Jonatha Brooke has built a musical career that spans decades. Now she's venturing into the theatre world with her one-woman play, My Mother Has 4 Noses, which opened off-Broadway in February and continues through May 4. BFTV spoke with Jonatha recently to discuss the play and accompanying album, and what the future holds for this talented artist.
"I think that I have always liked to scare myself and I've never liked to repeat myself," Jonatha told us. "When I started writing about my mother, it became clear this was a bigger project. It had never occurred to me to do a theatre piece, but it just became this storytelling necessity."
So rather than just release music, Jonatha - with the help of director Jeremy B. Cohen and a talented crew - created a musical play detailing how she cared for her mother, a "character" in the middle stages of Alzheimer's Disease, for the last two years of the other woman's life. An equal mix of comedy and tragedy, it's described as "a mother-daughter love story."
She called the experience of putting together the musical "totally different." from the making of an album. "The record is definitely a Jonatha Brooke record," she told us. "But in the play version, you can't sing a four-minute song. It's just too long." There are eleven new songs on the 4 Noses album, which you can purchase via iTunes or Jonatha's website.
It's not just the format that makes this different from her past projects. With 4 Noses, Jonatha is drawing on her own private experiences to create public art. We asked her if the process has made her look back at any of those experiences differently. "There've been a couple of records where, after you're out in the world, you sort of come out of your cocoon of creation and realize how much you've said. You don't realize how candid you're being and how vulnerable you might be," she reflected. "It's the same thing times ten. I do think of it differently now. And I see how much I've said and I see how bold I've been."
She's now started to pursue a greater relationship with the theatre world. "I'm working on three other musicals right now," she revealed. "There are three other musicals sort of in the works that I'm loving working on. I'm just doing the music and lyrics part of those ones. But I won't rule anything out at this point!"
You can check out a selection from the play by using the media player embedded with this article.
But aside from whatever 4 Noses may do for her career or even her personal life, Jonatha wants it to do something in the lives of its audience. "I think they should have a good time, but I think it really makes people think," she explained. "And what they take away, which is such a great comfort to me, is love."
To that end, she's created a page on the play's website called Your Love Here, which invites theatregoers to share their stories about their relationships with their family members. And she's hoping that the play itself inspires more people to talk about things like Alzheimer's, dementia, and simply what it's like to care for a loved one.
"I want them to take away this permission to laugh about really tough stuff. To cry about really tough stuff. And to talk about it," she continued. "This conversation needs to be had. I think I'm becoming more and more political about it, because I think people are a little bit squeamish about talking about tough stuff. And I'm not."
In addition to her work on the play, Jonatha is also keeping her musical career alive. She recently co-wrote a song called "Choose Your Battles" with Katy Perry for Perry's album Prism, after Perry had long cited Jonatha as an inspiration. "I'm pretty damn proud of that," she enthused. "You don't know what to expect when you finally meet the person who's been so kind to you in interviews. I adore her and she's really fun to be around. She's a great writer, she's a great singer, and we had a blast in the studio."
My Mother Has 4 Noses runs off-Broadway through May 4; you can purchase tickets and find out more on the show's website (4noses.org). For more on Jonatha, you can visit her official website (jonathabrooke.com) and follow her on Twitter (@jonathabrooke).