BITTERSUITE, a musical revue of 26 songs by Elliot Weiss and Michael Champagne, was meant to fill in otherwise dark days at the Back Alley (Mondays- Wednesdays) while Amazing Grace was running the rest of the week. As the LA Times said, “In the world of small theatre, where shows can have the life span of a moth, BITTERSUITE has turned into Methuselah.” While it didn’t live to 969 years, it did run nine months starting in 1988, making it the second longest-running show ever at the theatre.

A co-production with Heartlight Productions, it was the brainchild of Rick Roemer, who had appeared in the show in 1984 in New York City at Michael’s Pub, then bought the rights and performed and co-produced it in San Francisco in 1987. At the Back Alley, Rick provided all the production elements and directed, as well as appearing in it again; the Back Alley provided the theatre, box office and marketing support.

It received uniformly enthusiastic reviews in LA, singled out as a critic’s choice by the LA Times, LA Weekly and Daily News. There was no plot, but the LA Times described the songs as treating “the emotional minefields of youth and adulthood….done with a calculated ambiguity in lyrics that allows audience members to fill in the blanks with specifics of their triumphs and heartbreaks.”

Among his other great choices, Rick restored a fifth character/singer to the cast, a woman in her 50s, who had been cut from the NY and SF productions (the other four signers were all in their 20s and 30s). Played by Carol Woodbury, she sang some of the most successful numbers in the show, about the yearning for success and the loss of intimacy.

Rick, now Professor Emeritus from Southwestern University Department near Austin, where he served as Chair/Artistic Director of the Theatre Department for 15 years, has this headline posted on his website: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “Holy shit! What a ride!”

–Laura Zucker