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GrooveLily’s touring trauma captured in ‘Wheelhouse’

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Musical history: From left

“Write what you know” is the helpful admonishment often given to creative scribes. For Valerie Vigoda, Brendan Milburn and Gene Lewin — known collectively as the band GrooveLily — writing about the experiences of a music group gigging the country in a beat-up RV was right up their wheelhouse. More specifically, it was right up their “Wheelhouse,” their world-premiere musical opening this week at TheatreWorks in Mountain View.

Rooted in memoir, the show pushed the trio — sharing credit as composers, lyricists and book writers — to reflect on the state of their lives and careers a decade ago and figure out just how much of that story to tell.

“When you’re touring with a band … it kind of felt like all three of us were married,” says Vigoda, who was then and is now married to bandmate Milburn.

Taking a cue from Irish-American sister band The Roches, Vigoda refers to their RV home and transport as an “agony box” of accommodation. “You would do a gig, and you’d all pile in and drive away, and you couldn’t help it, you’d have to dissect what happened, and you’d have to do post-mortems of the gig,” Vigoda recalls. “It was just this constant communication that had to keep happening.“

Touring and living together became too close for comfort. “In 2001 and 2002, we almost broke up the band, we almost broke up the marriage, primarily because of this horrible mistake that we made by buying and living in the RV,” she says. “Financial issues, and issues of success, and personalities, and egos, and all of this was broiling around in the GrooveLily agony box.”

Telling this story as a musical was an idea long in gestation. It first saw stage light in 2005 as a workshop, part of the TheatreWorks New Works Festival.

Robert Kelley, artistic director at TheatreWorks, kept prodding the project along, and on the basis of a demo the group performed during its successful run of “Striking 12” in 2010, Kelley slotted “Wheelhouse” into the current season.

Looking back at the angst of a decade ago has been pretty smooth sailing over the past year of the show’s development, according to Vigoda. “We’re all just much more lighthearted about the whole thing. I think part of that might have to do with the fact that all of us are now parents,” she says. “There’s something about letting go of one’s own self as the most important thing in the world. Suddenly there’s someone else in the world that’s more important and we can all just lighten up about ourselves.”



Presented by TheatreWorks

Where: Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes July 1

Tickets: $19 to $69

Contact: (650) 463-1960 or www.theatreworks.org

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