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Neal Learner: Pop Star Genius

Pop Star Genius

Posted on January 2, 2016 with 0 comments


A Musical in Two Acts

Words and Music


Neal Learner

(June 2012)

Synopsis: What makes a song great? How do some singers change the world? Is it too late to be a rock star after 40? These questions and more torment middle-aged Maxwell Philip – lead singer and songwriter of the amateur rock band Out of Time – as he struggles to write a masterpiece that will win Battle of the Bands, make him a rock-‘n-roll legend, and impress his teenage daughter Zoey.  His fortunes are about to turn, however, when an old guitar amplifier gives Max an electric shock that opens a magic portal in his basement. An eclectic cast of historic geniuses emerges to help Max answer his questions…and write the perfect pop song. Pop Star Genius is a half play/half sing-through musical that explores issues of creativity, ambition and contentment.


Maxwell Philip (Max) (middle-aged father, mid-to-late 40s): A health insurance salesman by day, Max longs to realize his dream of being a famous rock star who writes brilliant songs that change the world. He is lead singer and songwriter of his band Out of Time. The group is writing a song and rehearsing for the annual Battle of the Bands. But Max is discouraged by his efforts so far, and is looking for inspiration and guidance to make his song brilliant.

Zoey Philip: (Max’s teenage daughter, 16 years): Zoey is a sounding board and reality check to her dad’s dreams of being a pop star. The two discuss the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Ultimately Zoey teaches Max what it means to be content, creative and have your dreams fulfilled.

Ludwig van Beethoven (late 18th century-early 19th century composer): First genius to appear in the basement after Max is electrocuted by the guitar amp. Beethoven tells Max about his vision of genius, and advises him to execute his music on a thunderous scale. Don’t think small, as only grandiosity can upended the musical conventions of your time.

Georgia O'Keeffe (early-mid 20th century artist): Tells Max about the importance of quiet solitude for nurturing one’s creative genius. O’Keeffe says that looking carefully at the mundane aspects of life – such as a cloud or a drop of dew on the grass – can provide an insight into the mysteries of life.

Ernest Hemingway (early-mid 20th century writer): Tells Max to avoid clichés in his writing. Hemingway’s advice is to live life full and large – finding inspiration on the plains of Africa and cafes of Paris – but write lean and spare prose.

Martha Graham (early 20th century dancer and chorographer): Tells Max about the pure joy and artistic expression in dance. Movement and the human form can express a life’s deepest and darkest emotions and result in something entirely new (i.e., modern dance).

Charley Chaplin (early-mid 20th century actor): Tells Max to find humor in sorrowful situations and shed light on the universal truths of humanity. Chaplin also tells Max to stick to his convictions and find a cause to improve the world after the show.

Britney Spears (late 20th century-early 21st century pop star): Tells Max that he needs to get some attitude and provide “a dose of sexy” if he wants to win. Spears also cautions Max about the pressures of being in the spotlight, and notes there is a fine line between genius and insanity. Spears and Graham hit it off comparing dance moves.

Out of Time Band Members: Middle aged musicians who have fun jamming in Max’s basement and playing occasional gigs. Members include a drummer, piano/synth player, two guitarists and bassist. Members are arranged onstage throughout the show and offer small, impromptu comments from time to time. They, like Zoey, do not see the historical characters that Max interacts with.

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