Theater: ‘Til Divorce Do Us Part’ makes musical comedy of personal tragedy
Reeling from an unexpected divorce, 34 years into the seemingly perfect marriage — because he’d “fallen in love with” a younger woman, natch — Ruthe Ponturo was struggling to compose herself. And the way she did that was by, well, composing herself — or rather, writing a series of songs about love and break-ups, based on what she was going through, with music by John Thomas Fischer. Ultimately, she even sold the jewelry that her ex had given her to fund the project, which is now onstage at DR2 Theatre in Union Square. Here’s what the witty, single-and-loving-it lyricist had to say about making this project a reality:
So how did this musical get started?
Almost three years ago now, I had been married, very happily married, for 34 years. And my husband decided that he no longer wanted to be married to me. I had always been in musical theater, taught and choreographed, and I just started — I don’t know how it happened really — I just started hearing songs in my head. I’d never written a song before [but] I started writing … about my ex-husband (though he wasn’t my ex-husband then). One of my best friends [John Thomas Fischer] said, “You should write a cabaret show about the divorce.” I asked him if he wanted to collaborate, because I am not a musician.
How did the songs start to take on a narrative structure?
There’s Dear Dottie, which is played by [Fisher]. Dear Dottie is an advice columnist for divorcees. So it’s a Dear Abby kind of a thing. Women from all over the world write him letters. The first one is from “Corn-Swaddled in Kentucky,” and that’s a Country Western song, which my ode to Loretta Lynn. And then there’s a song from “Ready in Rhinestadt,” which is about dating again — Match.com. That’s a very Marlene Dietrich kind of a song. Every song is a different genre. So that’s how we tie the show together.
Have you tried that yourself, Match.com?
No, I have not yet. I’m too busy and I’m not really interested. Even though a few people have tried — you know, “Tell me when you’re ready to be set up.” It’s like, “Never!” I took care of a man for a long time, now I’m taking care of me.
The description of the show makes it sound like it all happened very suddenly.
It was very out of the blue. I would say that we were among the poster children for a fantastic marriage. We had a great time, we traveled the world. … And I would’ve never in a million years thought I would ever be divorced. Ever. But I am. And I’m pretty happy. So I had moved on and, you know, and I wish him — whatever. [Laughs]
Do all of the stories from the play reflect your own experience in some way?
Well it started off being inspired by my stories, but so many of the stories are universal. … We’ve had so many younger gals come to the show, and at first we thought they might not relate to it. But everybody’s been dumped by somebody. It doesn’t matter if your husband is 60 or if your boyfriend’s 30. It could be the same exact scenario. And you have all kinds of the same feelings: You hurt, you want to laugh, you wish sometimes that they would get run over by a bus. Everybody has been through it, unfortunately. Unless you married your eighth grade sweetheart.
What do you hope every audience member takes away from it?
The show really is about the woman that is empowered in her life. She discovers strength in herself that she didn’t even know was there. And that’s what I think people take away from it: “I don’t have to rely on anybody to be a happy person.” … And I actually think that’s what a lot of young gals take from it. It’s not there they are going to get married and then their husband will leave them. I think they really get: “If I have a great marriage, fantastic, and if I don’t ever find that, also fantastic.” That’s what I hope they take away from it, anyway.
But it’s also primarily a comedy.
I always feel like if you can’t laugh about it, you’re just going to be crying about it. And then you mess up your mascara. That’s why I was so determined. I think that’s what got me through. It was very Scarlett O’Hara. And it is very hard sometimes. Sometimes you go into the pity party. But I literally would time it. I’d say, “OK, you can do this crybaby stuff for 10 or 15 minutes, and then you just got to get out of the house and do something. Call somebody, go to the movies, go eat french fries.”
And now you’re a lyricist!
That’s another great thing. If Tony hadn’t left me, I never would have figured it out that I could actually write songs, and how fun it was to do so. To sit with a co-writer at your piano and just bang out songs is really fun. In my case, one door closed and another opened. It’s very exciting.
Special treat for Valentine’s Day!
Anyone attending the show on Feb. 14 will go home with a goody bag, including decadent treats and a T-shirt. “Everyone should get chocolates on Valentine’s Day,” says Ruthe Ponturo, the show’s creator. Get your tickets at www.tildivorcethemusical.com.