InDepth InterView: Henry Krieger Talks LUCKY DUCK, DREAMGIRLS, SIDE SHOW Revival & More
Recently, noted composer Henry Krieger was generous enough to take a comprehensive look back at his many accomplishments onstage and onscreen, turning back the pages of time and sharing memories of DREAMGIRLS, both on Broadway and in Hollywood, THE TAP DANCE KID, SIDE SHOW, KEPT, ROMANTIC POETRY and beyond, as well as discuss many aspects of his exciting new family-friendly musical opening on Friday at the New Victory Theater, LUCKY DUCK. Over the course of our compelling conversation, Krieger also revealed new details about the forthcoming 2014 production of SIDE SHOW, to be directed by DREAMGIRLS film director and TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN helmer Bill Condon - to premiere first at the La Jolla Playhouse and then at the Kennedy Center, as it makes its way towards Broadway - as well as first news on a musical collaboration with lyricist David Yazbek based on the life of television evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker set to star Tony and Emmy-winning Broadway and GLEE standout Kristin Chenoweth. DREAMGIRLS to LUCKY DUCK and much, much more awaits in this career-spanning chat!
Tickets to Henry Krieger’s newest musical, LUCKY DUCK, as well as further information about the show, is available here.
LUCKY DUCK is billed as such: "In this no-intermission, 75-minute production best for kids 4 to 8, doo-wopping ducks and other birdie beauties belt out show-stopping pop-soul numbers in exotic locales, like The Barnyard, The Forest and New Duck City."
All You Have To Do Is Dream
PC: Tell me about LUCKY DUCK and how the show has developed from EVERYTHING’S DUCKY.
HK: Well, it’s more cohesive and it’s more coherent. It really flows beautifully now. It tells a gentle story in a very exuberant way and it is something that has a lot good humor for the adults that bring their kids that they will love as well as the kids themselves. It’s a really touching piece. You know, I think there are a lot of shows that condescend to people - I am not going to name names.
PC: There are many that you certainly could name, needless to say.
HK: I really don’t think this one condescends at all, though - I think this an extremely emotionally and psychically inclusive show. I am very proud to be associated with it. I just can’t wait for it to be done in New York. It’s a real crowd pleaser!
PC: There is an existing cast album for EVERYTHING’S DUCKY, so audiences have the opportunity to check out the score, as well, before and after the show.
HK: Yes, there is! I give credit to my partner in crime here, Bill Russell, because he is the one who made sure that that all happened. He originally directed at the Boston Conservatory, which is where we made the recording. I think it’s a really good recording - it’s with that college cast, but it shows off the show beautifully, I think. You know, I am just busting with pride for the show - I love LUCKY DUCK.
PC: LUCKY DUCK sounds like perfect show for the theatergoers who want to bring the whole family.
HK: You know, I think may be repeating myself, but, truly, the accessibility of this show to young people and their parents really makes it a perfect outing for a family.
PC: Were there any new songs written for this production or does it pretty much reflect the score on the EVERYTHING’S DUCKY album?
HK: No, but I am very happy with how LUCKY DUCK has turned out.
PC: Will this be the final version that will be licensed?
HK: Yes, this is the final final version.
PC: LUCKY DUCK runs for a week at the New Victory Theater, then?
HK: Yes, we run from March 16 to 25.
PC: What’s next for you after LUCKY DUCK?
HK: Well, right now, I am working with David Yazbek on creating a score for Kristin Chenoweth for the Tammy Faye Bakker project.
PC: David Yazbek is a great match for you. His work for DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS was really enjoyable, I thought.
HK: Oh, God - I think he’s great! He’s just incredible. He has been so gracious in writing lyrics to my music because, as you know, he usually writes his own. It’s a very good pairing and we really love working together - and, we all love Kristin. It’s all very exciting. But, right now, it’s all LUCKY DUCK - and, it’s all very lucky! [Laughs.]
PC: With this final version of LUCKY DUCK and its New York premiere this week, the relatively recent DREAMGIRLS film, GLEE taking on some of your songs and the current and upcoming revivals of your shows, you are having great success these days.
HK: You know, we were nominated three times at the Oscars for the DREAMGIRLS film, too.
PC: And all your songs cancelled each other out, clearly. The rules have changed since.
HK: Well, that and the fact the other song was from the Al Gore film. But, hey, it was all great fun and who knows what the future brings? But, no, it didn’t pain me not to win the Oscar - I was OK. How many people can be as happy as me in my work life? I do what I love - and it’s so, so great.
PC: And GLEE residual checks don’t hurt, either!
HK: Yeah, it’s very nice to get them - it pays for the rent and the dogfood! Whenever I hear one of my songs being done, though, it makes me very happy indeed.
PC: DREAMGIRLS was so innovative in its filmatic staging by Michael Bennett - was that a particularly thrilling experience for you to be involved with, given the creation of that?
HK: Michael did brilliant work - he was a visionary. My deceased partner, Tom Eyen, wrote it that way, also.
PC: Of course.
HK: It was a good combination of director and book-writer and I believe Tom won the Tony for that, if not mistaken.
PC: He did.
HK: It was really a very special thing, though. You know, Artie Zachary was the most expert master carpenter on Broadway and he said to me at the time, “You know what, kid? It doesn’t get like this very often. You’re in for a ride like no other. Good luck to you if you can do it again.” So, yeah, it was an amazing ride.
PC: 30 years later, GLEE and SMASH and the fluid style of musical storytelling on those seems owe a bit of a debt to DREAMGIRLS.
HK: Yeah, I really like SMASH.
PC: President Obama just chose “Love You I Do” from the DREAMGIRLS film soundtrack for the 2012 campaign play list, it has recently been announced.
HK: Wow! Are you serious? That’s so, so cool.
PC: it's true. You wrote a song for Obama’s 2008 campaign, of course - “We Have To Change”.
HK: Yes, Bill Russell and I did - and, thank God we won, right?
HK: And, now, we have another election coming - I’m so glad that “Love You I Do” is part of it. That was a really happy, happy job to write that song - that was the first song I wrote particularly for the film. It went on to win a Grammy Award, too, so it’s a good luck thing, I think.
PC: Indeed, it seems it is.
HK: Also, the other night on AMERICAN IDOL a young lady sang “Love You I Do” and it stopped the show.
PC: Charice did “Listen” from the DREAMGIRLS film on GLEE to much acclaim last year - she has done this column, as well, actually.
HK: Oh, yeah - I love her! Her version is better than the original.
PC: What high praise! Was Beyonce the choice for Deena from the beginning for the film?
HK: Well, you’d have to ask Bill Condon that, but, it had been decided that the film was going to be done and we all hoped that she would join us, and, then, she did. I’ll tell you a story: I hadn’t met her yet and I was sitting at the piano, just waiting to do a little bit of cleanup from the vocal director. Then, she came in, and, with her hand outstretched, she said, “Henry, I am so happy to meet you! This is an honor,” and all that. And, I said, “Oh, my God. This is going to be easy and fun,” - and it was. She couldn’t have been an easier person to work with.
PC: What do you think of Jennifer Holliday playing Effie in an upcoming regional production - a “farewell” to the role?
HK: Well, I just think it’s great that the show is out there and that more and more people will know it and that they make sure to send the check to me… [Laughs.]
PC: What are your feelings on the revised stage version that includes “Listen” and elements from the film version?
HK: Our director, Robert Longbottom, decided that it would be a good thing to use “Listen” as a reunion song - when two people drop the hatchet; you know, when people who have been enemies come back together and they cry and then all is forgiven.
PC: Do you think it works well in the stage show?
HK: I do think that “Listen” does work very well in that production between Deena and Effie. Willie Reale did a whole new lyric for us for that incarnation of the song.
PC: I hope “Love You I Do” and “Patience” find a way into future stage versions, too - what do you think about those two?
HK: Well, they both work really well in the film. Let me tell you, “Patience” was David Geffen’s favorite new song for the movie - he loved it. Willie Reale wrote the lyric for that, too.
PC: Would you consider your relationship with Harold Wheeler essential to the successes of your scores? Is that one of the great partnerships of your career?
HK: Yes, it is. Really, Harold Wheeler is like Yoda to me. [Laughs.]
PC: What a great success he’s had on DANCING WITH THE STARS as of late, as well.
HK: Oh, my goodness, yes! I am so happy for him.
PC: Anika Noni Rose has done this column and spoke so favorably of her experience working with you on the DREAMGIRLS film - particularly performing “Patience” with Eddie Murphy.
HK: Oh, she is an amazing artist and an amazing person. She is so lovely and so well read - just an amazing actress and singer. I remember during lunch breaks, she would walk up to me and say, “Hey, Henry, wanna eat lunch with me?” And, I would always say, “You bet!” We would never run out of things to say to each other and it was always very interesting. She is a very, very, very intelligent person.
PC: She is having a great period of her career, as well - she was wonderful in COMPANY.
HK: I didn’t get the chance to see COMPANY, but she is amazing. When you say, “Anika”, I say, “Yes!”
PC: Patina Miller is another great star on the rise who came to fame in a show of yours - ROMANTIC POETRY - and loved her experience working with you from what she told me.
HK: Yeah, John Patrick Shanley and I got to work with her in that. She is so, so talented.
PC: Speaking of another of your classic anthems, I have always wanted to know: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” was written in rehearsals in a matter of minutes, true?
HK: Yeah, we were in rehearsals and Tom Eyen gave me the lyric sheet and I left the room and came back with the song.
PC: One of the greatest showstoppers in the history of Broadway - unbelievable.
HK: I’ve got a new one, though!
PC: What is it?
HK: It’s for Kristin Chenoweth and she is going to be starring as Tammy Faye Bakker. The show hasn’t been written yet, but this song is called “What Kind Of Heaven” and I have written it with David Yazbek. It’s a big, big ballad for her as Tammy Faye Bakker.
PC: A great match of musical team and subject and star, it sounds like to me.
HK: Yeah, it’s an amazing concept of Bobby Longbottom’s - we’ve been working on it for three years and now we’re doing it.
PC: Will it be covering the televangelism and Jim Bakker’s affairs and all of that?
HK: There will certainly be something about that, but it’s mostly about her.
PC: What an interesting woman she was. Do you think she was aware of the nefarious goings on financially with her husband?
HK: I think she had a deeply warm heart and a very spiritual soul and in the heady 80s, with her visionary husband overextending, things got a little crazy - but, she was a wonderful, wonderful person.
PC: Did you ever get the chance to meet her before she passed away?
HK: I unfortunately did not, but I’ve studied her.
PC: Kristin Chenoweth has done this column and she is so, so sweet and such a talent.
HK: Aww, she is a doll! A doll.
PC: Have you seen her new TV show, GCB?
HK: Oh, I sure did!
PC: No way!
HK: Hey, I’m not dead! I still watch TV. [Big Laugh.]
PC: Were you impressed? It was pretty racy.
HK: Yeah, I really liked it - I couldn’t believe what they got away with either!
PC: Before this just-announced Tammy Faye musical and LUCKY DUCK, you worked on ROMANTIC POETRY, and, before that, you composed a fabulous disco musical called KEPT that has a particularly phenomenal score, I thought. What happened with that show?
HK: Well, it was, I think, a very successful score. It seemed a little mish-moshed to me at the time as far as the big picture of it. You know, if somebody can come and show me how it can be done even better, I’ll be on board. But, I don’t know really what to say because I love the score and we had a great time.
PC: Christiane Noll had some fantastic material in that show - I specifically remember a Giorgio Moroder-esque number.
HK: This one? [Plays song on the piano.] No. [Plays another.] That the one? [Laughs.]
PC: Yes! That’s so awesome. Has anyone recorded any songs from the show since its premiere?
HK: Yeah, I believe Anastasia Barzee recorded one of the songs on one of her albums, but I can’t remember which one.
PC: I would love to know: who were your composing idols growing up?
HK: Well, definitely, the main one was Richard Rodgers, I’d say.
PC: Where does your sound derive from, in your estimation? You have such a unique style that is totally all your own.
HK: Listen, I write from my heart. But, I will say that I was hugely influenced by the shows of Rodgers & Hammerstein - hugely; hugely.
PC: Was SOUTH PACIFIC the one that attracted you most?
HK: Yes, it was SOUTH PACIFIC! You got it right on the first guess, Pat! [Laughs.]
PC: How could I not? The show is so incredible just insofar as the sheer number of classic songs.
HK: “Some Enchanted Evening”. “Bali Hai”. “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”. Those songs are amazing - amazing!
PC: They really are.
HK: I just go into reverie when I hear that score. If you play the beginning of “Bali Hai”, I just faint. [Laughs.]
PC: Have you ever been to the actual “Bali Hai” yourself?
HK: I’ve never been to Hawaii, I’m sorry to say. I’ve been to Japan; I’ve been to Korea - I’ve been here and there. I have not made it to Hawaii yet, but I hope I do. It’s an amazing place - especially with the flora and fauna and everything that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
PC: Is a TAP DANCE KID revival kicking around? There are rumors I have heard of a new book. Is that true?
HK: Not that I know of - that is all news to me. I am mostly just concentrating on writing the new shows now, anyway.
PC: Except for one: the score of SIDE SHOW is a true masterpiece. I know you recently work-shopped a completely revised version of the show with Bill Condon. What’s the future for the show?
HK: Yeah, we did - and I thank you very much for my part of the masterpiece! We are going to be workshopping it in La Jolla [in 2013] with Bill Condon and then it is going to the Kennedy Center [in 2014].
PC: The Eisenhower? What a great space.
HK: Yes - the Eisenhower. So, yes, that is definitely happening and we are very, very, very, very looking forward to that. SIDE SHOW is something I am so grateful to have been a part of, and still am. That is real - it’s really happening. [Pause.] I definitely know that SIDE SHOW is a real, happening thing.
PC: What is the time-frame for the upcoming reworked SIDE SHOW, then?
PC: Bill Condon is probably a little pre-occupied with TWILIGHT now. Have you seen the first BREAKING DAWN film yet?
HK: Oh, we had a great time! Yeah. Bill and I are very close - deeply close. I really love him.
PC: Would you like to do a movie musical in the future - particularly one with Bill?
HK: Well, I don’t know yet, but if we can do everything the right way, SIDE SHOW would make a great film after it has been revived. That is something we would talk to Mr. Condon about, but right now it would be premature to discuss.
PC: What is different about this new version of the show? I assume it is vastly different from Robert Longbottom’s?
HK: Well, I don’t feel qualified to reveal all the details yet. If you were speaking to Bill Condon, it might be more elucidating. There are things he is changing - things he is taking out; things he is putting in; characters he is making part of the story that were in it before; stuff like that.
PC: Is “Tunnel Of Love” staying in the show? That seemed to be the most controversial moment in the show at the time.
HK: Well, at this point it is hard to say - we don’t know yet.
PC: “I Will Never Leave You” has been used in a few films and TV shows since - it was used in Rosie’s HBO documentary, among others. Are you happy to see the score getting known?
HK: Heck yeah! [Laughs.]
PC: That score is so impressive and you are a famous rewriter - from DREAMGIRLS to SIDE SHOW and beyond. I assume there will be some significant changes?
HK: Yeah, I am a rewriter - I like to rewrite. I don’t mind throwing a song out and putting a new song in. I don’t have a craziness about all of that - I want the show to be the absolute best it can be and if that means losing a song, I don’t care. I’ll just write something better and more appropriate.
PC: What about a SIDE SHOW song on GLEE in the future? Your songs “Listen” and “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from DREAMGIRLS have both appeared on GLEE, of course.
HK: Well, I have spoken to Ryan Murphy about that and he said he would look into it, but that is the last I have heard. If you talk to him soon, tell him, “Don’t forget about SIDE SHOW!” [Laughs.]
PC: Did you ever work with Whitney Houston in any way since she was rumored to have expressed interest in a DREAMGIRLS film and performed songs from the show often in her concerts?
HK: I never met her. She performed a couple of songs from DREAMGIRLS, though - you're right. She was an amazing artist, which you don’t need me to tell you. I am so sorry she had such a tough life.
PC: “And I Am Telling You” and “I Am Changing” both live on on YouTube, of course.
HK: Yeah, I’ve seen them! I really, especially liked her “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” - I like what she did with that.
PC: She had certainly lived that song if anyone ever had.
HK: Yeah, I just don’t understand how people stay with an abusive person - it’s beyond my ken. It’s beyond sad.
PC: It took a lot of work to be able to write songs as emotionally searing as some you have written for your shows - you were so young when you wrote DREAMGIRLS, too.
HK: Well, I was sort of a late-bloomer - I think I was 37 by the time it actually hit Broadway. But, yeah, it was a lot of work - trust me. And, so was the film! I am always going, “Ugh, I don’t know if I can stand it anymore!” Then, I say, “Keep working. Keep working.” [Laughs.]
PC: We are so lucky that the DREAMGIRLS film got made.
HK: And we are so fortunate that it was Bill Condon doing it! Boy, oh, boy, oh, boy!
PC: Is it true there is a Director’s Cut with all of the recitative from the stage version?
HK: Yes, there is.
PC: And the 10th anniversary would be a perfect time to release that on DVD, wouldn't it?
HK: [Laughs.] That’s right!
PC: And DREAMGIRLS always looms on the horizon for a Broadway revival, as well. The tour is continuing, yes?
HK: Yeah, there is always DREAMGIRLS stuff going on - it’s going to Rio; it’s going to San Paulo. It just keeps on coming - I just love my shows.
PC: As you should! You have a slate of winners. Thank you so much for this today, Henry. All my luck to you with LUCKY DUCK and everything else coming up!
HK: Yes, yes - I am a very lucky duck, indeed! What a great interview and what a nice gentleman you are, Pat. Thanks so much. Bye bye.
More On: Henry Krieger, Bill Condon, La Jolla Playhouse, David Yazbek, Kristin Chenoweth, Bill Russell,