Shaie Beutler sat in her high school English class pretending to pay attention. As she gazed blankly at her English teacher, her imagination rustled through the old French letters and biographies stowed in her backpack. Lately, her obsession with studying Robespierre had faded, replaced instead with a fascination of the war hero Gilbert de Lafayette.
“How can I tell his story?” Beutler thought.
When the song lyrics came to her, she pulled out a notebook, pretending to take notes as she captured the inspiration. She labeled the song “City of Lies,” then waited for the bell to ring so she could find a quiet spot to record the tune before it slipped her memory.
At that moment in her junior year of high school, Beutler began the creation of Lafayette: the Musical. Little did she know, a few short years later she would be hiring professionals to complete the process.
“What place is this
With crimes undisguised?
This is Paris, the city of lies!”
—“City of Lies,” Act One, Scene Two of Lafayette
“He is a rockstar. Lafayette is just a rockstar,” Shaie Beutler, a student studying interdisciplinary studies (with an emphasis in theater studies and international studies), said. “The more I learned about his wife and his situation, I realized that this is a story that needs to be told. … It already has all the drama.”
According to Beutler, Lafayette heard of the American Revolution at 17 years old. He gave everything to join, even though it had nothing to do with him, simply because he felt it was a worthy cause.
“Seventeen years old, he doesn’t speak a lick of English, he sails over to America, (and) continental congress won’t give him the command,” Beutler said. “George Washington sees his valor and bravery and he gives him a command and fights in the American Revolution. By the time he goes home to France, he is a big hero in France as well.”
Lafayette begins with the war hero arriving home from America.
“Lords and masters, give me leave
before they lay me down
to fight for something I believe
and not just for the crown.”
— “Let Me Be a Man,” Act Two, Scene Four of Lafayette
Hamilton and Les Misérables
“So is this like the sequel to Hamilton?” is a question Beutler receives often. After all, the play begins where Lafayette’s story ends in the musical Hamilton, depicting Lafayette’s turn to “not throw away his shot.”
As it turns out, Beutler never saw or even listened to Hamilton. Her friend told her about Hamilton when the script was nearly finished. She said if it is a sequel, it is certainly “unplanned.”
“It’s a cool play, but (Lafayette) is nothing like that play,” Beutler said. “I have gone to very great lengths to make sure that the Lafayette that I represent is true to life.”
“Hamilton: So what happens if you win?
Lafayette: I go back to France,
I bring freedom to my people
if I am given the chance.”
— “Yorktown” Act One, Scene Twenty of Hamilton
When asked about Les Misérables, Beutler said she never listened to it all the way through, because, as she was writing Lafayette about the French Revolution and did not want to be influenced by the shadow of Les Misérables. She has however studied all 2,000 pages of the Victor Hugo book, calling it “genius.”
“It took years of research and dedication, combing through letters and diaries, translating original documents from French, and composing songs in the shower or Walmart (where I didn’t always sing quietly). All of this in an effort to bring to life one of the most remarkable men in human history,” Beutler wrote on her Kickstarter page.
Lafayette: the musical depicts the return of the American Revolutionary hero Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, to France. Eager to pass the torch of the revolution to his native people, Lafayette quickly becomes a threat to the established government. Unfortunately, Lafayette’s plans did not play out smoothly. As the aristocracy falls, anarchy takes its place among the people, their faith in Lafayette waning. He had to choose to give up his political goals, or else risk the protection of his family.
“The play also addresses little-known events in Lafayette’s life, such as his affair with Madame de Simiane, the execution of his wife’s family, and his illegal imprisonment in the Austrian fortress of Olmütz,” Beutler wrote.
Beutler put the finishing touches on the script in April 2017. “It’s great to have a script,” Beutler said, “but producers want to hear the music.”
In spring 2018, she earned $4,000 through a Kickstarter to fund the creation of the Lafayette sample album. She used the crowdfunded money to hire the composer, Dallas Crane, to record the songs.
Beutler directed her first public table reading took place on June 8, 2018. This bare-bones run-through of the play, along with the recently composed Lafayette sample album, gave Beutler the material she needs to submit her play to potential producers, musical theater festivals and independent theaters in the hope they will perform this show.
Currently, Beutler is submitting it to several producers and theaters and waiting to hear back.
“City of Lies” was originally the opening song for the musical.
“Let Me Be a Man” is the song Lafayette sings when he decides to be revolutionary in France.
“Will You Be a Man” a mirror to Lafayette’s song. His wife sings it when things have gone downhill and they have both been arrested.
Beutler said that one of the themes she is trying to express in the play is what it means to be a man or a woman. “Today there is a lot of confusion on what manliness is. We tend to assume that manliness is defunct, [unnecessary], violence and arrogance … but that is not what being a man is about,” Beutler said.
Crane, the producer of the sample album, works as a media composer in Los Angeles for feature films, video games, jazz music and other freelance projects. When given this project, he decided not to do a period score, instead deciding on a “strategic blend of straight-ahead modern musicals with an intimate indie twist.”
“It was truly a pleasure to work on such a heartfelt and authentic project. I tried to get into the minds of each of the characters as I sculpted the music around them. Lafayette has the world on his shoulders, which I found compelling. The parallel universe feeling that the French Revolution gives, with its obvious twists and turns, was a fun setting to work with,” said Crane.
Beutler’s Historical Fiction
Beutler has carried the dream of becoming a writer since she was 8 years old. As a freshman in high school, her writing shifted to predominantly historical fiction. While other fiction genres can be entertaining to Beutler, she feels strongly “with historical fiction, you really have to fight for it” because it requires extensive research and skillful teaching.
Beutler said the primary message she wishes to convey through historical fiction has to do with displaying the many choices laid before historical figures.
“A lot of people read history as if it is inevitable. ‘Event A happened, so Event B must happen’ … but none of it is ever inevitable.” Beutler said, “When people were in those moments, living those moments, there were several different options in front of them and they choose one… History is a recording of the choices people made, but none of it was necessarily written in stone. For the people who were actually in those positions, they weren’t like, ‘So the history books say this, so we better do this’. (Rather,) it was them trying to figure out the best option for themselves and (for others).”
According to Beutler, many Americans suffer from “historical amnesia.” By understanding the lessons history has given us, she feels we can become wiser people—people who learn from the mistakes of others.