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John and Jen

Cover to original cast recording

Musical in 2 acts: Music and book by Andrew Lippa; Lyrics and book by Tom Greenwald.

Originally produced by the Goodpseed Opera House, 1993


Act I (1952-1971)

Six-year-old Jen Tracy welcomes her newborn brother John into the world, with a warning about the way things work and a promise to protect him from Dad. As they grow, Jen does her best to shield John from life's disappointments, including a painful Christmas Eve fight between their parents. Not long after John's seventh birthday, Jen discovers a bruise on his face. "It was my fault," he tells her, "I broke a glass." Jen vows that Dad will never hurt John again, and she and John make a deal to always be there for each other.
As the pair grows older, sibling rivalry crops up when John is forced to attend Jen's high school basketball finals. But when it's time for Jen to go off to college, John begs her not to leave him alone. Jen is determined to break free, however, deal or no deal. "I can't hold your hand forever," she tells John. "Grow up".

Jen embraces the world of the '60s in groovy New York City, where she blossoms into a drug-experimenting hippie while John's life goes in the opposite direction. Without Jen there to protect him, John falls under his father's influence and decides to join the Navy.

When Jen returns home from New York, she and John see how much they've changed and how far apart they've grown. Learning of Jen's plans to move to Canada with her draft-dodging boyfriend, John accuses her of rejecting everything he and Dad stand for, and they part in anger. After John leaves, Jen unfurls an American flag, drapes it over a coffin, and we learn that John has been killed in Vietnam. "I'm sorry, little brother," she whispers as Act I ends.

Act II (1972-1990)

Now living in Canada, 26-year-old Jen is the mother of a newborn whom she names John. But this John is not the naïve child of the '50s his mother expects him to be. When Jen moves back to the United States, leaving her failed marriage behind, she prepares to spend Christmas alone with seven-year-old John. Her gift to her son is an old baseball glove, which she proudly tells him belonged to his uncle. But John rejects the gift, complaining, "I'll be the only kid in school with a crappy old glove!"

Jen gets her son to play his uncle's favourite sport, but her obnoxious behavior at games only succeeds in mortifying him. Visiting her brother's grave on what would have been his 32nd birthday, Jen remarks on the similarities between the two Johns and vows that she won't fail her son. But when it's time for the 12-year-old to go off to camp, Jen finds herself barely able to say goodbye.

In a montage spanning John's high school years, John and Jen take turns as mock talk show hosts covering topics that reveal Jen's growing dependence on her son and John's struggle for freedom. Later, when John discovers that his mother has hidden his acceptance packet from Columbia University, it becomes clear that Jen is terrified that she'll lose John "again," and she is no longer able to differentiate between her brother and her son.

Finally realizing how desperately his mother needs him, John decides to forgo Columbia in favour of a local community college. Disturbed to see him throwing away his future on her account, Jen ridicules his decision. John is deeply hurt by his mother's reaction, and he bitterly mocks her influence on his life. As their argument escalates, Jen slaps her son.

Shaken by the parallels to her abusive father, Jen retreats to her brother's grave, where she finally accepts that it's time to move on. John joins his mother at the cemetery, where Jen asks his forgiveness. Jen is finally able to let her son go, and they take their first steps into the world on their own.

Musical Numbers

  1. Prologue/Welcome to the World
  2. Think big
  3. Dear God
  4. Hold Down the Fort
  5. Timeline
  6. It Took Me a While
  7. Out of My Sight
  8. Run and Hide
  9. Epilogue
  10. Old Clothes
  11. Little League
  12. Just Like You
  13. Bye Room
  14. Talk Show
  15. Smile of Your Dreams
  16. Graduation
  17. The Road Ends Here
  18. That Was My Way
  19. Every Goodbye Is Hello


Original Cast Recording Starring Carolee Carmello and James Ludwig - Varèse Sarabande VSD 5688