Sometimes you like a song so much you want to hear it again, immediately.

At The Pitch, the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival's live workshop series, you just might get your wish.

Midway into "Other Boys," a number from the musical "Mitzvah," Jodi Beckwith stopped and asked co-writer David Hein, "Is that right?"

He fiddled with his guitar for a moment and glanced back at her, nodding his head with a half-nervous smile.


Beckwith restarted.

"Other boys play sports, build forts, read 'Harry Potter'; take tests, get stressed, do what they ought to; fail quizzes, run with scissors, fall from trees."

After that lyric, the same one that halted her performance before, Beckwith stopped again.

"I don't think that's right."

Hein took a longer pause this time, talking over the song with Beckwith off-microphone as the audience began murmuring. Ed Sayles, the festival's producing artistic director and creator of The Pitch, chimed in from the back of Theater Mack.

"It's a minor!"

Hein and Beckwith continued their conference as "Mitzvah" co-writer Irene Sankoff, about six months pregnant with her and husband Hein's child, added her own input from the other side of the stage.

After a few minutes, the three returned to their microphones.

"We got it!"

Beckwith restarted, her voice singing at a higher pitch this time. As she and Hein finished the number, the audience responded with applause that said "Great song!" and "You did it!" in equal measure.

The kind of spontaneity and audience camaraderie that took place at Thursday's opening night of The Pitch's second season is one of the series' most winning qualities.

Those charms were especially strong with the presence of Hein and Sankoff, whose "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding" was one of the biggest hits of last year's inaugural Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival. In front of an audience of about 80, many of whom saw that show at the Auburn Public Theater, Hein and Sankoff were the subject of no small amount of reverence.

By leading the second season of The Pitch, the duo also redefined the series as more than just a launchpad for new faces of theater — as it was for "Neurosis: The Musical!" which premiered at Theater Mack last year and graduates to Auburn Public Theater July 18.

Indeed, The Pitch can be a place for old friends, too.

Hein and Sankoff's new musical, about a mother preparing her autistic son for a bar mitzvah while working through marital trouble wrought by the disorder, seemed almost as inspired by Hein and Sankoff's own life experiences as "Wedding" (which is about Hein and his mother). Sankoff explained her work with children with autism, and Hein recounted their research of the few instances when those children went through the Jewish rite of passage.

They also prefaced their run-through of "Mitzvah's" first act by noting that they rewrote much of the show in the week prior. It felt more polished than that — interruptions aside, the songs were crisp, and the rabbi's jokes, told Thursday by Hein with an avuncular Hebrew accent, had the audience in show-stopping hysterics. But he and Sankoff were still hungry for suggestions about what could be improved.

The duo had plenty of time to hear it, because, in a major change to The Pitch from last year, the series now presents only one musical a night. Instead of squeezing two playwright teams into 45-minute slots and permitting only a couple questions, the process can breathe a little.

Hein and Sankoff seemed to benefit from the change, as many raised their hands with thoughts about "Mitzvah." Some of them concerned the boy's father, who frustratedly walked out on the family in one of the show's final first-act scenes. Hein solicited opinions on what he and Sankoff should do with the character, and he seemed affirmed when audience members said they wanted what he and Sankoff had planned all along (no spoilers).

Through The Pitch's part in the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, it may not be long before audiences can be certain how "Mitzvah" ends.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at 282-2245 or Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.


Features editor for The Citizen.