Titles are magical things made by mundane means. Authors work hard at titles, compiling lists and sharing them anxiously with friends, but when a title works it just works – though whether it works because the title brought grace to the project or because the project gave the title a grace it didn’t deserve is a permanent unknown. Scott Fitzgerald worried his titles perhaps more than any other American writer, seriously considering, for his crucial third novel, either “Trimalchio in West Egg or “Under The Red, White And Blue”, both of which he favored over his editor’s plain, preferred “The Great Gatsby”— a title that let itself be filled by the book’s poetry, rather than, well, over-egging it in advance. At my own more Lilliputian level, “Paris To The Moon”, a title which has now loaned itself to fashion spreads and California boutiques, was a close-run thing right up to publication with the more wistful “The Winter Circus”. Sometimes, titles rise to meet their objects. David Shire, the composer of our new musical, which will open at the Long Wharf in May, recalls as a student at Yale being offered two tickets to a new show opening that night in New Haven. He rejected them; on the sane grounds that the show’s title was too pedestrian to be enticing. The show? (Or, rather, the title?) “My Fair Lady”. And he was right – it is a terrible, or at least a fatuous title, raised in memory by the great show it graced.
Like giving a name to a baby, one can either do titles decisively in advance or wait to see what the baby looks like, and do it then. Our show was, for a very long time in its gestation called “Table”, as much from monosyllabic habit – David’s previous shows include “Baby,” “Big,” “Waterfall” as well as his newly launched “Sousatzka” – as from long deliberation.” “Table” did do some work that titles ought to do, stating evocatively, if a little obliquely, what the show is about, while referencing my book about the philosophy of eating, “The Table Comes First”. (Whose name derives from a British chef who wondered why a young couple would ever buy a sofa or bed to begin life; didn’t they know that the table comes first?)
“While our show is about tables and the communion they bring, it is even more about a family’s fight to keep intact their home, which they believe is the most beautiful room in New York.”
But “The Most Beautiful Room In New York” had long been the name of the most purely thematic song in our show – a song intended to be not so much what’s called in musical theater the show’s “I Want!” as its “Look At What I’ve Got …” For ours, we realized as we worked on it, is a musical about someone – like Curly with his Oklahoma morning and his fringed surrey, or Tevye with his town and his traditions, to cite the highest parallels – who is fighting to keep what he loves but, before the evening is over, will have to learn to love it in a new way. While our show is about tables and the communion they bring, it is even more about a family’s fight to keep intact their home, which they believe is the most beautiful room in New York – and it is also about a man who has to learn a broader idea of beauty than the one he’s been fighting for for most of his life. David Kaplan, our hero, learns to change and adjust and see past his one restaurant- room to the beautiful growth of his wife and children into their maturity.
And then our show, more than anything needed “New York” in its title. It’s a musical about New York, and New York’s magical, endangered, enticing and frustrating marriage of opportunity, plurality and constant change. Almost every New York love story is a love story about real estate, and so is this one. (My own new book, cheap advertisement coming, “At The Stranger’s Gate” is the tale of a young couple becoming citizens, but their homes – an insanely small Yorkville basement room and then a lovely but rodent-infested Soho loft – are characters as much as the couple is.) Every room in New York is a character, the best of them are beautiful, and beauty, there more than anywhere, is not so much made in the eye of the beholder as something the beholder has to train his eye to see where no one else does. The question of beauty, the necessity of New York, the desire to break the one-word title spell – all of these considerations together make us glad that our musical has, at last, the title it’s been asking us, querulously, to give it all along: The Most Beautiful Room In New York.
- Adam Gopnik