Theatre Kibbitz: Joan Cushing on the Musical ‘Breast in Show’

On July 8, 2010, my husband, Paul Buchbinder, got a call from his doctor saying there was a tumor located in his pancreas. On July 16, he was diagnosed with locally advanced pancreatic cancer. At the time, I dropped everything to take care of him.  Four months later, on November 14, he died. Those four months were the hardest, most heartbreaking, and yet most intensely loving time of our twenty-five year marriage.

One of the projects I had been working on before Paul got sick was a musical about breast cancer called Breast In Show. A local woman, Eileen Mitchard, had interviewed 200 breast cancer survivors. She then approached playwright Lisa Hayes, to write a script, and me, to write music and lyrics. When my husband got sick, I knew I would have to drop out of this project, but Eileen graciously put it off for a year in order to keep me on board.

breast in showFollowing my husband’s death, I started slowly to get my life back on track and working on this musical became a healing experience. Now, I had something to say.

Next weekend, Breast In Show goes up for two nights at the JCC Theatre in Rockville, Maryland. It will be a full production, with sets and lights by Joe Musumeci, costumes by Frank Labovitz, choreography by Ilona Kessel, musical direction by Reenie  Codelka, orchestrations by Keith Tittermary, stage managed by Bridget Woodbury, dramaturged and directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer, and produced by Eileen Mitchard. The cast of six (4f, 2m) includes Iyona Blake, Kate Guesman, Amy McWilliams, Sandy Murphy, Dan Van Why, and Doug Wilder.

Kate and I have worked on 7 projects previously, mostly at Imagination Stage, where Kate is the Associate Producing Director, and I was commissioned to adapt “hot” children’s books as musicals. She is terrific at script development and a really good director. The project has benefitted greatly from her involvement.

Our story follows the lives of four women who have breast cancer, and one man.  Woven in are short monologues taken from interviews, as well as statistics.  The ultimate goal is to raise awareness about breast cancer, raise money for local organizations that provide assistance to breast cancer patients, and to get the eradication of breast cancer in our lifetime on the President’s national agenda.  A highlight of  the show for me is a song I wrote about a nurse. It is based on a real person, my husband’s chemo nurse at Johns Hopkins, where he was in a trial. Her name is Ella Mae Shupe. She treated my husband like gold, and I wanted to thank her and all the nurses out there who take such loving care of their patients. Although the  show specifically addresses breast cancer, we expect it will touch all those who have lost someone to an illness.

This project has truly been a collaborative effort between the writers, the designers, the director, the producer, and the cast. Our piece is infused with humor, seriousness, poignancy, anger, and hope. We sincerely believe that the production at JCC will be the launching pad for many subsequent productions around the country.

Joan Cushing

Joan Cushing  (Music and Lyrics) is best known for her political satirical revue Mrs. Foggybottom & Friends, which ran for 10 hit years at the Omni-Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. In New York, she performed her solo nightclub actLady Sings the News! at the Ballroom, appeared in Gary Trudeau’s Tanner for President series on HBO, directed by Robert Altman, and studied musical theatre writing at the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop.

More recently, she has adapted 9 popular children’s books as musicals, receiving over 300 productions and 3 national tours. Recent adult works include a brand new script forTussaud, based on Madame Tussaud’s bloody pursuit of art; The Christmas Doll, 2007 National Youth Theatre Award for Outstanding New Play/Musical,  world premiere Children’s Theatre of Charlotte; and Lizzie Bright & the Buckminster Boy, First Stage Milwaukee, New Play Series. Three new commissions, for Imagination Stage Oregon Children’s Theatre, and Roanoke Children’s Theatre, will receive world premieres this season. Ms. Cushing lives in the Nation’s Capital. Her  19 year-old son Ben, when not evacuating due to hurricanes, is a Jazz Studies major at Loyola University in New Orleans. Cushing is represented by the Susan Gurman Agency.

Breast In Show plays on Friday and Saturday October 14th and 15th at the Jewish Community Center – 6125 Montrose Road, in Rockville, MD. Purchase tickets online or at the door.

General admission is $50 and “Supporter” tickets are $99. The names of supporters (including logos and web addresses) will remain on the Breast in Show website for one year. One hundred percent of the net proceeds will be donated to three non-profits, Critters for the Cure,  METAvivor  and The Red Devils.

View a personal message from Eileen Mitchard.

Breast in Show website.

Joan’s website.