By John Jiler and Georgia Stitt
BIG RED SUN is the story of a family of musicians. Eddie and Helen Daimler were great swing musicians in the 1940s, but now in the early 1960s their teenage son Harry, a budding songwriter himself, lives alone with his mother and writes songs about his great war-hero father. In an effort to write more truthfully, Harry unearths a dark family secret. World War II carved a silent divide between those who fought and those who waited – a truth unshared. In a few short years, the simple melodies of Kern and Berlin were replaced by the dizzying energy of jazz and the beginnings of rock and roll. This is the story of a family that changed as much as their music did.
Winner of the Harold Arlen Award from ASCAP.
Cast Size: 6 (4 men, 2 women)
- Concert Presentation at 11th Hour Theatre Company in Philadelphia, February 27-29, 2016.
- Concert Presentation as part of “New Musicals at 54.” January 19, 2016 at 7 and 9:30 pm. Featuring new orchestrations!
- Abridged reading presented at CTI (Commercial Theatre Institute) in NYC. April 12, 2014. View videos here.
- 29-hour staged reading at The York Theater in NYC as part of NEO Residency. Lisa Peterson, Director. April 11, 2013.
- Entire show presented at University of Nebraska, Lincoln in a staged reading. Alisa Belflower, Director. March 12, 2012.
- Show chosen to be presented in National Alliance of Musical Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals, October 21-22, 2010 in NYC.
- Entire show presented as part of OCUStripped, February 8-9, 2009, at Oklahoma City University. Steven Fontenot and Aaron Brown, Co-Directors.
- Private reading of entire show at ASCAP in New York, June 2007.
- Developmental Reading of entire show at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, California, April 2006. Annette Jolles, Director and Tom Murray, Music Director.
- Act One presented at ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop, April 28 and May 11, 2005. Annette Jolles, Director, and Tom Murray, Music Director.
BIG RED SUN is the story of a son’s search for his father through post-World War Two America. Harry Daimler is a restless, imaginative teenager stuck in a soulless New York suburb. Throughout his young life he’s accepted his mother’s explanation of his father’s absence: Eddie Daimler, a well-known pre-World War Two swing musician, was killed in action with the American Army in France. But Harry, no longer satisfied by his mother’s simple explanations, is looking for more information. By grilling sources as diverse as the local rabbi and a black jazz trumpeter who once played in his father’s band, a portrait emerges of the real Eddie Daimler. For the first time, Harry is beginning to know his father, and every time he learns something new, the play reveals the information in flashback. Harry (in the present) and Eddie (in the past) are telling their stories simultaneously.
Harry learns that his father was the first modern in his lower East Side Jewish neighborhood. While everyone else on Ludlow Street attended shul religiously, Eddie jazzed around town. He bought an American suit. He edited the guttural sounds out of his own speech. And even though he made his living playing music for local bar mitzvahs and weddings, he had his eyes on more distant bandstands. Harry learns that his father clawed and scratched his way into a big band and married the lead singer. He convinced the bandleader to hire a black trumpet player, thereby sealing in the heat of the band. But as the band assailed the heights of the 1940s music scene, news filtered to America revealing exactly what Hitler was doing in Europe. Eddie’s Jewish blood boiled up and he joined the army, leaving behind Helen, his scared and pregnant wife.
As Harry watches his father’s life play out before him, he learns that Eddie’s experience was not the glorious, heroic one typical of the “greatest generation.” Rather, the war left Eddie with psychological scars from the battlefields of France and the brothels of Paris… just as, back in New York, his wife was giving birth to their only son. As the curtain falls on Act One, Harry learns a shocking truth, and Act Two swirls us relentlessly into the violent Rock and Roll of the 1960s.
John Jiler (book/lyrics) and Georgia Stitt (music)
The period just after World War Two is mystifying to those who don’t remember it. A terrible enemy had been beaten, the troops flooded home, there was dancing and kissing in the street… it should have been a period of unalloyed joy, an MGM musical come to life. For many people it was. The economy finally awoke from its long sleep, the GI bill essentially created the suburbs and allowed tens of thousands of returning soldiers to come home to a clean, ordered world. But it wasn’t long before the dark clouds began to roll in. Not just McCarthyism—although that certainly qualifies as a dark cloud—but the basic complacency of the era totally baffled the children of the WWII generation. Levittown was a hollow pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They were grateful for their father’s sacrifices, to a point. But they rejected the blandness and the compromises that followed it. The poignancy of that rift between father and son is what drives our story.
It’s a tale that we wanted very much to tell with music, because music seems like the perfect bellweather for the times. Soldiers returning from the war looked around and said “What happened to Jerome Kern? What is all this minor-key jazz and rock and roll? What happened?” In the case of the main character, a jew who struggles with his identity, the change is even more bewildering. Having parlayed his klezmer roots into a career in swing music, he come home to find himself out of vogue. He must create a new identity for himself, musically and personally.
The twenty year period that included the end of the Depression, the war, and its tumultuous aftermath seems to us the seminal moment of the last century and one of the most important times in American history. There was a “big red sun” on the horizon, marking the optimism of the fifties, the boiling dissatisfaction of the younger generation about to enter the fraught 1960s, and the dawning of a new musical era.