St. Paul grad's musical debuts in New York

Cary Ashby • Dec 30, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Reality hasn’t quite set in for Daniel Rufffing that his musical debuted in New York City.

The St. Paul High School graduate created “Secrets,” a spy-based musical, with fellow Baldwin Wallace University student Noah Meaux. Ruffing, an award-winning songwriter, composed the music while Meaux, of Annapolis, Md., wrote the book and helped write the lyrics.

There was an hour-long performance Dec. 22 at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York. Many people from Norwalk, including Ruffing’s parents, came to the show.

Ruffing shared his perspective about being a teenager who has had a show debut on Broadway.

“It’s insane because there’s not many people who can say that — writers at least — because it’s mostly performers. It really hasn’t sunk in for me yet,” said the 19-year-old son of Tom and Tina. “It still hasn’t hit me yet that that has happened. … It’s really exciting.”

Describing 54 Below as having a dinner theater atmosphere, Ruffing estimated the venue holds 130 to 140 people. After meeting the minimum number of 110 sold seats, he said “we got there and found out the whole show was sold out.”

“That was surprising; that was really, really cool,” Ruffing added with a big grin.

During the performance, “a musical in concert,” Ruffing and Meaux presented the songs in chronological order and in between, the pair shared the context for each tune and the storyline. Aside from one person — a young lady whom Meaux knew from Rider University in New Jersey, all the performers were Baldwin Wallace students.

Ruffing was admittedly “really nervous” about speaking in front of such a large crowd, but he said he and Meaux eventually found a good rhythm during the show. Even though the pair had rehearsed earlier that day, Ruffing said he “was a nervous wreck” about remembering all his scripted dialogue.

“Luckily they had the huge spotlights, so I couldn’t see anyone, which helped a lot,” he said with a laugh.


Audience was ‘blown away’

Since Ruffing was studying abroad in England, Meaux ran the rehearsals at Baldwin Wallace. That meant the two-hour rehearsal the day of the debut was the first time Ruffing saw his work being performed.

“I was blown away; the kids are so talented,” he said. “They put so much effort into the work. … It makes sense because it’s such a big deal for them; they are all music theater majors at BW or acting majors. (This was) their chance to be seen and get a name for themselves, so they took it really seriously.”

Ruffing’s parents were impressed with the performers, especially since some are younger than their son.

“They were blown away,” said Ruffing, a sophomore who is majoring in arts management.

Publicity for the show mainly went through the “Secrets” Facebook and Instagram pages/accounts and the cast members’ social media.

“54 Below actually did some advertising for us, so they did some stuff on their Instagram pages and their Twitter and all that and they even set up a website for us, so people could get the buzz going,”

All the feedback Ruffing received after the show was positive.

“It was really, really cool. A lot of (the audience) was cast members’ parents and they were really appreciative of everything,” he said.

Beforehand there was a brush with theater fame, Norm Lewis. The Broadway star performed in a show before “Secrets.”

“He came in the room while we were rehearsing and he was like, ‘Is this from some new show on Broadway?,’” said Ruffing, who was overwhelmed with that feedback. “I really look up to him. He thought it was an actual produced show and all that. He said he really liked the music. It was so cool.

“A lot of the people liked the musical genre,” added Ruffing, who considers the “Secrets” music a mix of contemporary and “old-time Broadway.” “It’s good for the older generation and for the newer generation to enjoy. I just write what I like.”


More ‘Secrets’

There is a demand for another performance of “Secrets” to take place around June — and possibly more after that.

“We were asked to redo the show there because it sold out,” Ruffing said, referring to Feinstein’s/54 Below. “We are redoing the show for an encore performance, so they really want us to come back.”

People working for theater companies in the Boston area and Sandusky have shown interest in a “staged reading.” In that type of performance, the actors use scripts and perform the scenes and songs without full costumes or scenery. 

“The one in Boston does a lot of shows — new musicals and stuff — that transfer to Broadway or off-Broadway,” Ruffing said.

Meaux and Ruffing still plan on making “Secrets” a full-fledged musical with completed scenes. 

“That’s still the No. 1 goal,” Ruffing said. “We’ve been debating doing it at Baldwin Wallace since we are all students there and there are all those connections. Ideally it would be (in) New York City.”

The pair could submit it to New York-area festivals.

“You usually have to have a history of performances to submit, so this (debut) counts as that,” Ruffing said.

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