"All That Jaws": The process

Brian Descheneaux and I came up with the idea for a “Jaws”-based rock opera called “All That Jaws” independently of each other a few years ago. We’d both lived on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where the first movie was filmed, and we’d seen the film dozens of times. Brian was the one who suggested we write the musical together. This was in 2005.

I quickly registered AllThatJaws.com, thinking a title that good wouldn’t go unclaimed for long. It wasn’t until this month that we found that there indeed had been musicals based on Jaws and a short film called “All That Jaws” dating back to 1988. In this case, it was helpful that we operated in a vacuum.

We got together in June, 2005 at the Red Lion in Glendale, CA, a German bar. Brian was born in Germany; I just drink products of that nation. Every time I go there it seems like the waitresses hate me. They love Brian. Anyway, we wrote a short outline of what the musical should be like. One of the original lines was “You’re gonna need a bigger Croat”. I don’t know how we planned to work that in.

Quint’s song, “Show Me the Way to Indianapolis”, was written immediately. It is a distillation of the most famous speech from the movie. “Don’t Close the Beaches!” came quickly after. We recorded demo versions of both, with my wife, Rebecca, playing violin.

I knew I wanted to be in the show from the beginning. I just didn’t know what part I wanted to play.

Over the next 18 months the website lay fallow, Peter Benchley died, and we did nothing with the show. Then an improv festival called Out of Bounds, at which I’d performed for two years in Austin, announced that it would be launching an L.A. brand. The organizer, Mike D’Alonzo, asked me if I’d perform and I said, “What about ‘All That Jaws’?” and he immediately agreed.

The show was in two months and we only had two songs and an outline that involved Croatians. But it was really important to get the show written, and a deadline torpedoed the procrastination. So our timetable dictated that we would write the rest of the show during the month of April, including the script, and then rehearse it throughout May.

Writing the rest of the show proved to be great fun; we got together several times a week and batted ideas around. We made Hooper into sort of a supernatural character, amplifying his weird Deux ex Machina characteristics in which he seemingly returns from the dead. We were especially keen on comparing the book and the movie at opportune moments, so we threw in references to the novel’s affair between Hooper and Ellen Brody, and that more or less required that Hooper die on the page.

We also realized that Brody was not given much of a reason to hate the water, other than drowning. We toyed with the idea of his having been raped by a duck. Finally we came up with a much more palatable cause of his hydrophobia.

Brian had read and loaned me “In Harm’s Way“, an excellent book about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the subject of Quint’s monologue. Turns out that The Indianapolis didn’t deliver the atom bomb the day when Quint/Robert Shaw said it did in the movie, and from that we created a character for Quint in which he laid claim to having been on every famous shipwreck, including that of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The show was written by April 30; we now turned to casting and finding a band to perform it. That proved difficult.

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One Response to "All That Jaws": The process

  1. Anonymous says:

    You guys are just the most! I’ve never seen a better production of “All that Jaws” in my entire life!

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