It was less than two months after her producer husband of 35 years walked out that Ruthe Ponturo began working on her all-new revue, Til Divorce Do Us Part: The Musical. The show, which opens at off-Broadway's DR2 Theatre on February 18, is a humorous look at Ponturo's own journey of self-discovery. But Til Divorce is more than just a collection of funny tunes.
"We had so many gals come up to us after the show," said Ponturo, explaining her mission. "People who had been through experiences very much like mine [came up] to say, 'This really helped me.'" She continued, "I think that's what I want everybody to know. You're going to leave the theater smiling and with a positive attitude." Ponturo talked to TheaterMania about how she imagines her ex-husband would react to the musical, as well as about how to embrace the merits of being the dumper (as opposed to dumpee) and how to take responsibility for your own happiness.
How do you structure a show about divorce?
The way we thread the show together is with the fourth character in the show: Dear Dottie, Divorce Columnist Extraordinaire, played by our musical director [composer John Thomas Fischer]. As Dottie, he reads letters from women who have been divorced. For instance, "Dear Dottie, my husband left me for a much younger woman. Is this what you call a cliché? Signed, Cornswoggled in Kentucky." And then he says, "Dear Corny, Your vocabulary is excellent. Too bad your husband isn't." And then one of the gals walks out and sings a song in the style of Loretta Lynn. There's another one called "Spurned in Stuttgart," and that's a very Marlene Dietrich number. There's a doo-wop number. [And] the Divorce Dirge, which is set to Chopin's funeral march. It's a self-awakening.
How creatively involved are you?
Well, I was the original divorcée. I wrote the lyrics after my husband left me. We had been married, very happily, I will say, for 34 years, so it was rather shocking. You know, like Whaaaaaa? You're leaving!? Oh, OK! And I just started to hear these lyrics in my head, and you know, thought, Huh, I should write this down. At the time, I was very friendly with John Thomas Fischer, who wrote the music. So we started banging out songs. And I'm also choreographing it, so [I do] the lyrics and the choreography.
At what point did you realize your idea was a show you wanted to produce on a large scale?
When we did it at The Triad, even young gals came afterward, and they said, "You know, you don't have to be married [to relate to this]." Even if you're in high school and get dumped by your boyfriend, nobody wants to be the dumpee. But it's just been a great experience [and] it's a lot of fun because all the people involved in this show are great people who are so positive.
Have you encountered any backlash?
Well, I have had no contact with my ex-husband. The last time I saw him or set eyes on him was September of 2011. He's never said anything to me about the show. I'm assuming he probably rolls his eyes and goes, "What?"
How has the play been helping you emotionally?
He left in March of 2011, so it hasn't been that long. And right away, I mean by April, we were starting to work on songs. [John and I] would sit at the piano here...and we would bang out these songs, like, Well, what kind of tune? What kind of style should this one be? And we would be laughing the whole time. How can you feel really bad when you're laughing so much? If you're surrounded by positive experience, it's really a lot easier to get over. I always thought that, I just would not let [my ex] defeat me. I think that's the bottom-line message of the whole show. You've got to stand up for yourself and ultimately, your happiness is in your hands.
What are your hopes for the future for this play?
I would love for our show to become like Menopause the Musical or Love, Loss and What I Wore, in that it would be done in a lot of smaller venues around the country and all kinds of people can see it. Because unfortunately, the reality is even if you're not divorced, everybody knows somebody who is. And you don't have to be divorced. I always say, "I'm not an alcoholic and I go see Tennessee Williams plays."