Graham and Kristina Fuller have a hard time sitting still. After producing and starring in a 2017 production of The Last Five Years, playwright Jason Robert Brown’s musical portraying the final half-decade of a doomed marriage, the real-life Longmont couple wasted little time before launching the search for their next project. But there was one problem.
“I wanted to do a show about parenting but as we looked through scripts, we realized that show didn’t exist,” Kristina says.
The pair decided to get to work and write their own. The result is In the Trenches: A Parenting Musical, an irreverent new work exploring the trials and tribulations of parenthood, making its regional premiere at Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton on Jan. 20.
“The musical is essentially the parent version of I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change,” Graham says. “But it brings in more of [our] voices and sense of humor, which is deeply reminiscent of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon.”
The show’s story unfolds through a song cycle following two bleary-eyed young parents as they discover new post-baby identities in the trial-by-fire of their first six years raising children. The musical explores the struggle between wanting to be a “cool,” relatable parent and the need to actually parent.
The Fullers explored this tension during writing sessions carved out between raising two kids of their own. “Our days would start super early before the kids would get up,” Graham says. “We’d pull out our crappy keyboards and work before getting the kids up, then we’d live our lives during the day, put the kids to bed and then pull out crappy keyboards to write some more ’til around 10 or 11 before going to bed to do it all over again.”
As for how the couple split their artistic duties, Graham would write the lyrics and Kristina would turn those words into compositions. After writing four songs on their own, they invited over their friend and frequent collaborator, Dan Graeber, to listen to their work.
“It was this incredibly vulnerable experience where we asked Dan to come over to our house and listen to the musical theater songs we had written,” Kristina says. “Luckily, Dan loved the songs and agreed to work with us on arrangement and orchestration for the musical.”
The team worked for two years, with Graham and Kristina writing the musical’s book and songs and workshopping the music with Graeber, who would create the piano and vocal arrangements. By the time the team began workshopping the production in 2019, they had fleshed out the orchestrations to include vocal, piano, guitar, bass and percussion parts.
“It’s written in a modern voice but acts as this love letter to musical theater,” Kristina says. “There’s a tap dance number called ‘The Most Dangerous Thing in the Room’ about trying to keep the baby alive while they run to all sorts of dangerous things, a Gilbert and Sullivan-style song about traveling with children and an R&B love song called ‘Official Mom Uniform’ dedicated to yoga pants.”
The team has been hard at work honing the music and story of In the Trenches over the past five years. While writing the show between 2017 and 2019, they hosted eight readings in various locations around Longmont. These readings helped prepare them for two workshop performances hosted in January 2019 by CenterStage Theatre Company in Louisville and the following October by Denver’s Mizel Arts and Cultural Center.
These local shows were intended to tee up their performance at 54 Below in New York City in April 2020; however, COVID-19 had other plans. “After the show’s cancellation in April we rescheduled for September 2020, but Broadway was still shut down at that point,” Kristina says. “So, we had to table live performances for a little while, which gave us time to tweak the show and work on other things.”
After two years of delays, In the Trenches made its New York City debut at 54 Below last summer on July 13. “It was an incredibly surreal experience,” Graham says. “You only get a 90-minute sound check in the space to rehearse before you perform. That was a little nerve-wracking at the time, but the performance itself was life-giving. Everyone gave a fantastic performance and it was a really special experience.”
Now the team is working on securing enough investors to produce an off-Broadway run, followed by tours and licensed stage productions. “That is our pipe dream and it’s getting closer and closer to reality,” Graham says. “Our ultimate goal through developing our own show here would be to turn the Front Range into a desired location for Broadway and off-Broadway shows to workshop before moving to NYC.”
The Fullers have other plays in the works — including a holiday spin-off called In the Holiday Trenches — but for now, they are focused on getting their parenting musical ready for its Front Range debut. The work marks the first original production Town Hall has ever produced. But for the Boulder County husband-and-wife team behind it, the upcoming local run is ultimately an opportunity to help other new parents feel less alone.
“It represents our real experience as parents while still being very universal,” Kristina says. “It is such a fun show and I just feel it’s the perfect night out for anyone who is a parent or has ever had a parent.”
ON STAGE: In the Trenches by Graham and Kristina Fuller. Various times Jan. 20-29, Town Hall Arts Center, 2450 W. Main St., Littleton. $30-40. Tickets here.