By ASHLEY VAN BUREN
In the midst of the heated national debate about gay parental rights, The New Group offers The Kid a new musical by composer Andy Monroe, lyricist Jack Lechner and librettist Michael Zam. Based on the 1999 memoir by sex columnist Dan Savage, the show follows the surprising journey of two men who decide to start a family.
The Kid plays at Theatre Row through May 29, and after a recent rehearsal, the creative team joined TDF to talk about creating a new musical, the adaptation process, and how, when it comes to characters, you sometimes have to pull a Medea.
TDF: Who initially read Dan Savage’s book? Did you immediately think it would make a great musical
MICHAEL ZAM: Both Andy and I had already read The Kid but it was Andy who came up with the idea that it was great fodder for a musical. As soon as he said it, I agreed, and then we told Jack to read it, because we wanted to work with him.
JACK LECHNER: At first I thought they were crazy – until I actually read the book, and we came up with the idea that it would be a presentational musical in which Dan would address the audience directly.
MZ: That was crucial for the adaptation, because we all agreed that we had to preserve Dan’s voice, as that was one of the key elements that made the material so funny and ultimately moving.
TDF: Was there an “order” to the creation process?
MZ: First I wrote an outline. The three of us then went through it, and figured out where the songs went in each of the scenes.
JL: We sat down together almost every week.
ANDY MONROE: In a way, we were in each other’s jobs all the way through it. Jack and I both offered comments on the outline of the book; Michael and I offered comments on Jack’s lyrics –
MZ: And Jack and I both commiserated on what Andy was up to with the music.
AM: Once we had the structure set, we would discuss each scene together. Michael would go away to write it, usually aware of the kind of song we planned to put there.
MZ: Sometimes we didn’t know the hook, but we always knew that there was the intention to put a song in the scene. We always knew the placement – we just didn’t always know what the song was.
TDF: Andy and Jack, can you take me through the process of how you identified a song moment?
JL: There are only two songs in the show that were written lyric-first. I think you end up with stronger melodies working music-first, and a score that's more musically coherent. So most of the time, once we had the book scene, the three of us would go over the scene, figure out the hook of the song, and then –
AM: The trajectory of the dramatic action of the song, too –
MZ: Then you guys would go off and write the song –
AM: Then I would go off and create music that took us through that dramatic arc, and lay out where the hook would be.
JL: Then Andy would send me an Mp3 demo, and I would set a lyric to it. We’ve had a lot of songs end up on the cutting room floor. There are twenty-one songs and three reprises in the final show, but there are thirty-two songs that didn’t make it. A lot of those are failed attempts at songs we ultimately nailed.
TDF: Michael, how closely did you stick to the book? Was there anything you added from your own life?
MZ: I stuck to some of the specific events of the open adoption process, and particularly more of the elements in Act One about their quest to acquire the kid. But then after that, in Act Two, I realized that I had to re-configure certain elements both for dramatic purposes, and for finding theatrical ways to reveal Dan’s character.
As for stuff from my own life, oh yes. There are minor details that I couldn’t help but utilize, because ultimately, even though I’m writing about Dan, there’s a part of me that’s in the show as well. Furthermore, while I was writing this, my partner fathered a child – his second child – with a wonderful lesbian couple, and my relationship with his amazing kids clearly affected my emotional response to what Dan and Terry were going through in the story.
TDF: You’ve been working on the show since 2006, and you had a major reading last fall. Was that helpful? Did that lead to many changes?
AM: Oh, God. We killed off a character!
MZ: We found out we didn’t need the whole character of Dan’s father.
JL: Which is a shame, because we had a wonderful actor named P.J. Benjamin –
MZ: As well as a wonderful song, “A Boy And His Dad.” As Medea said, “Sometimes you have to kill your children.”
TDF: How much tighter did the show get once you started working on this production? Was there still a lot of work to do?
MZ: This show is like owning a gorgeous country home that needs constant love and attention. It’s wonderful place to be, but there’s always something to do to make it that much better. And the cast had a lot to do with that.
AM: For instance, we would never have arrived at Jill Eikenberry’s new song, "I Knew," if she hadn’t been cast in the role of Dan’s mother.
JL: Jill is very smart, and had terrific ideas and questions about the relationship between Dan and his mother, all of which led to our writing the song – which is now one of the highlights of the show.
AM: And I wrote that music specifically for her voice.
MZ: In fact, every cast member, and this is not bulls---, through their own insight, or the questions they have for us, has constantly forced us to raise our game.
TDF: As you watch the run-throughs, are there any specific moments you really connect with or never get tired of seeing?
JL: I love watching Christopher Sieber, as Dan, singing our song “Her Name Is Melissa.”
AM: I never get tired of that either.
MZ: I’m tired of it. (Laughs)
JL: But there are plenty [of moments]. We have an unbelievable cast.
Ashley Van Buren is a writer and film production freelancer. She has contributed writing to The Huffington Post, Women & Hollywood, Supernanny, The Rachael Ray Show and several other outfits. If you read quickly, you can catch her name in the credits of seven feature films. She blogs (sporadically) at thebrow.org