Why CBS' Late Night VP Opened a Musical About What Happens After You Die
'Hereafter' follows three women who meet with a medium to communicate with lost loved ones
"Sometimes you have to die to be larger than life," says a character of Hereafter, the passion project from CBS' VP of late night Vinnie Favale that officially opened at New York City's Snapple Theater this past weekend for an unlimited commercial run.
The musical, which follows three heartbroken women who meet with a medium in the hopes of communicating with lost loved ones, doesn't necessarily answer the question of whether heaven, hell or both do exist, but it does theorize on another postmortem topic: those who leave this world are held back after death by those still alive who can't let go of them.
"I still think of them every day," says Favale, who lost two siblings within a short period of time, and drew from such experiences of loss to pen the show with writing partner Frankie Keane. "They're the same stories, because I don't have any new ones. ... Though I still see my other two siblings, my [deceased] older brother is a rock star, and if he didn't die, it would be great, but would I be thinking about him? Would he be larger than life?"
Such a looming presence of the departed is felt by the characters in the Off-Broadway musical: a mother who lost her teenage son in a car accident; a mother whose overachieving daughter committed suicide; a newlywed daughter whose mother had cancer. Additionally, the medium himself has lost the love of his life, a famous actress.
While not commenting on any specific religion's afterlife explanations — "We all have something we believe in, even if it's, 'I don't know what I believe in,'" explains Keane — the show focuses more on how the living cope, even years and years after the loss. "People get uncomfortable when you grieve long after the expiration date," says Keane, who with Favale turned their personal losses into archetypes onstage. "Afterwards, other people move on with their lives — the food and the cards stop coming, and you're still stuck in that same place. ... And no one wants to hear about it either."
Favale began writing songs over ten years ago to help handle being "haunted" by the fact that his young neighbor died in a car accident. He met Keane in 2008 and continued sharpening the show via workshops with the help of some television friends. After a successfully-funded Kickstarter campaign for a two-week run in 2012, Hereafter is now housed at the Snapple Theater for shows once a week (Saturdays at 4:45 p.m.), which often end with audiences tearing up not because of the sad subject matter, but because the show urges the viewer to confront his or her own suppressed grief.
For example, Favale recalls how previous attendees have walked out of the show specifically due to "that kind of depression" that's touched on by the suicide-related storyline. "I personally don't think that's a solution — it's a horrible thing and the damage that you leave behind can sometimes make someone's life worse than whatever yours was when you take it. So we wanted there to be regret with that, but also to acknowledge the reality that it does happen. I can't reconcile it sometimes."
The musical — with Keane, Deborah Tranelli, Pierce Cravens, Michele Cabinian, Paul Blankenship, Eileen Faxas, Carolyn Mignini, Courtney Capek, Tanisha Gary, Kissy Simmons, Margaret Kelly and Alan Kalter (announcer for the Late Show with David Letterman) in the cast — also comments on celebrity deaths, but more for effective comic relief. "That's a cliche — dying was the best career move someone ever made," says Favale of the character played by Keane.
So why on earth would the CBS exec choose to open a musical during the biggest year of the network's late-night landscape, which sees David Letterman and Craig Ferguson being succeeded by Stephen Colbert and James Corden?
"It's the worst timing, I know!" admits Favale. "I had no idea Dave was gong to announce his retirement — it caught me off-guard like it caught a lot of people off-guard. It's weird because, to me, it's like a death in the family. It's a big deal because people I've worked with for almost twenty years are gonna be leaving too. It's like there's a passage of time. ... I'm very excited for Colbert, but there's gonna be a hole in my life. All of this change is definitely overwhelming."