Jesse Eisenberg has been writing music for most of his life. He just doesn’t share it with anybody.
But in an unlikely turn of events, Monday night marked the actor’s debut as a composer. It happened at L.A.’s inaugural rendition of the 24 Hour Musicals. As its name suggests, the event is a ludicrous theatrical marathon that corrals an ambitious group of artists inside one cavernous performance space for the better part of a full day.
The goal? Write, produce, direct, rehearse and perform one short musical with a group of mostly rising artists.
Held at the Theatre at the Ace Theater in downtown Los Angeles, the event raised money for the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, an arm of the Dramatists Guild of America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression within the theatrical realm.
Eisenberg, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in 2010’s “The Social Network,” had never participated in the event before. But after encouragement from his wife, Anna Strout (who has been involved with the 24 Hour Plays off-Broadway for several years), he agreed to sign on as a composer — an endeavor that he would later call “presumptuous.”
“And I’d had a sip of Guinness,” he added, “so, you know, I was feeling confident.”
But Eisenberg admitted that the prospect of participating initially terrified him.
“I volunteered and then immediately regretted it,” he said after dodging the exuberant crowd of Broadway enthusiasts who flooded the theater lobby after Monday night’s performance.
His apprehension about the event was certainly not unfounded. By the time he was watching his work play out on stage, Eisenberg was just about to clock in at 24 hours since he started writing the score. But ultimately he decided that “it proved, retroactively, to be an enjoyable experience.”
The night before, the 24 Hour Musicals participants — an eclectic troupe of writers, composers, directors, choreographers, musicians and actors that included Jamie-Lynn Sigler (“The Sopranos”), Wayne Brady (“Kinky Boots”) and Michelle Visage (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”) — first gathered at 9 p.m. to get acquainted.
Performers were asked to bring one prop (e.g., a light saber, a Game Boy, a Hazmat suit), share a few of their “special skills” and present the writer-composer teams with their stage aspirations.
Born out of a flip phone, a German accent and the unfulfilled desire to play “sister” roles, Eisenberg — alongside his writing partner, Liz Meriwether, of “New Girl” fame — pulled a frantic all-nighter to devise “Shoshana and Her Lovers.” Eisenberg presented the 15-minute musical parody to his cast of actors at 9 o’clock Monday morning with minimal description, except for “really absurdist.”
“So, it’s about four lesbian sisters,” he deadpanned, which prompted a series of chuckles from the cast and crew.
“They’re not lesbian with each other,” Eisenberg continued. “But, you know, it’s, like, sexuality is fluid ... and so is family.”
The musical, which starred Andrew Leeds (“The Great Indoors”), Deborah Ann Woll (“True Blood”), Herizen Guardiola (“The Get Down”), Janina Gavankar (“True Blood”) and Shoshana Bean (“Wicked”), was as bizarre as one might expect.
The group spent much of Monday morning nailing down the rhythmic tempo of what was perhaps the musical’s most recurring one-liner: “’Cause we are/ Best friends/ And les-bi-ans.”
Despite a few choice lyrics swallowed here and there, “Shoshana and Her Lovers” was as uproarious as they had hoped. Guardiola, employing a pseudo-German accent, ended up reading her lyrics off a stack of notecards, which she expertly incorporated into her performance.
(Earlier, when Guardiola told Eisenberg that she had never imitated a German accent before, he offhandedly replied, “Do any accent you want. And we’ll call it German.”)
On the brink of the 24-hour mark, Eisenberg was exhausted. Wearing a gray cotton T-shirt, a pair of dark skinny jeans and a red baseball cap with the Indiana University logo, he tripped over his words a bit. He was totally fried.
He didn’t wax too romantic about the world premiere of his composing chops, but the experience, he assured a reporter afterward, was “incredible.”
“I think it was a crowd-pleaser,” he said, “which is a euphemism for ‘It was simple.’”