OK, so now I’m officially fascinated by the writers of the American Girl musical Circle of Friends. Who are these two women, and how did they get this AG gig? And hey: They’re 70!
Alright…what a great testament to the longevity of musical theater careers…and something for me to look forward to in 30 years…
From the Composer’s and Lyricists database:
b. October 17, 1935, Dunreith, IN
Writer, actress, lyricist.
Cryer is not always happy to be called a ‘feminist’ lyricist. She is the words half of Broadway’s only dual female composer-lyricist team, Cryer and Ford. She is best known for her off-Broadway musical libretto and lyrics for the show ‘I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road’. This daughter of Mr. and Mrs. E.W. Kiger, Jr. (of Dunreith, IN) graduated from Spiceland High School and then DePauw University. Cryer, at age 18, met Nancy Ford when they were both attending DePauw University. Nancy was a music major, and Gretchen was also taking a few music courses while studying English as her major. Collaborating with Nancy Ford who wrote the music, Gretchen wrote the book and lyrics for a number of successful plays based on Gretchen’s experiences growing up in Henry County, IN. Perhaps the most personal of her work is, “I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road.” And, among the other plays that Gretchen wrote with Ms. Ford are, “Now Is The Time For All Good Men,” “The Last Sweet Days of Isaac” and “Shelter.” While continuing her studies as a graduate student at Harvard University, Gretchen and Nancy Ford wrote a show ‘For Reasons of Loyalty’, that was produced by Boston Univ.
Cryer had been ‘keeping company’ with a student named David Cryer, and when he graduated, the two got married (in Indiana), after which David enrolled in Yale University’s Berkeley Divinity School. Nancy Ford also married a man who was attending the Divinity School and so the two ladies went to live with their husbands in the Yale married students dormitory, and both got day jobs as secretarys. Cryer, from age 18, had performed as a chorus girl in summer stock musical shows, but never took any formal courses in playwriting. Gretchen’s family had told her that she had two distant cousins, David Niven, and Cornelia Otis Skinner.
In 1967, the team mounted a musical ‘Now Is the Time For All Good Men’, on the New York Stage. It was produced by Cryer’s husband and David Poland (no one else wanted the property). The show was about Cryer’s Pacifist brother, and was panned by the critics.
In 1970, their off-Broadway show ‘The Last Sweet Days of Isaac’ was a big success. It won an Obie; Drama Desk; and Outer Circle Awards, and was hailed by the critics. Nancy Ford’s music for the play has been described as ‘Baroque Rock’.
In 1973, their first Broadway show, ‘Shelter’ had no great success despite some pleasant critical reviews. The show’s main character was a computer that wrote commercials.
Gretchen was working as a chorus girl in Broadway musicals, helping to support the family. But, her feeling that she was not taking responsibility for her own life finally ended the marriage. In 1968, Cryer was divorced from husband David. David has given up the ministry for the theater. Her son Jon Cryer has appeared in many films and TV shows. Daughter Robin has appeared with her mother in Cabaret shows and youngest daughter Shelley works in theatre make-up.
Nancy and Gretchen had been continuing to write songs and singing them in cabarets. In 1978, her next show was ‘I’m Getting My Act Together’; it contained much autobiographical material. Cryer sang and acted in her own play, with material relating to her own life. Despite being panned by the New York critics, the show eventually gained an audience, and producer Joe Papp moved it from the Public Theater to Circle On The Square Theater on Broadway, where it enjoyed a three year run.
When last heard of, Cryer was working on a show of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life. It was to be mounted on a San Diego stage.