I met Joe through my dear friend Gretchen Margaroli when she asked me to direct a group of four new musicals she wanted to produce at FSU in the Spring of 2007. Joe was hired as the music director for the project and he also cast the shows (for the most part). We were working together every day, so we spent a ton of time together those first months of our friendship.
After the show was over (a big hit all around, and I made some great friends), Joe and I stayed in close contact. We went out for beer at least once a week. Mostly we talked about music, I think. I, of course, know nothing about music, and Joe is a composer, so he knows fucking everything about music and music history and I pretended to know a lot of things just to keep up. It was delightful. We drank at this bar called Finnegan's Wake in Tallahassee and we would each order Smithwicks (we always called it "smitticks", is that the correct pronunciation?) until we had finished four and then we would go home. Most of the time we would be drunk by this point, and more than once we had to have someone come pick us up, we thought the whole thing was hilarious.
Joe moved to New York in 2007 and started using his middle name instead of his first name. He was studying for his MFA in the NYU Musical Theatre Composition program. A few months later, I was presenting my first paper at – as luck would have it – Song, Stage, and Screen III, a musical theatre conference which was being held in the city. So I was off to New York for the first time ever. I called Joe and I wasn't expecting it, but without hesitation he offered me a place to stay. This would have been amazing enough, but then he proceeded to plan out what we would be doing every evening. I would go to the conference during the day – I learned a lot, as it turns out – and then Joe and I would spend the evenings hanging out and going to shows.
We saw Passing Strange on Broadway in the front row for something like $25, and one night Joe got us free tickets to see a concert version of Paul Simon's The Capeman at BAM. And then my last night there we went to see a genius production of a musical version of Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine. We went for margaritas before the show, and then after the show was over we went back to the margarita joint for more. It was the best.
Joe is one of those people that I don't feel like I need to talk to a lot in order for me to know how much we care about one another. There's just something there that almost doesn't need maintenance. He's a great, great guy, and he is always interested in what I am writing, where I am sending it, and in encouraging me to write more.
Last year, J. Sebastian Fabal had a show at the New York Music Theatre Festival called The Tenth Floor. The moment I read that it was being produced I decided I was going. Seeing Joe is always a great pleasure, but seeing his work produced is a special treat; watching The Tenth Floor was absolutely incredible.
To say that Joe is insanely talented is fine, I guess. He is. And I love that, of course (who doesn't love having talented friends?) He is also ambitious. (He recently told me more than once that he wants to be the Richard Foreman of musical theatre writers.) But Joe is also just a generous, fun, very cool person, who takes an interest in those around him, wants to be a great artist, and if he unabashedly writes popular music (and he does so well) he also writes songs that talk about the world around us. I am so grateful to have this man in my life. Love you, buddy.