The Broadway production of Paula Vogel’s Indecent—now in previews at the Cort and officially opening April 18—marks the third incarnation on which composers Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva have worked together. But prior to Vogel’s play, the pair had never even met. She played primarily klezmer music as part of a band called the Klezmatics, while he led the Cuban band Nu D’Lux.
But an impromptu jam session on first meeting proved they had more in common than they thought. “We’re very international in our tastes,” says Gutkin. “That just opens a door that you don’t have with everybody.”
It is this worldly idiom that Gutkin and Halva bring to the music for Indecent, which explores the controversy surrounding Sholem Asch’s Yiddish play God of Vengeance and the first lesbian kiss on a Broadway stage. In telling the backstory, Vogel juxtaposes Sholem’s life with scenes from his play. And that’s where the music comes in, whether it’s underscoring dialogue or used as transitions to denote changes in place and time.
Not only did the two compose the score for Indecent and serve as musical directors, they also perform onstage every night. “There are even moments where Aaron [is] dancing and twirling around the stage around actors,” says Gutkin. “There’s a moment where myself and Katrina Lenk [one of the leads], who plays viola beautifully, we intertwine with the instruments. It’s beautiful.”
While Indecent doesn’t boast a full orchestra, the three onstage musicians—Halva, Gutkin, and Matt Darriau—each play multiple instruments, as do some of the actors.
After all, Indecent is meant to show a tiny slice of Jewish history and culture, and music is an integral part of that. It’s especially important for Gutkin, who is Jewish. “To have an opportunity to bring this world, this very intimate, Jewish old world to the public is astoundingly important to me,” she says emphatically. “This play is so important to me.”
While Halva may not be Jewish, Indecent shows how music and culture can foster understanding and teamwork. “For time immemorial, musicians have played together,” he says. “From the Romans and the Yiddish musicians, pre-klezmer, that were playing together. To Cuban musicians with Spanish musicians and African musicians in Cuba. These dialogues go beyond language and beyond race, so hopefully the music can help bring that to life.”