White Coat, Black Art

All the drama of med school, live on stage

Why a New Jersey dermatologist decided to write a musical about med school ... and the show's journey to the off-Broadway stage.
Dr. Michael Ehrenreich (Submitted by Dr. Michael Ehrenreich)

Originally published on May 26, 2018.

Musical theatre can encompass a wide variety of themes and plots: a cursory glance at this year's Tony Award nominations for best musical include high school bullies (Mean Girls), a Scandinavian fairy tale by way of Disney (Frozen), an Egyptian band stranded in a small Israeli town (The Band's Visit), and a yellow kitchen sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea (SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical).

But medical school is not a theme that has frequently come up as inspiration for a musical. At least not until Dr. Michael Ehrenreich, a dermatologist based in New Jersey, sat down and wrote Medicine the Musical.

"I think medicine is profoundly dramatic, and it was an idea that was percolating at the back of my mind since medical school," he told Dr. Brian Goldman on White Coat Black Art. "It wrote itself. I just sat down and started writing, and in a week I wrote half the show, and then finished it in the next three months."

It wrote itself. I just sat down and started writing, and in a week I wrote half the show, and then finished it in the next three months.- Dr. Michael Ehrenreich on writing  Medicine the Musical

The show follows a group of first-year med students on the emotional roller-coaster that is a medical education.

Many of the songs, like See One, Do One, Teach One, will resonate with anyone who has been through med school.

"Every med student/resident/doctor knows that term, but it's the way we learn," explained Dr. Ehrenreich. "You watch one, you do one and then you teach one and that cements it."

Aside from some childhood clarinet lessons, Dr. Ehrenreich doesn't have much formal musical training. "When I was older, I bought a guitar and a keyboard and have been kind of playing around ever since. I just sat down and I told myself I could do it, and I did it," he said.

The response to the first staged reading of Medicine the Musical, in April of 2017was very positive, according to Dr. Ehrenreich.

"There was a mix people from theatre people to random people who somehow made their way or heard about it. In particular, one doctor who came sticks in my memory," he said.

"He was an older doctor ... and at the end of it, he really had tears in his eyes and said it was the most moving thing he ever saw. Clearly it struck a chord. That was wonderful to hear."

A year and a half later, in November of 2018, Medicine the Musical enjoyed a successful run at the HERE arts centre. Dr. Ehrenreich was so happy with how it went that he is currently fundraising for an open-ended off-Broadway run of the show.