Look Around, Look Around at How Lucky We Are to Be Alive Right Now

Most of my friends swoon over the thought of meeting Lin-Manuel Miranda or Stephanie J. Block, but my heroes are the directors and writers (although I guess that also includes Lin-Manuel Miranda). What I would give to talk to Hal Prince or Tommy Tune! Or to go back in time to talk with Fosse or George Abbott before they died!

Luckily for this MT* FanBoy, I do get to meet some amazing writers from time to time. [* MT is internet shorthand for Musical Theatre]

One of the great joys of running a company like New Line is that every show really is an adventure, with its own style, tone, devices, etc. Sometimes it's a wild, roller-coaster ride; sometimes we have to slowly hack our way through a jungle of complexity and nuance to get where we're going. And it's always an adventure for our audience too, who often know nothing about a show coming in, only that it will be an adventure.

One of the coolest parts of the adventure is that periodically over our 27-year history, the writers of the shows we've produced have come to see our productions of their work. Which is always very cool. These are the folks who've come to visit us...

bookwriter-composer-lyricist Mark Savage
The Ballad of Little Mikey (1997)
We were still a young company when we took our first two big risks, in our sixth season. We produced the weirdly wonderful cult favorite, the off Broadway concept musical Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. And then we did The Ballad of Little Mikey. If I remember right, it had been produced only in Los Angeles by Mark Savage, who wrote it. I found his cast album on CD and fell in love with his quirky but gorgeous score telling the story of the birth of a gay activist in the 1980s. There was a big dance number in the show called "Tap," about anonymous sex in public restrooms (I'm not kidding). In the L.A. production the song was kind of naughty but cute, but ours was more explicit -- an R-rated Busby Berkeley number, with the guys' pants around their ankles the whole time, running in and out of bathroom stalls, and making a giant revolving wreath of rainbow-colored toilet seats. It was hilarious and freaky and very John Waters. But when Mark Savage flew in to see our show, our version of "Tap" really shocked him. He couldn't believe we had taken it so far. Which cracked me up. It was a song about anonymous sex in public restrooms. He really loved our production, though, because we understood the story's heart and the complexity of gay cultural history. Such a funny, beautiful show. And it was amazing to meet Mark.

bookwriter-lyricist Annie Kessler
Woman with Pocketbook (1998)
We had a one-act musical contest, and the winning show shared its world premiere with Bill Finn's March of the Falsettos. We got about three dozen really wonderful short musicals submitted from all across the country. We settled on one that was very simple on the surface but such an insightful piece of social commentary. It was called Woman with Pocketbook, by Annie Kessler, Libby Saines, and actor Jeff Blumenkrantz, and it was about this older woman, Doris, who dies, gets to Heaven, but can't get in because she refuses to give up her pocketbook. Annie came to see the production, and it was very cool meeting her.

lyricist Amanda Green
High Fidelity (2008)
This was such a thrill for me. I had found the High Fidelity cast album, after its aborted run on Broadway in 2006. Only because Tom Kitt had his own band with a website was I able to find him and get a look at the Hi-Fi script. Which is amazing. Soon enough, we had the rights to the American Regional Premiere, and we brought back to life -- and to rave reviews -- one of the most interesting, most inventive musicals of the last couple decades. To my great delight, lyricist Amanda Green flew into see us, and she got to sit in a sold-out house roaring with laughter at Barry and sniffling at "Laura, Laura." In part, I think Amanda came to see if her show could really work stripped down and minimalist -- I don't know if she'd agree, but I think it works ten times better. It' a very intimate story and should never have been on a Broadway stage (or directed by someone who didn't understand what it is). Amanda was awesome and seemed really happy with our production, with the balance we found between the funny stuff and the harrowing emotional content. She was so complimentary to all of us. She went to dinner with us after the show, and her best bud Ann Harada just happened to be in town at the Muny, so Ann joined us too. We all geeked out.

songwriter Adam Schlessinger, 
orchestrator Christopher Jahnke
Cry-Baby (2012)
Like High Fidelity, this was another show that was badly directed and completely misunderstood on Broadway. The original director, who shall remain nameless, hopelessly crippled the show. I found one of the writers, David Javerbaum, online and again, got a script. Which was also amazing. I had the great fun of meeting all four writers for brunch when I was up in NYC, and they all felt comfortable letting me take a swing at their baby (what an unfortunate mixed metaphor), so New Line presented the American Regional Premiere. The writers also agreed to pay for new arrangements for a six-piece rock band for us (and for future productions). Javerbaum's songwriting partner Adam Schlessinger (of Fountains of Wayne) flew out to see us, along with the show's orchestrator Chris Jahnke. Again, I think Adam wanted to know if the show could work with a six-piece band (which is what they had originally wanted), and a cast of 16. I think they were both very happy. And again, it was just such fun to meet them and talk with them afterward.

bookwriter-lyricist Spencer Green,
bookwriter-composer-lyricist Gary Stockdale
Bukowsical (2013)
Spencer and Gary flew in to see our production and they were both so nice! Ours was the first production outside of NYC and L.A., and the first production the writers weren't involved with. But I think they were very happy with what we had wrought. I was a little nervous because they had originally written a framing device for the show that I thought was unnecessary, even a cop-out of sorts. So I lobbied them to cut it and they let me. So here they were, seeing their show without the framing device for the first time -- and they told me they really liked how well it worked. I know they've continued to work on it, though I'm not sure if the frame has survived or not.

composer-lyricist Amanda Green
Hands on a Hardbody (2014)
Amanda came back to see us a second time when we produced the American Regional Premiere of Hands on a Hardbody. Once again, the show hadn't lasted long on Broadway, but it absolutely thrived in our intimate 200-seat house. Amanda was really happy with our production and our many rave reviews. I later found out that during intermission on opening night, a young woman in our audience turned to her friend and said, "This is so good! If I had another $25, I'd come see it again!" Whereupon Amanda Green, sitting directly in front of this young woman, turned around, handed her $25, and said, "Come back and see it again." How cool is that.

bookwriter Ivan Menchell,
orchestrator John McDaniel
Bonnie & Clyde (2014)
Most improbably, Bonnie & Clyde bookwriter Ivan Menchell and the show's orchestrator and arranger (and St. Louis hometown boy) John McDaniel both came to our production on the same night -- without knowing the other would be there. I think they were both happy with our show, and we went out for a late dinner. I had seen the Broadway production (which I loved), but I had forgotten how differently we had approached the show. I think some of those changes (like not having any actual kids) were a bit weird to Ivan, but I think he genuinely liked our production.

bookwriter-lyricist Danny Ginges,
composer-lyricist Philip Foxman
Atomic (2016)
This amazing rock drama was born in Australia, then badly abused off Broadway, then returned to Australia, and emerged better and sharper than ever. It was this last version that we had the privilege of producing (I think we were the second American regional production), and ours was the first production the writers hadn't been involved in. But they both flew in from Australia to see us and were very gracious and very complimentary. They asked me for a few subtle changes in our staging, and we were happy to work those in. The production before us had been on a large stage in a big regional theatre. I think it was cool for Danny and Philip to see their show as freakishly up close as ours was -- and to see how powerful it is that way.

bookwriter-lyricist Tom Jones
Celebration (2016)
I had always wanted to see this show. I never thought I'd ever be in a position to actually produce it. But somehow we made the crazy decision to open last season with it. Once we had decided to do it, I contacted bookwriter and lyricist Tom Jones (The Fantasticks, I Do! I Do!, 110 in the Shade, Philemon), told him we were doing the show, and I wanted to ask him some questions. It's a really odd show! He replied that he'd been working on a new draft of the script and he wanted to know if we'd premiere this new version. I immediately agreed. So he flew out to see us, with one of his sons (who had never seen Celebration), and like the other writers, he was so nice, so warm, and so complimentary. Plus, I got to do a podcast interview with him about the show!

Pretty cool, huh?

And it looks pretty likely that Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, the writers of Yeast Nation (and Urinetown) will be coming to see our production in June. We produced Urinetown in 2007. I really hope they can make it.

There are a thousand reasons I'm grateful that I get to run New Line, but one of the biggest is the amazing artists I get to talk with and their amazing shows that I get to work on. With some of these shows, New Line gave them new life, after misguided Broadway productions that closed quickly, proving that the shows themselves are much stronger than their clueless original productions. With some of these shows, our production is the proof that the shows don't need spectacle, big sets, a big orchestra, a big chorus, that in fact the stories are stronger and more powerful without all that extra stuff.

But whatever small gifts we can give these writers, they give us a much bigger gift by coming to see us, by being so friendly and so generous with their praise. I know in some of these cases, they're a little apprehensive, wondering what we'll do to their precious shows, wondering if the shows will work without all the accouterments of Broadway. I think they always fly home relieved.

One of the nicest things Amanda Green did (among many nice things!) was when we announced we were doing Jerry Springer the Opera, she posted on composer Richard Thomas's Facebook wall that we did great work with her shows and she knows we'll take good care of his show. I thought that was wonderful.

The writers don't always get the praise and huzzahs that they deserve, so I thought it would be nice to take a minute and say Thank You, to Mark, Annie, Amanda, Adam, Chris, Spencer, Gary, Ivan, John, Danny, Philip, and Tom! You guys are my heroes!

Long Live the Musical!