Eddie’s wife, yearns to escape her seemingly endless “Young
Mothers' Waltz and join the feminist movement. Emily, Nick's wife, " A Woman of Means," determines to break free of her existences as a stay-at-home wife and assert her individuality in a larger world.
Nick and Eddie, now in their 70s, have come back together, after several years apart, to attend the funeral of an old band mate. They sit on a bench, Stage Left, and reminisce about the transformational period that set the course of their lives. On Center Stage, the significant scenes of their lives play out.
"Leaving Pleasantville" is their story set to music.