2006_01_arts_marcandgersh.jpgIn Fringe Festival 2005, Neo-Shtick Theater’s SUV: The Musical!– a love story in which crash test dummies mingle with a Greek chorus, and an environmentalist falls for an SUV designer’s wife – got rave reviews and big audiences. Gothamist didn’t make it to the show last summer, but now we have another chance: it’s enjoying a second life at Wings Theatre, where it’s playing ten performances (the official opening is tonight). We caught up with the show’s co-writers, Gersh Kuntzman and Marc Dinkin (in the photo, Gersh is on the right, leaning against a stranger's SUV), at a café in the Village after one of their long rehearsals last weekend. Below is a distilled version of that conversation; for a full dose of their wit you’ll just have to go to the show.

Vital stats:
-- Gersh Kuntzman (book and some lyrics for the musical; he also plays "Judge Green" in it), 40 years old, reporter for the Post and columnist at Newsweek
-- Marc Dinkin (music and lyrics), 34 years old, chief neurology resident at New York Presbyterian Hospital and founder of the band The Youngsters

How did you get to know each other?
GK – I was friends with Marc’s older brother Kenny, who’s also a genius, but Marc is like Kenny 2.0: he has the same talents as Kenny but improved…like if I was writing songs with Kenny I would give him lyrics and it would take him a day or two, but Marc, he can just bang out a song in a few hours and it's incredible.

What was the inspiration for the show?
GK – When I was writing my column for the Post, I used to do all sorts of funny articles on politics, but the one issue that constantly got readers to send email was SUVs. Conservatives wrote in saying it’s their right to pay a ton for gas if they want to, liberals wrote in saying SUVs need to be outlawed, I just saw how both were nuts. I had already produced two shows before, so I had the theatre bug, and I thought that a musical would be a way to take this issue of SUVs to the next level.

What is the tone of the show (aside from being humorous)?
GK – It’s a broad American satire – there’s not a lot of specific religious or political humor, it’s just more about Americans’ need to have everything be big and to constantly consume…We could have written it about another object, like an iPod or something, but SUVs just seemed like the perfect vehicle for this kind of social satire (pun intended). It also makes fun of musicals; it’s kind of like Team America: World Police.

How do you work together?
GK – Originally I thought it was just going to be a 4-song, short musical, and I gave the lyrics for “My Little Yugo” to Marc; that song was the origin, it came out of a quote I heard from a Ford executive about how “no one writes a love song about an economy car.” But when I sent the lyrics to Marc, he got started and just kept going. MD – Sometimes Gersh would just give me a line, like: “It has to end with ‘bigger is better.’” I didn’t really realize I was writing so much, but then all of a sudden I had like ten songs and we knew it was going to be something more. GK – I remember when Marc sent me the music for “Mr. 203,” and I was at work and I literally had to go into another room to listen because I was jumping all over the place, it was so good. MD – The one condition I have for working on this is that Gersh has to constantly give me compliments.

What was it like being in the Fringe?
GK – There was great energy in the city during the Fringe. It was competitive, but we also got a lot of ideas from other companies. It’s like a constant workshop. The festival gave you no resources, though – that’s something that’s really nice about Wings. Here, if you need a bucket of nails they’ll just give it to you, but in the Fringe you were on your own. MD – For me, I just got such a kick out of seeing everything put together and come alive. It’s really amazing to have someone choreograph to your music – to get to see dancers perform all this great choreography to what you composed.

2006_01_arts_crashtestdummies.jpgWhat were some of the audience reactions during the Fringe?
MD – I had a wealthy friend who called me up some time later after seeing the show, and he told me he sold his SUV. Well, he had also gone to Iran and seen what the situation was over there, but he said the show was one of the reasons. GK – Everyone takes away something different, and they focus on different parts of it. Some people love the "New Model" song, but others leave singing the Crash Test Dummy love song.

What happened after the Fringe?
GK – Well, the Fringe is how you see if a show has legs, and you try to get a backer. By the end we were selling out and it seemed like we had something, so afterwards we went and looked at a few theaters, and we liked Wings the best, so we went for it.

What has changed in the show in the transition to this run?
MD – I found out that the challenge of editing is a lot bigger than writing in the first place. GK – It was two hours long at the Fringe, now it’s down to about an hour and forty minutes, with twenty less pages. MD – You were using a smaller font, though. GK – That’s true. But only two cast members changed; we got some really great new people to step in, some brilliant dancers, but I’m not sure it would have worked if we lost more than that.

What are some of your inspirations in New York theatre?
GK – I saw Urinetown at each stage, from the Fringe to off-Broadway to Broadway, and it was really interesting to watch the way it changed. MD: My musical inspirations mostly aren’t from New York – the Beatles, Elvis Costello – but certainly Rodgers and Hammerstein. I recently got a bunch of DVDs of their shows and have been watching them.

2006_01_arts_behemothmotors.jpgSince relatively few New Yorkers have SUVs, and it’s such a predominantly liberal city, isn’t it kind of like preaching to the choir with this show here?
GK – New Yorkers don’t have SUVs, but they do have iPods and cellphones and all of that. They’re consumers. SUVs are just an example. We’re critiquing liberals also, making fun of people here who say “we enlightened New Yorkers are so much better than the rest of the country.” But at the same time it is a very New York show because it is a critical look at America.

What are some of the good and bad things about theater in NY?
GK – The hard thing is that there are so many shows looking for backers. But the great thing about New York is that you can just say, “Let’s put on a show!” and you can do it, you can get an audience even though there are so many other shows, whereas in a small town, even if you were the only show there, people wouldn't necessarily have the interest. Also, we were able to put together a really talented cast that’s willing to work for basically a stipend.

What’s next?
GK – I don’t see it as a Broadway show; we kind of intentionally wrote it to be off-Broadway. But this show is ready to go. It’s all there; I just want producers to come see it, buy it, and invite me to the big premiere.

SUV: The Musical shows at 10:45 tonight and tomorrow night, and also 3:30 tomorrow. It plays the next two weekends at the same time, with the last performance on 1/21. Wings Theatre is at 154 Christopher St.; get tickets here, and read more about the show and cast on the official site.