No one would have blamed Ruthe Ponturo for being sad when her husband of 34 years suddenly left her for another—much younger—woman. But Ponturo decided almost immediately that instead of being sad, she’d be musical.
Ponturo’s subsequent divorce from her Broadway producer husband Tony Ponturo became the fodder for a brand-new cabaret show, Divorce–the Musical: Better Mad Than Sad, which premiered at the Upper West Side’s Triad Theater last week.
“I’ve always had a very positive outlook on life, and that’s not going to change because of him,” Ponturo said.
Ponturo, who lives on the Upper East Side, said she was completely blindsided by her husband’s announcement that he wanted a divorce—although in hindsight she can see there were some warning signs.
“We had had a long and very happy marriage and had a lot of fun, and I thought we would be married forever,” she said. “My parents had been married for almost 61 years; I just assumed I would be too.”
But she didn’t let the shock hold back her creative side. One day in the shower, she started singing snippets of lyrics and realized she should write them down. When she started to form full songs, she brought the idea of writing a musical to her piano teacher, John Thomas Fischer, and he agreed to be the composer for what would become the divorce-themed musical review.
“It’s been a very therapeutic experience,” Ponturo said. She was writing the songs in the midst of the drawn-out divorce process, channeling her frustration and observations into her lyrics. At first, they toyed with a title for the show around the word “revenge,” but Ponturo said that the show evolved very quickly away from being an act of vengeance.
“It’s not a show about revenge; it’s a show about how a person can take a bad situation. First you get mad and then you are fine because you get over it,” Ponturo said. “The first song is called ‘Better Mad Than Sad,’ and the last song is ‘Better Glad Than Mad.’ ”
Ponturo said that she received instant support and encouragement from her friends and family when she set out to create the show. To raise the money for the production costs, she sold off much of the jewelry her husband had given her over the years, including her wedding ring, and brought in almost $30,000. She also called in professionals she knew well from her years as a choreographer, teacher and actress.
The costume designer, Paloma Young, just won a Tony Award for her work on Peter and the Starcatcher. Ponturo said she was thrilled that Young wanted to work on her small project and even more thrilled with her idea to cut up her old wedding dress to use for part of a costume.
The songs range from country-Western to doo-wop to big Broadway show-stopper numbers. In subject matter, they cover the diverse range of emotions that she experienced during her divorce.
“There’s the ‘Divorce Dirge,’ about the really obnoxious procedure of getting a divorce, the paperwork and the accountants, dividing up the property,” Ponturo said. “There’s a song about the other woman which, of course, is a tango; there’s the ballad about how you remember how it used to be.”
There’s also a song about denial, one about Viagra, and one written from the perspective of Ponturo’s three cats, who are shocked that their “daddy” would up and leave them.
As for the subject of the musical, Ponturo said that her ex is aware she’s producing it and wanted to sit down to discuss it with her—a request she gleefully denied.
“The old Tony would have enjoyed it,” she said. “My husband back in the day would have been proud of me, but that’s over.”
Ponturo and her team hope to bring the show on tour after the run at the Triad. She said that she’s already heard from women at workshops and readings who can relate to all the feelings she dramatizes in the show, and that it would be the perfect “gals’ night out” show to take around the country.
“I think it’s funny no matter who you are—unless you’re my husband,” Ponturo said with a laugh.
Divorce–the Musical plays at the Triad Theater, 158 W. 72nd St., Oct. 6, 11, 12 and 13. Visit brownpapertickets.com for tickets.
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