Courtesy of George Corsillo/Deisgn Monsters


I have said it many times and will always say it.  I appreciate and admire anyone who has an intense passion for what they do.  As much as lyricist Mark Chimsky and composer Jay Jacques were enthused, I was a bit scared because I’m not someone who has ever seen a musical live or many plays for that matter.  Jay is a local musician and Mark has edited a number of best sellers, including Johnny Cash’s memoir Cash, and now is an editorial consultant.  I was intimidated that I may be a bit out of my league in conducting this interview.  However, within five minutes ,we were all talking and laughing and I was being educated on “The Road of Life.”  The musical is set against the WWII era scene in the city of Leningrad.  The Nazis blockaded the Russian city for 900 days, essentially starving the population.  The story is centered around the real historical character of Olga Berggolts, thought the events depicted in the musical were all created by Mark and Jay.

Sitting across the table from me was Jay’s wife, Katrina, who he met while going to school in Latvia, and he explained that her grandfather was an actual survivor of this siege.  Immediately, the events of “The Road of Life” that Mark and Jay started to describe become real.  You feel for someone.  Jay explained that the idea happened for the musical quite out of the blue.  He had written a tune about his wife’s grandfather years ago but had filed it away.  In may 2013 Jay thought of that song again and thought that the subject of the siege may be a good one to explore theatrically.  He explained that he observed Mark’s bookshelves full of musical theatre books, and looked at Mark and said, “we should do a musical.”  They began working on it ernest after reading about the poet Olga Bolggolts.  By Janauary, Jay and Mark had enough of an outline and songs to present to a small group of friends.  They asked for honest feedback from the group and were pleased by the enthusiastic responses.  This was in May 2013.  In January in front of a small group of people Jay and Mark performed the musical and asked for honest feedback from the group.  Jay explained that one of the most memorable things that happened during this session was one friend that came from Germany expressed her gratitude to Jay for humanizing the character of the German soldier. ‘Gunther.’  Jay said, it was important for us to portray him as human and not this killing machine.”  Jay said the friend teared up a bit and Mark explained, “we knew this was valuable feedback and encouraged us to pursue our vision.”

I explained to Mark that I wanted to honestly know would someone like me be welcomed at this event and would any of my feedback be taken seriously having no experience or knowledge of this craft?  Mark said, “yes, you’d be a great person to have come!”  Me, Why?  Jay and Mark explained we want to ask people, “does this song making sense to you?”  “Does this one move you?”  “Are you enjoying yourself?”  “What parts did you dislike or like the most?”  Jay went on to explain they are using more of a mainstream feel for the music, and were actively making this more friendly to more a wide range of people.  Immediately, we dove into the idea that people in 2014 want to be feel involved or like they had a hand in creating any product really.  We agreed that the idea of failing or correcting something needs to be more embraced in our society, and that asking for feedback on how to improve something is invaluable.   

This idea  for the musical, which started in May 2013, and was presented to a small group of people in January 2014, is now being presented again on Friday night of this week.  The people who saw it in January will see a different version now because of the feedback they gave Mark and Jay.  As with the first time, the audience that comes this Friday will be encouraged to voice their opinions.  The next step in their journey will will arrive in August, when Mark and Jay material from “The Road of Life” at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival in Auburn, New York  Both times with audience being encouraged to voice their opinions.    The journey will culminate in August at the Auburn Music Theatre Festival in New York.  The idea that these audiences they are presenting to can be a part of this finished product is an amazing thing, and something rare.  I told them that people will take pride in helping them put their best foot forward.


During the interview all I kept thinking was how Jay and Mark truly cared about giving the audience exactly what they wanted. and making the musical more enjoyable.  This pertains to anything I think where a product or performance is given to people.  Jay and I related to each other as being the guys who were given footballs and basketballs as kids and just went through High School and even college playing sports.  Mark explained that he probably went to hundreds of plays/musicals growing up and his first was ‘The Sound of Music,’ which he saw in Cincinnati, Ohio when he was 9.  Instantly he said, “I was hooked, and didn’t mind getting teased about listening to musical cast albums while other guys my age were playing sports.”  Jay said he was always into music very heavy and played in many bands but never really got into the idea of musicals into he met Mark.  This interview was more like a conversation between friends that all agreed on so much.

Although the history of the story that forms the backdrop for “The Road of Life” is of a tragic time, Mark explains, “we wanted to bring some light to this dark time and to show that love is extremely powerful.  Riding on top of all of this is a love story–it’s something that held people together then and will hopefully move audiences now.”


Jay told me that he and Mark had created 35 songs for the musical, and probably would keep 25 for the show’s final version.  Mark explained to me how he and Jay plotted the structure of the entire musical at the very beginning of their creative process and Jay described how songs can actually lead the way from scene to scene and how they can dictate everything from new plot twists to the creation of new characters.  Being a complete rookie to this, all my brain is being filled with information about this process that I didn’t expect.  I’m blown away by the sheer amount of work that goes into something like this.

My biggest takeaway through this conversation is, ironically, more about life than anything else: it’s about the passion and sincerity from these two about giving the best possible presentation they can.  On Friday they will run through the musical again in front of a much bigger audience and then open it up once again to feedback.  I know I will be there and am looking forward to being able to say maybe, just maybe I had some impact in how the final product ends up at the end of the summer in New York.  Passion is what separates good from great in any situation.  Mark and Jay will be just fine.


Take care everyone!


Kyle Poissonnier


**Mark Chimsky and Jay Jacques are looking for interested actors for a upcoming reading of the script.  For more information contact Mark directly at


Where and When:

Friday, March 28, 7pm at Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church, 524 Allen Avenue




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