When he was in medical school, dermatologist Michael Ehrenreich, MD, used to make up songs about his and his classmates’ experiences.
He’d hum them to himself, and maybe to a few friends, but he never gave them more of a platform.
Now, Ehrenreich has a full musical under his belt — “Medicine the Musical,” to be exact — and he’s looking to take his work into production in New York City with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.
The story weaves together the lives of several first-year medical school students, capturing the rewards and the challenges, and it appeals to anyone who has worked hard for a dream, Ehrenreich said.
“The main element is the stress,” Ehrenreich told MedPage Today in a phone interview. “How hard it is for them; how close to breaking some people can get.”
He’s already put $25,000 of his own money into a staged concert reading in New York City, and is looking for anywhere from $20,000 — funding a workshop production — to upwards of $300,000 to stage it off-Broadway.
Ehrenreich runs Soma Skin & Laser, a private dermatology practice in Millburn, N.J., that’s a short train ride away from New York City. Although the dream for the musical began in medical school, he immersed himself in writing the script and lyrics, and composing the musical scaffold, in the summer of 2016, while his wife and kids were on a vacation.
“I wrote half of it in that week and a half, and finished over the next 3 months,” he said.
What to do with a finished musical script? Ehrenreich, who had no experience in theater and certainly no connections on the Broadway scene, started reading and researching.
His first move: hire a director and a music director, by placing ads online in Playbill and Backstage, ultimately landing Rachel Klein and Andy Peterson, who he said took his work to the next level.
“My music wouldn’t sound nearly as good without Andy,” Ehrenreich said. “I did the tune, chords, and lyrics. When you hear harmonies, or overlapping lyrics, that was Andy.”
The extent of his prior music experience was self-taught piano and guitar.
Next, the newly formed team hired a band, recommended by Peterson, and actors, whom Ehrenreich found through digital ads on theater websites. His queries received hundreds of videos, from which he selected 10 people for his cast.
Over 5 days, the company learned the material, and helped shape it.
“It’s interesting that as a writer or composer, you can hear it in your head one way, but theater is a collaborative art form and everyone brings their own interpretations,” Ehrenreich said. “The actors get inside your characters’ heads and offer good feedback.”
They gave two performances (a matinee and an evening show) of their staged concert reading in April 2017 at the Daryl Roth Theater on Union Square.
“It was wonderful to watch it come to life,” Ehrenreich said.
He said the production isn’t autobiographical, though Ehrenreich’s life is certainly screenplay-worthy: he quit his job as an investment banker to start medical school at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., at age 32, when most trainees are wrapping up their fellowships and getting ready for their first real job in medicine.
In addition to the investment banker salary, having sold a previous business — a brokerage firm for biotech investments — helped fund the long, expensive road to a career in medicine. A prior master’s degree in biological science bolstered his application, he noted.
“My wife married an investment banker, then she got a med student,” Ehrenreich said. “She’s been so supportive.”
His busy dermatology practice does a mix of cosmetic and general medical and surgical dermatologic procedures. He said he’s hoping that the medical community will take an interest in his work.
“There are a million doctors in the U.S.,” he told MedPage Today. “If everyone kicks in a couple of bucks, we’ll have a great show.”