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InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIA

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Today we are talking to one half of the supremely talented composing team responsible for ZOMBIE PROM, THE FIX, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, and, now, BROTHER RUSSIA, the lyricist of the formidable Dempsey/Rowe himself, John Dempsey. In this career-spanning conversation, Dempsey and I discuss major and minor details of his handful of skillfully written and entertaining shows written with the collaboration of composer Dana Rowe (who will also be highlighted in this column next week), in particular their affiliation with legendary producer Cameron Mackintosh and Signature Theater founder and director Eric Schaeffer, director of the US premieres of three of their musicals, including the most current one opening later this month - as well as touch on his work with Boublil & Shonberg on THE PIRATE QUEEN and his musical adaptation of the religious-themed film SAVED! As if all of that were not enough, Dempsey and I also dissect the finer points of the new Dempsey/Rowe show in previews in Washington, D.C., BROTHER RUSSIA, as he outlines its inspiration, purpose, style and the intriguing story of the new heavy metal fairy tale meta rock opera - all of that and much, much more.

Tickets and more information on BROTHER RUSSIA is available here.

The Child Of The Word

PC: How do you look back on THE FIX now, particularly seeing what has happened in politics and in America since then? It paralleled what came to pass in so many ways, especially with Clinton - down to even the details.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAJD: Well, yeah, it’s funny in terms of Clinton, but, it’s also funny to think of it in terms of Bush - you know, it’s sort of about the dimwitted son in a political dynasty with a substance abuse problem.

PC: So true.

JD: I suspect that whatever person you have in office, you could find a parallel.

PC: What was the initial inspiration for THE FIX? Was it written right after ZOMBIE PROM?

JD: The inspiration for THE FIX came sort of two-fold - we had written ZOMBIE PROM and then we had kicked around this idea of doing CALIGULA as a kind of rock opera type thing, but that seemed sort of silly after awhile so we abandoned that. I was living in Youngstown, Ohio, and there is a very colorful politician up there who was in trouble - he was going to prison or something - and I thought that those sort of small town politics sort of interested me. So, I started to think, “What if you blew it up to national politics and you used the CALIGULA story,” - and we only stuck to it roughly.

PC: With the mother figure intact, though.

JD: Yeah, yeah - the mother. And, the idea of a political mother that is that awful is not new, of course - it’s equally inspired, I suppose, by MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and Angela Lansbury in that.

PC: Do I sense an I, CLAUDIUS influence, as well?

JD: Absolutely. Absolutely. In a weird way, the stutter that Grahame had was a sort of weird, sideways tribute to what Derek Jacobi did in I, CLAUDIUS. I am a huge fan of I, CLAUDIUS - I consider that to be one of the greatest soap operas of all time.

PC: How did that idea then develop into a modern political piece?

JD: The idea was to do a modern, political version of the CALIGULA story - and, that seemed to sort of fit Dana’s musical palette better than what we had. You know, there’s something about a rock opera about CALIGULA that, even then, was probably a little too cheesy to pull off. So, it sort of found its way into the modern political word.

PC: Was “One, Two, Three” written early in the process?InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIA

JD: Actually, that was the last song we wrote for the first version of the show. The first song we wrote was a song called “Mrs. Wills”, which was a song where we first met Cal and he was spying on the neighbors with binoculars and he was looking out his window at the neighbor’s daughter undressing in her window; it was a song about him being a voyeur. It was a very strange song. The original draft of the show was drastically different from what we ended up with - he was a reclusive kid who played DUNGEONS & DRAGONS and those creatures came alive onstage; but, then we scrapped all that when realized that was a whole other musical.

PC: It developed a lot.

JD: Yeah, but, there was a song called “These Three Chords” that was on the demo we sent to Cameron Mackintosh - Stephen Bienske sang it.

PC: Who eventually starred in the Signature premiere of the show, incidentally. The conceit of “Mrs. Wills” you just described sounds a lot like one of the famous scenes from AMERICAN BEAUTY, the film that Sam Mendes directed right after THE FIX.

JD: [Laughs.] That was long, long before that, I think, and I’m not sure if Sam ever heard that song - it wasn’t on the demo that we first sent to Cameron; but, that is very funny!

PC: You have changed the show quite a bit since its London premiere - “Mercy Me” was written for the US premiere at the Signature, among other changes. Why was that song written at all? "First Came Mercy" is masterful, to me.

JD: I’m not that fond of “Mercy Me”, either - it was actually funny and nice at Signature, but the idea was just that “First Came Mercy” was just one of those things that was too hard to recover from.

PC: Too big of a moment.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAJD: Yeah, it was such a powerful thing that it was hard to recover the story after that. But, the published version of the show has “First Came Mercy” and “Mercy Me” and we just sort of leave it up to people to do what they want. Dana and I are very fond of “First Came Mercy” - it’s really meaningful to us.

PC: Do groups produce the show here in the US?

JD: It gets done, but not that often - maybe one production a year, but it was done at NYU last year and it was very well-received. I actually saw a production in Cleveland, Ohio, of all places.

PC: What was it like to see the show again, a decade later?

JD: Well, my sister-in-law was playing Violet, so there was just no way to avoid it - even if I had to go sort of kicking and screaming the whole way. [Laughs.] But, I felt like, “Screw it, I have to go see it.” So, I went in there and sat in the back of the house in a very bad mood and it was actually a fantastic production.

PC: How great.

JD: The audience response was akin to “Springtime For Hitler”, though! [Big Laugh.]

PC: I bet! Was it the Signature version of the show, pretty much?

JD: Yeah, the licensed version is pretty much the Signature version - and, they used “First Came Mercy”.

PC: Would you say the Signature version toned down significantly from the Donmar version, which was very edgy and in-your-face?

JD: No. It’s actually not toned down really at all - the language is just as bad and the content is just as bad. But, the one song, “Upper Hand”, got toned down a little bit.

PC: It’s a shame that the cast recording, as good as it is, is missing at least a third of the score - “Lion Hunts The Tiger” was one of the most interesting songs, I thought.

JD: Oh, well, you just couldn’t fit that whole score on one disc, and there wasn’t a big budget for the disc to begin with because it was just the Donmar, you know?

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: There are a lot of cuts, nonetheless.

JD: There just had to be, you know? There was no way around it. It was actually recorded at the Donmar itself - the actors just stood on the stage and we just recorded it live; that seemed to be the most economical way to do it.

PC: How do you look back on the life of THE FIX and the fact it never got further than the Signature? It is such a strong piece. It was clearly ahead of its time in many ways.

JD: You know, it’s fine - the response from the press for the Donmar production was amazingly dispiriting. I have to give Cameron his due because he immediately came to us and said, “I am going to commission you guys to write a new show, so let’s find a topic.” Then, a couple of weeks later, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK popped up and that’s how that all started.

PC: How fortuitous for you two! How did Eric Schaeffer become involved with THE FIX and bringing it to the Signature?

JD: Instantly, Cameron flew Eric in and said, “This guy is in charge of the Signature Theatre and we can try and do this at the Signature.” So, Eric liked the show and he took it on and we got to do it here and we got a fantastic reception here - just rave reviews. I think that was a good place to end it - I don’t think any of us ever thought that it was going to go to Broadway and be a big success.

PC: Which is a sad comment on the current state of affairs on Broadway.

JD: Yeah, but at least we got a chance to finish the show and correct some things - looking back on the experience, I see it as a wonderful experience; turbulent, maybe, but extremely educational.

PC: Do you think the show was ahead of its time given where we have ended up in 2012 in politics and culturally?

JD: Yeah, I really was sort of genuinely impressed when I saw it again recently - I thought, “I had a good time watching this show.” But, I do have to say a lot of the Ohio audience was a bit aghast - yet, some of the younger audience members were really with it and having a really good time. It’s really just a fun, soapy story - it’s not really as dangerous as people think it is.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: The book has some absolutely hilarious lines in it - books are the hardest part of musical-making.

JD: Thank you for saying that - I appreciate it.

PC: What is “Spin”? Who is “the piggy who fakes it on cue”?

JD: [Laughs.] I get asked that sometimes - my sister-in-law actually asked me and I changed the line for her. But, basically, the idea is that she is massively drunk while she sings this song so the logic sort of careens all over the place - which is very hard for an actress to do. We had tremendous actresses playing that role, though.

PC: Your songs for the women in WITCHES OF EASTWICK are stupendous as well - especially the three thrilling trios.

JD: Oh, the trios. That was absolutely the most fun we had writing - I’m sure Dana will tell you the exact same thing. You know, the idea of using the sort of joining of those three voices to create one voice that can conjure we found so compelling - you know, the idea is that the three of them have a certain power onto themselves, but, combined, that’s when magical stuff happens. So, it was a lot of fun and really interesting to write for three women - at the time, it was not something you saw a lot of in musical theatre. Since WITCHES, there has been 9-TO-5 and FIRST WIVES CLUB and other things with trios of women in them.

PC: WITCHES seems to be another show that predated the popular fad by a few years - WICKED being the show that seemed to hit that struck similar themes.

JD: Yeah, totally - there is just no way to predict the right timing.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: You’ve mounted the show again since the West End, though - at Signature, with Eric.

JD: Yeah, and, for my money, at Signature is when the book took a major leap forward. After that version, we did some more rewrites and that version toured the UK and then we did a few more tiny rewrites. I actually just got back from a production in Brazil where they did the newest version and I thought it was really good - even if it was in Portuguese and I didn’t really know what the hell anyone was saying. [Laughs.]

PC: That’s always a challenge for the lyricist and book writer!

JD: Yeah, but the story was strong enough that, weirdly, I didn’t need to understand Portuguese to understand what was going on. Hopefully, there is life for the show - I’m sure there is, but it’s just a matter of where and when.

PC: The Australian production was a hit, too.

JD: Yeah, that was more modeled on the West End version of the show. It worked really, really well in Australia, too, actually.

PC: Tell me about the different versions of Darryl’s big Act Two song - “Who’s The Man” is one of my favorite Dempsey/Rowe songs, so it’s a shame it’s been cut in my estimation.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAJD: The problem with “Who’s The Man” is that it was great with Ian McShane around the piano, but it just never worked in the theater. When we transferred from Drury Lane to the Prince Of Wales in London, we put “The Glory Of Me” in and it was a huge hit in the show there. So, we used that in Australia. When it came time to do it at Signature, we started questioning it and Marc generously offered to skip it and just go right to the wedding - which is always wonderful; when a lead actor like Marc takes an amazing, selfless position like that.

PC: It’s very rare.

JD: It is. So, for that version, we sort of beefed up the wedding, but I never liked the beefed up wedding. We did a tour in the UK after that and we did a different beefed up wedding and they did that in Brazil, but I happen to think “The Glory Of Me” works best and that’s in the licensed version.

PC: What about the opening number of the show? The first London preview was like an operetta scene.

JD: Yeah, that’s one of the things that changed a lot with WITCHES - the opening number. The final licensed version is actually most like that first London preview version - the recitative is cut down, but the husbands are in it. I always liked the husbands being in it - it sort of makes them very flawed and human and interesting.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: Will “What About The Egrets?” ever come back to the score?

JD: [Laughs.] No. That song just breaks my heart - it did need to be cut. That was my favorite lyric in the show, though - I love the music for it, too.

PC: Rosemary Ashe was unbelievable doing it, as well as doing seemingly everything else. She can sing everything, apparently, can’t she?

JD: It's funny you say that becase when we were doing auditions, we were seeing a lot of actresses - very, very good actresses - but, we just weren’t finding anyone that connected with the material in the right way, and, then, I saw her name on the audition list for the day. I turned to Cameron and I said, “Who’s that?” And, he said, “Oh, that was the original Carlotta in PHANTOM.” And, I said, “Does she have the right kind of voice for this?” And, he said, [Deadpan.] “Darling, she has every kind of voice!” [Laughs.]

PC: That’s hilarious.

JD: She really does, though! She has coloratura to the basement - you know, growling out stuff. She actually did a demo with us just a couple of months ago for BROTHER RUSSIA.

PC: I’d love to ask you about some of your contemporaries who have done this column. What do you think of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s work on NEXT TO NORMAL, having written great rock scores like THE FIX and, now, BROTHER RUSSIA, yourself?

JD: I have to tell you that I saw NEXT TO NORMAL in previews, and, without going into too specific of detail, it hit on things in my life that were so brutal and it stirred up things that I didn’t want to be stirred up and it put me in a very dark and depressed place. [Pause.] But, I think that’s a huge testament to it.

PC: It viscerally affected you.

JD: Yeah, I mean, usually musicals make you hum and they make you laugh - or, even dark musicals like SWEENEY TODD; they are really just melodramas. That show took me to a dark place, though. One of my friends is doing a regional production and she wants me to see it and I am like, “Oh, do I really want to put myself through that again?” [Laughs.] The cast was just so phenomenal for that show, too - Alice and Aaron and everybody.

PC: What do you think of Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman’s work?

JD: Oh, I am embarrassed to say I did not see CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, but I did see HAIRSPRAY several times and I just love, love, loved it. I think they are phenomenal.

PC: What are your thoughts on Kander & Ebb’s work, especially since you and Dana are often compared to them insofar as your boundary-pushing topics for shows and overall sardonic style? Have you ever met John Kander?

JD: Yes, I can say that I have! It was actually at the Signature! Eric called me up when they were doing the revue of Kander & Ebb’s work a few years ago.

PC: FIRST YOU DREAM.

JD: Yes - FIRST YOU DREAM. It was just one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life. There I am, at the run-through, sitting next to John Kander himself - and, they are up there performing like sixty of his songs and they are all classics! Each one is better than the last one.

PC: What an incredible song catalogue they have.

JD: I just felt so unbelievably humbled and moved to be in the same room with him. And, as you know, he is just one of kindest and nicest and most gracious human beings you have ever met. It was just a tremendous day that I will never forget.

PC: What were your biggest influences growing up, musicals-wise? Given your generation and what you've done with Dana, I’d assume JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR would be one of the big ones.

JD: Yeah, I got into SUPERSTAR in high school. Growing up, from the earliest days, my parents had WEST SIDE STORY, the cast recording of THE MUSIC MAN and the movie soundtrack of OLIVER! So, I listened to those three quite religiously. Then, in high school, I started getting into EVITA and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Then, when I was 17, I bought SWEENEY TODD - I didn’t know anything about it, but I just bought it anyway - and that just stayed on my turntable for a year solid.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: What was your favorite part of the SWEENEY score?

JD: Oh, oh, oh - the beginning of the third side; this was in the days of LPs. It had “Pretty Women“ “Epiphany” and “A Little Priest”.

PC: What a masterful sequence of songs.

JD: Then, “God That’s Good” and “Johanna (Quintet)” - you just get everything! You get funny; you get touching; you get dramatic - “Epiphany” is one of my most famous things ever.

PC: Were you influenced at all by BAT OUT OF HELL and the ironic nature of those lyrics?

JD: Oh, I absolutely loved that Meat Loaf stuff - I think that album is amazing.

PC: Do you and Dana plan to keep bucking the trends and always surprising us with your musical subjects - not unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber and his daringness in subject matter?

JD: You know, I have such respect for Andrew Lloyd Webber. I have not seen LOVE NEVER DIES yet, but what I have heard from it is just fantastic - it’s just really great stuff. Some people may sneer at his stuff in New York or whatever, but he can write a melody like few others. I really respect his audaciousness. I really look forward to seeing LOVE NEVER DIES.

PC: When you approach a subject for a musical, do you look for timelessness or do you find it important to be contemporary and for it to be instantly tangible for the audience - I’d ask the same for specific songs, too?

JD: Well, it depends - in the smallest way, I am looking for what fits each moment best. When we approach material in shows, I am very rarely interested in things that have a brief sell-by date on them - you know, it just takes so much effort and time to write a musical that I want something to last. So, yeah, I don’t know about individual songs, but I do try to approach the shows as being as timeless as possible.

PC: Were there ever tentative Broadway plans for WITCHES?

JD: No, there were never plans to bring that to Broadway.

PC: Thank goodness for the cast recordings for THE FIX and WITCHES, then!

JD: Yeah - I am so grateful that we were fortunate enough to get cast recordings for both; I don’t know if that would happen today.

PC: What did you and Dana work on immidiately after WITCHES?

JD: We actually worked on a couple of things, but one of them was a musical where the first act was set in New York and the second was set in Moscow - it was one of three different Russian-themed projects I was sort of attached to. So, I became very interested in Russia and Russian culture and I started reading a lot of Russian novels - which is a job in itself! [Laughs.]

PC: Indeed. Plus, Russian literature is about as far as you can get from John Updike.

JD: Yeah, it’s definitely not light reading! It takes a lot of subway trips to get through CRIME & PUNISHMENT, I can tell you!

PC: Do you cite a prominent authorial influence on you and your work?

JD: Well, I’d say most of my influences come from musical theatre, but, as far as reading books, I have very eclectic tastes - I am very picky about what I read. There are no specific themes - I kind of go all over the map as far as what I like.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: Tell me everything about your and Dana’s new show, BROTHER RUSSIA. To begin with, what’s the story?

JD: Well, BROTHER RUSSIA is about a fourth-rate troupe of Russian actors - an Acting Company that is sort of touring the hinterlands of Siberia; not even the good cities of Siberia. One of the members of the acting troupe is this bewildering old man who thinks he is Rasputin and is still alive at 142 years old. The night we catch up with them, he is enlisting his fellow actors and conscripts them in telling his life story. That’s basically the show.

PC: Wow. What a dramatically compelling structure.

JD: Yeah - we sort of toggle back and forth between this group of actors and the story they are trying to tell.

PC: What an intriguing concept - another original musical, like ZOMBIE PROM and THE FIX, then. So, the rock elements arise out of this story that spans a century and a half?

JD: Yeah, everything is sort of based on this idea that this troupe has this long and storied history that goes back over a hundred years - it has been passed down through generation and generation of families of actors. At one time, it was very grand and they had a full orchestra, but it keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller and tackier and tackier and, now, they are down to eleven people in their company and they can’t afford musicians, so they have someone’s nephew’s rock band playing for them.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: What a dramatically justified meta-narrative for the sound of the score.

JD: Yeah, it allows us to use some very aggressive rock music - very thumping and raw. It’s much rockier than even THE FIX, I think.

PC: What was the first song you wrote for the show?

JD: The first song we wrote for the show was either the love duet in Act Two, “I Belong To You”, or “Child Of The Wood”, which is a song sung by a Siberian forest witch.

PC: So, there is a fairy tale element to the show, as well?

JD: Yes. In essence, if you chopped it up into a three act structure, the first act is very much a Siberian fairy tale - basically, this young boy’s adventures in the woods on his way to St. Petersburg. After that, we have the second act and the third act, but the evening is in a two-act presentation, of course. When you map out a story, you usually map it out using three acts or five acts, even if you only have one intermission.

PC: What is your current favorite moment of the show - at least so far?

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAJD: In terms of my favorite moments, I am very proud of the “Child Of The Wood” number. And, then, there is the last whole fifteen minutes of the first act - in Russian history, it’s what is called Bloody Sunday. Basically, a priest came in from the Ukraine with a petition to get to the czar and he brings all these women and children with him to the palace and, then, the czar strikes them all down dead. That leads into a whole series of events that lead to the end of the act and a big solo for the actor playing Greg. That whole fifteen minute sequence I am really, really proud of - it tells a really complex story, and, musically, what Dana has done is just fantastic. It’s powerful and sort of sweet at the same time.

PC: How did BROTHER RUSSIA all come together in the first place? Have you been developing the piece for a while now?

JD: Well, the actual way it happened was that, less than two years ago, we met Eric for drinks in Hell’s Kitchen and he said to us, “Guys, you need to write another show together. Do it and we will produce it at Signature.” And, obviously, that was a fantastic offer.

PC: To say the least!

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAJD: Yeah, it was an amazing offer, so, the idea for this had been kicking around with Dana and I for a while, so, I said, “How about BROTHER RUSSIA?” And, he liked the idea. So, we have been working on this show for less than two years - which, when you see it, you’ll know, is ridiculously short amount of time to have been working on this show.

PC: Why do you think the process has moved so smoothly?

JD: It all just sort of came to us organically - which is a first for us. It wasn’t banging your head against a wall until a song fell out - the songs all just sort of fell out on their own accord. So, the timetable worked out very well for us - there’s something about having a deadline, you know?

PC: It’s how many of the best shows and songs have been written, after all.

JD: Yeah, so it all came together very quickly and that has given us a lot of time to really be critical and edit ourselves before we give it to Eric and the actors get a hold of it and everything - I think that is making the rehearsal process a lot easier.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: Has the show changed significantly in rehearsal?

JD: No, I have to say it has been pretty smooth - we did take out a couple big chunks, but that’s been mostly it.

PC: You seem to end up removing a lot of the more complex musical and lyrical material in many of your shows, it seems.

JD: Yeah, but the hard stuff and the complex stuff stayed this time! [Laughs.] Some songs lost a few choruses and stuff, but, in terms of coming in with a draft, this is probably the closest we have ever stayed to that first rehearsal draft. It’s a massive show, musically - it’s almost two hours solid of music; there is very little dialogue in the show.

PC: Wow. That’s an incredible amount of music - a real rock opera it must be, then.

JD: Yeah, I mean, just teaching the music and getting people to stand in the right place was a mammoth effort, so, now that it’s all taught and learned and everyone is up on their feet, we can really finally see the show. Who knows, by this time tomorrow we might cut two songs!

PC: You two are fantastic rewriters. What are some songs you have written at this stage of the production for past shows?

JD: “Dangerous Games” for THE FIX was a song we wrote in previews. The original song was called “Clandestine Affairs” and that got replaced with “Dangerous Games”. For WITCHES, “Words, Words, Words” was written in rehearsals.

PC: And you cut “Loose Ends” and the solo of “Another Night At Darryl’s” in subsequent productions of WITCHES.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAJD: Yeah, we turned “Another Night At Darryl’s” into a trio at Signature - rewriting is an addiction and I guess we have to learn to stop! [Laughs.]

PC: BROTHER RUSSIA has a nice long run scheduled, so you have a lot of time to take a look at the show on its feet.

JD: Yeah, we have about eight weeks to look at it and see how it looks on its feet. We're excited.

PC: Is New York the next step for the show, ideally?

JD: Well, you know, at this point, I just want to know what the show is. We did this massive demo for it and now I just want to see it up on its feet. I am curious to see what the audience thinks - one of the things I particularly love about the Signature is that the audiences are fantastic! They embrace new stuff - they are not scared of it. They respond - they are there to have a good time.

PC: Eric has built such a great audience there in D.C. for new work.

JD: He really has. So, yeah, once we get it on its feet and we get a sense of the audience’s response, I think we can get a better sense of what the show is and where it belongs. I am sure there is a future life for the show, but I don’t know where it is yet.

PC: Is BROTHER RUSSIA the main show you and Dana are working on or are there any other projects percolating?

JD: BROTHER RUSSIA is definitely the only show we are focusing on together, but Dana and I do have some things we are pursuing separately, too.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: Speaking of your non-Dana projects: what’s next for SAVED!?

JD: Well, we did it at Playwrights’ Horizons and we got a so-so reception, so, then, we massively retooled it and we put it on at Kansas City Rep. and I felt like we really found the show. So, now it’s just in this weird stasis. You know, these days, there are a lot of shows that are just done and then they are never recorded or published and they just sort of disappear. I hope that isn’t the case with SAVED! because I think it deserves better than that. I was very pleased with it at Kansas City and I thought it was really good and I was proud of what we did.

PC: Did you ever record a demo for the show?

JD: No. There is not a demo for the show - Michael doesn’t do them. He sort of hears it all and writes it all in his head. It’s funny, because demos are such a major part of what Dana and I do.

PC: Kristin Chenoweth and Ruthie Henshall both discussed doing WITCHES demos with me when they did this column. They did great work on those demos.

JD: That’s right! That’s right. Kristin and Ruthie were on those. Demos are really important for Dana and I in trying stuff out.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: Will you be attending the big Boublil & Schonberg concert featuring PIRATE QUEEN material coming up?

JD: No, no, I won’t be attending. I actually stopped working on that show in Chicago when Richard Maltby, Jr. came onboard. It was one of those things, you know.

PC: And unfortunate situation.

JD: Yeah, and, it was also about the same time we did WITCHES at Signature so I really wanted to just focus on that. But, it was a fantastic experience and they were fantastic people and it was a great learning experience - I learned a hell of a lot.

PC: That show changed so much from Chicago to New York.

JD: The concept changed drastically - there were quite a few songs that were written and cut before we even got to Chicago because of that.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIAPC: Was Colm Wilkinson considered for a role at one point?

JD: Yeah, there was talk of him doing it and that was really exciting to me - I remember going to LES MIZ and seeing him and just being bowled over by him. He has one of the most distinctive voices ever and I would have loved to hear him sing that music.

PC: So, you will not be involved with future productions of PIRATE QUEEN if they arise?

JD: No, I don’t think so - I mean, I know they have done it in Japan, but I haven’t been getting any news about new productions. But, honest to God, at the time it may have hurt, but I have to believe it was what was best for the show for me to go and do WITCHES instead. I never saw the show in New York, but I assume it got better and so much of what they did was so brilliant from the beginning, I thought. And, it was a lovely experience to work with Frank and the whole cast - and Stephanie was amazing. It was a tremendous group of people.

PC: So, would you say that, all in all, you are pleased with the final versions of ZOMBIE PROM, THE FIX and WITCHES?

JD: Yeah, I think THE FIX is the show it was meant to be and the same is true of ZOMBIE PROM in the licensed version. With WITCHES? Well, I’d still like to get another crack at that one, I think.

PC: I cannot wait for BROTHER RUSSIA to open and it is so great that there is a new Dempsey/Rowe show now, down in D.C.! I can’t wait for what’s next from you, as well!

JD: Thank you so much, Pat. This was really fun and interesting. I really appreciate it. Bye.

InDepth InterView: John Dempsey & BROTHER RUSSIA

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Pat Cerasaro Pat Cerasaro is BroadwayWorld's Chief Interviewer and Senior Editor, contributing exclusive columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Flash Fridays as well as additional special features and extensive news coverage. His work for the site has appeared in The New York Times, US Weekly, The Biography Channel, NBC and more.