West Windsor resident and incoming Julliard School student Louis Josephson says that he learned to speak through music.
His natural passion was shaped and augmented by years of voice, piano and percussion lessons, as well as musical camps and pre-college programs.
With the added to guidance of long-ago music teacher Shannon Ferrara, Josephson penned his first musical in sixth grade.
“I thought it was bound for Broadway—I was, like, 12 and completely wrong, but I wrote it,” he laughs.
The teenage composer hasn’t slowed down since that first piece.
Now, with his first year of college coming on fast, Josephson’s most recent piece, Relapse The Musical, is just days from springing to life for its debut performance.
When the fourth annual New Jersey Fringe Festival touches down in Hammonton Aug. 2-4, West Windsor will be well-represented.
Joining Josephson is Shannon, who is musical director of Relapse The Musical, and her husband Frank, who’s directing the production. The Ferraras are West Windsor residents, and Shannon is also a music teacher at Grover Middle School.
The yearly three-day theater extravaganza that is the New Jersey Fringe Festival always brings any array of fine-arts experiences along with it, and this year’s installment is no exception.
Productions are staged nearly nonstop across multiple venues all centralized around Hammonton’s Eagle Theater, in addition to the bevy of art, live music, food, and drinks that the festival offers event-goers between performances.
And being a part of it is “a dream come true” for the young composer.
“I’ve been dreaming about doing something like this forever,” he says. “It’s been incredible to see this idea that was in my head come to life.”
Relapse The Musical is an 80-minute dramatic glimpse into the lives of five patients, a doctor and a nurse and the ways their paths interact and intersect in a mental institution.
The production portrays the ways the patients arrived there, their individual journeys, and their interactions with each other and the staff.
The plot itself taps into humor and the spectrum of nuanced human emotions. A total of 16 original songs explore how perceived weaknesses are really assets in disguise.
Josephson composed the musical score and orchestrations, while Justin Giachetti of Robbinsville wrote the book and lyrics. The two met through a shared vocal teacher as children, and have been collaborating since that first stab at writing for musical theatre in middle school.
“We started Relapse maybe two-and-a-half to three years ago, and we worked on and off at it,” Josephson says. “We began with the simple idea of someone who’s admitted to a psych ward and it just developed from there. We finished the first version of show probably this past January, and then showed it to Frank and Shannon.”
He said the original version was very linear, and Frank gave them the idea of expanding and playing with the timeline to give it some depth.
“We added some things, we cut some characters, we made the show a bit longer but also tightened it up,” Josephson said.
The team shares everything from neighborly proximity to previous collaborations, which has helped them translate their various creative perspectives and fortes into a living, breathing stage production.
Those well-established connections are what led Josephson and Giachetti to present their script to the Ferraras in the first place.
“Louis and Justin came to Frank and me to help put their play on and see what we could do with the show,” Shannon says. “They had just written it, so we all went over it and discussed what could be tweaked and how to move forward.”
“In my experience, when somebody asks you if you want to be involved in their new musical, you say yes,” Frank adds with a laugh. “I was immediately enthusiastic about it. We always look for things that will be challenging and exciting and fun, and there was no reason to think this would be anything but all of that—and more.”
This is the Ferraras’ first experience with not only the N.J. Fringe Festival but also getting to work with a brand-new play whose creators sought their feedback. There were myriad milestones—and a veritable spectrum of feelings—they’ve encountered during the development of Relapse.
“There was pressure, there was creative freedom, but most of all, there was collaboration,” Frank says. “One of the first things Louis and Justin did was they gave us the script, which Shannon and I went through and then sent them back our notes. We couldn’t do that with, say, Oklahoma!, because Oscar Hammerstein would not be interested in my opinion.
There’s also some pressure because, if we were putting on Oklahoma!, Mr. Hammerstein would not be there to watch what we did with his vision.”
For Josephson, reaching out to his former teacher and her husband was an obvious choice.
“Shannon was my band teacher in fifth grade and then my jazz band teacher in eighth grade, and she always really inspired me,” he says. “I figured that since she was one of my first teachers, I have to trust her because she did so much good for me. Besides, I’ve seen many of the shows she and Frank have done at Kelsey Theatre, and they are always absolutely spectacular.”
Shannon says that although she is reluctant to take credit for her role in any of her students’ blossoming talents, “I’m proud of my program as a whole, I’m proud of all my students, and I’m proud of Louis, but I won’t say that I made them who they are.”
Frank echoes Josephson’s sentiments about his wife’s ability to inspire the young students in her care.
“What she won’t say is that she is very good at making students think music is exciting and interesting and fun,” Frank says. “Growing up, I had bad music teachers who always made everything feel so ho-hum. Shannon teaches in a way that makes it fun, and I think you can see it in Louis.”
Shannon does agree that Josephson’s musical passion is a force to be reckoned with.
“He’s not even in college yet and Louis is already a published composer, he’s done pieces that I got to premier with him before,” she says. “It is just so cool to see Louis grow as a composer and musician because he’s a really talented, accomplished kid. I feel so lucky that I get to see a part of his musical journey.”
All three of them feel like New Jersey Fringe Festival is just the beginning of that journey.
“I feel like that, with any play, the ultimate goal is always New York,” Frank says.
“We want to see this show on Broadway,” Josephson confirms. “The Fringe Festival is sort of quasi-worship. We want to see this on stage and show it to people, and it is our dream to get this show on Broadway.”
Until then, Josephson is focused on ensuring that Relapse gets a message out that he feels is crucial to share with others: making it less taboo to talk about the mental-health issues that are all too often swept under the rug, despite being increasingly common ground that he feels anyone can—and should—relate to.
“We’re all affected by mental health in some way, either because we ourselves have a mental illness that we’re dealing with or someone we know does—mental health is part of our every day,” he says. “We want to share a story through Relapse, we want it to help destigmatize mental illness, and we want to educate people. It’s not about being crazy: It’s about just being a person, and we want the audience to walk away understanding that message of our show.”
“Relapse The Musical” will be performed upstairs at Eagle eXperience, located at 107 Vine Street, Hammonton. Its five-performance run starts Friday at 9:30 p.m., followed by three performances on Saturday (3:30, 6:30 and 10:30 p.m.) and a final 1 p.m. show Sunday. It is recommended for ages 13+ for mild language and content.
Go to jerseyfringe.com for more information about the New Jersey Fringe Festival, or louisjosephson.com to learn more about Josephson’s portfolio and accomplishments.