Having founded the New York Ukulele Ensemble and the New York Ukulele Festival, Uke Jackson is a bit of a ukulele legend. His latest project is the musical Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! written with Ragtime musician and historian Terry Waldo. I drilled him for more info.
Where did the idea for a ukulele musical come from?
The short answer is my imagination. Basically, I was looking for a way to bring the ukulele into my art as a playwright, which became my main vocation in life when I was 21 years old and my first play was produced. The show is unusual in that it juxtaposes 2 styles of music – contemporary corporate bass lines and throbbing beats, and trad jazz – and it incorporates this as a theme without being didactic. At its core, the show is about the transforming power of music and love, and the eternal transcendence of the human spirit – all things I passionately believe in.
Can you give us a quick overview of the plot?
Here’s the text that appears at the beginning of the video:
“SEX! DRUGS! & UKULELES!
At the end of the 21st Century, after an environmental and economic collapse, everything is controlled by the One World Pharmaceutical Corporation. Much of what is considered normal today is abnormal in this dystopian future. Abnormal behavior is treated pharmaceutically. Sex is illegal. Drug evasion is illegal. Making music is illegal, unless you’re a member of the corporate controlled Top 10.
Three young outlaw ukulele players meet in secret to play their music, until a mysterious stranger changes their lives forever. After a series of comic twists and turns, the trio find themselves in the Top 10. The ukulele players start a revolution. Corporate control collapses. Love and music return to the world, forever.”
I think that pretty well covers it
Is the ukulele inherently anti-establishment?
It would be intellectually dishonest to ascribe that kind of quality to any musical instrument. I know ukulele players who are variously conservative, liberal, radical, and apathetic.
You’ve done a huge amount to promote the ukulele in recent years, what inspires you?
Well, it’s certainly not other ukulele players, though many of those folks are wonderful people. I love the sound of the ukulele, and its size makes it charming for me. There’s no question that the ukulele produces a joyous sound, and lots of smiles. I would have to say it’s the music that inspires me, as it should be.
What are the plans for the future of Sex! Drugs! and Ukuleles! and the NY Uke Fest?
These are two very different subjects. NY Uke Fest is undergoing a transformation. My son Jesse, who co-produces the event with me, is busy on this front. There have been a number of requests to have the Fest all under one roof, so we’re talking mainly to some large midtown hotels. We’re also seeking corporate sponsorship for the whole shebang. It’s coming along well. We’ll be updating the web page soon, with info on submitting for 2009.
I’ve actually been working on Sex! Drugs! and Ukuleles! for considerably longer than I’ve been working on NY Uke Fest. Right now, Sex! Drugs! and Ukuleles! is my main focus. I’m working with a small group of very accomplished people “in the biz” to bring the show to Broadway and subsequently to London’s West End. There’s also been some interest from producers of television and movies. I’m open to all possibilities that represent a step forward for the project, but my main focus right now is getting the show up on Broadway.
Broadway is a very expensive proposition. The total budget is $10 million. Money is only part of it, of course. We’re about halfway there. There’s also casting, and then finding the right theater, which is a huge part of a successful production. Fortunately, I’ve been able to surround myself with very capable and experienced people. It’s big business, but, like the ukulele, it’s a lot of fun.
If you want to catch Sex! Drugs! and Ukuleles! or you’re looking to fund a Broadway musical, you can find out more on their website.