Turning a Bloody Attack Into a Musical

It was a grisly story of two immigrant cabdrivers whose taxi-sharing partnership ended with one attacking the other with a meat cleaver and then jumping to his death from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.

It was chronicled in a 2009 article in The New York Times.

But can this drama translate into a musical?

Timothy Huang, a Manhattan composer, thinks so. He has written “Costs of Living,” which has been selected as a finalist for the American Harmony Prize, which celebrates new musical theater works that involve American ethnic, religious and gender issues.

It was also one of four shows selected for the Ascap Musical Theater Workshop, which includes a staged reading of the piece for a panel of established composers, including Stephen Schwartz, the creator of “Wicked” and “Godspell.”

With that momentum, Mr. Huang, 37, thinks he has a good chance of interesting a theater company in producing this 17-song musical for a run in New York.

It focuses on two immigrants in Queens who trade 12-hour shifts driving the same yellow cab seven days a week. The cabbies have similar immigrant dreams that wind up taking very different trajectories, culminating in a violent encounter that leaves one dead and the other injured.

Throughout the musical, which Mr. Huang began writing in January 2011, the two cabdrivers sing about their hope and heartbreak while struggling to make a living in New York.

In the real-life case, the two cabbies were Nepali immigrants, Debindra Chhantyal and Pema Sherpa.

But Mr. Huang, whose parents immigrated from Taiwan, made his central characters Chinese.

“I wanted to write something that had more to do with my personal journey, and I felt I was more qualified to speak about my own culture,” said Mr. Huang, who considered the newspaper article a good basis for a musical because “music transcends language” in expressing the emotional intensity of the story. He also wanted to write about the immigrant experience.

“In this country, if someone speaks with an accent, they’re considered lower class,” he said, “And I felt that using song form would be a cool way to show that it’s not true.”

“Cost of Living” has plenty of jokes and quips but retains a dark depiction of the troubles immigrants can face in New York. Mr. Huang held a rehearsal on Tuesday to prepare for the panel reading, for which he is using eight actors, most of whom are of Asian descent, including Telly Leung, who is currently performing in “Godspell” on Broadway.

As were the Nepali drivers, both of Mr. Huang’s cabbies were classmates at a Queens taxi-driving school. Their long shifts are reflected in the song “Drive,” in which they sing “the road’s a climb” and “there is only drive.”

Like Mr. Sherpa, the character Eng works the day shift and has friends and a family, and dreams of buying his own medallion cab “with that great new-car smell, no partners, no shifts, no boss,” as his wife says.

The other main character, Chin, is patterned after Mr. Chhantyal, who worked the night shift and whose life was unraveling. Like Mr. Chhantyal, Chin becomes increasingly depressed and frustrated with his job and with family problems in his homeland.

As it was with the real-life drivers, Eng and Chin’s arrangement is amiable. The attack is a surprise, much like in September 2008, when Mr. Chhantyal was handing over the taxi to Mr. Sherpa before sunrise on a dark street near Mr. Sherpa’s home in Woodside, Queens.

Mr. Chhantyal suddenly pulled out the cleaver and began hacking at his partner. As Mr. Chhantyal did, Chin then drives the cab to the bridge and leaps into the East River.

During the rehearsal on Tuesday, the attack scene was accompanied by the cast singing a version of “America the Beautiful” in a minor key and imbued with dissonance, as if to accent an American dream turned sour.

“It’s a song we associate with the kind of majesty and glory and beauty that drew the two men to America, but which wound up corrupting them,” Mr. Huang said. “Immigrants are told that if they come here and work hard, things will be great, and it’s actually not true.”

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Mr. Sherpa seemed bewildered that the horrific episode could serve as grist for the musical theater.

“They’re singing songs about it?” he said.

Mr. Sherpa, who now owns his own medallion cab, said he had gotten a couple of Nepali friends to handle other shifts in his cab and he drove nights so he could care for his 5-year-old daughter during the day while his wife worked. He said his wounds had healed but he was still haunted by the attack.

Told more about the musical, he said, “I’d go to see that.”

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Riding the Subway, From A to Z in 22:52:35 or Bust

Help Break the Record

subway line icons

Share your knowledge of New York’s subways to help Adham James and Andy Fisher break the subway-riding record.

It’s an endeavor many train enthusiasts have dreamed about trying: ride every inch of a transportation network, traversing every subway line and station — and do it all, not in a week or a month, but in a day.

This week, Adham Fisher, 27, of Leicester, England, who manages camp sites during Formula One races, and his friend Andy James, a 36-year-old pharmacist from Bournemouth, England, began on-the-scene research into their attempt next Wednesday to break the Guinness World Record for riding the entire New York City subway system.

Both visitors are well versed in the competitive subway-riding world. Mr. Fisher established the record for riding Chicago’s rail network in 9 hours 30 minutes 59 seconds. Mr. James still holds the record for riding the entire London Underground in 16 hours 29 minutes 13 seconds.

But the task ahead of them in New York is more daunting. In 2009, two New Yorkers, Matthew Ferrisi and Chris Solarz, set the Guinness record for covering the city’s 468 subway stations in 22 hours 52 minutes 36 seconds; they credited a computer program that they devised. The previous record, set in 2006, was 24 hours 54 minutes.

Mr. Ferrisi, who has since moved to New Hampshire, said he would not mind trying again, but most likely at a somewhat more leisurely pace. During the nearly 23-hour trip, he said he had time only for two cups of coffee.

He was too busy chronicling his journey for Guinness, which involved taking time-stamped photographs of every station; getting a passenger to sign off each station they passed through; filming their journey by video; and live blogging part of the trip.

He suspects his record will be hard to top because the subway system has had so many service cuts, lengthening waiting times for trains.

“It was exhausting,” said Mr. Ferrisi, who is now trying to claim other records, like visiting as many countries as possible by rail in 24 hours. “This is not a record I think we’re going to come back and reclaim.”

At noon on Wednesday, Mr. Fisher and Mr. James did seem a bit in awe at their undertaking. They had arrived in New York the night before, and had ridden only four lines (the A, F, 1 and 2). Mr. James was still dragging his red suitcase through the system and buying his first MetroCard.

Mr. Fisher offered an immediate tip: a MetroCard can be swiped only once every 18 minutes. Their friend Hannah Brady, who came along to offer support, nudged them to share some of their strategies for winning.

“To be honest, I’m not expecting to break it on my first time here,” Mr. Fisher said.

As the pair headed down into the subway system, they seemed to gain more confidence. Mr. James described how he had broken records riding the London Underground by studying the exit locations of train doors and knowing how to rush to the next connection. He studied New York City subway transfer points on Google maps and on YouTube videos before he arrived.

Mr. Fisher worked out a strategy to ride certain parts of lines and explained how it wasn’t efficient to ride lines from end to end. By the end of the day, they had ridden a dozen lines and met with developers of an app to figure out how to plot their journey.

The two men have already learned the art of complaining about the New York City subway. Mr. Fisher said that for next week’s journey, he may bring extra MetroCards “in case something goes wrong with a swipe.”

He added, “I was stuck at Canal Street for 10 minutes after I allowed the turnstile to turn before I entered it, trying to take the 6.”

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A Word From Our Sponsor On What Is Legal Liability Insurance

Legal liability insurance is something you may or may not be familiar with. It is an important thing for any attorney practicing law to be covered in case a client that is not happy with them for any reason decides to bring a legal suit against them. You never know when this may happen, and it can even happen if you don’t do anything wrong. If a legal suit such as this is filed against you, your legal liability insurance policy will cover your costs and legal fees to protect yourself. As you can see, this type of insurance is an important part of your business.
This type of insurance can protect you in the event someone accuses you of malpractice or errors and omissions. Thus, there are other names that legal liability insurance is known by such as errors and omission insurance and legal malpractice insurance. There are even clients who have financial losses they are trying to make up for that may file a lawsuit against you just to try to recover some of this money. This is not morally right or honest, but does happen, unfortunately.
You will have choices in your coverage areas when you are choosing this type of insurance. You will also be able to choose what insurance limits and deductibles you would like to go with on your policy.

Chickpea Nostalgia

Dear Diary:

Metropolitan Diary

Reader Tales From the City

My wife, who just made me some hot boiled chickpeas, got tired of my nostalgia and demanded that I write.

I grew up in Brooklyn — Bed Stuy, Bushwick, Williamsburg — in the ’30s and remember, during the winter years, usually a little Jewish man pushing a tin cart, with some coals, heating it, and selling “boiled chickpeas” in a small brown bag for a penny.

Does anyone have these memories left?

Welcome to Metropolitan Diary 2.0! Beginning this week, City Room is publishing one item each weekday morning. For our dedicated newspaper readers, not to worry. You’ll still be able to read items in print on Mondays; but online, you can now share and comment on your favorite New York tales. Our guidelines have changed slightly and so has our desire for new kinds of storytelling. Please take a moment to read the new rules. Your suggestions and submissions are welcome via e-mail: [email protected] or telephone: (212) 556-1333. Join us this week on NYTMetro’s Facebook page as we share our favorite entries from decades past. Follow @NYTMetro on Twitter using the hashtag #MetDiary. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

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