BWW Interviews: Chad Beguelin Plays it Straight
Chad Beguelin is a two-time Tony award nominee for his work on the musical The Wedding Singer (Best Book and Best Original Score, Drama Desk Award Nomination for Outstanding Lyrics) and the lyricist for Elf the Musical. He wrote the book and lyrics for Judas & Me (NYMF Award for Excellence in Lyric Writing), The Rhythm Club (Signature Theater), Wicked City (American Stage Company, Mason Street Warehouse) and wrote the book for Disney’s stage version of Aladdin (The Fifth Avenue Theater, Hyperion Theater). He received the Edward Kleban Award for Outstanding Lyric Writing, the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation Award, the Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Musical Theater Award and the ASCAP Foundation Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award. Chad sold a movie script to Grammnet Productions and worked as a staff writer for Disney’s live action film department in California. Chad is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Dramatic Writing Program.
Did you grow up seeing a lot of theatre?
I grew up in Southern Illinois in a place called Centralia. It’s a 45-minute car ride to St. Louis and my parents would take me to the Muni amphitheater and Fox theatre. In Centralia, there was a little theatre called the Centralia Community Arts Center. It’s officially the Centralia Cultural Society. It was a great place. They had big musicals once a year and smaller plays and musicals the rest of the time. In the sixth grade I was a Little Villager in Fiddler on the Roof. People were so dedicated to doing really, really good shows just for the love of it. People would work all day as a dentist or in an office and then go to rehearsals for four hours and spend the weekends there.
How did you get into playwriting?
I originally was in an acting program at New York University. Then quickly I realized that I wasn’t very good, so I switched to dramatic writing program. I was always writing when I was younger. I did bar tending, temping, answering phones. It took a while before I could support myself as a writer.
You’ve been writing for musical theatre. What made you write a play without music?
I usually write musicals -- books or lyrics or both. This is the first straight play that I’ve ever had professionally produced. It’s the journey of the gay guy who wants a kid and is desperately missing something in his life. His partner never wanted them. Is it going to be a deal breaker?
I’ve been with my partner [Tom] for almost 20 years now. A few years ago the question of a gay couple’s having kids became real. A female wanted me to donate. Tom said, “That’s not really going to be your child.” It raised all these questions. Could I live in a situation where I’m not really part of the family? It’s great, but not for us. It’s a radical change. Some struggle with it. It’s amazing how many of our friends who are gay or lesbians are having children. It’s almost a reverse. They’re asking “Why aren’t you having kids. Why aren’t you adopting?” It made my wheels turn. I had an idea where a couple has been together for seven years in Sag Harbor. One is very professional, a level-headed architect who made very good money, supporting the other character who is trying to work on his novel and can’t even finish a pamphlet. They live in a bubble, in beautiful Sag Harbor. One of them hates kids -- doesn’t want anything to do with them. They’re completely different in personality. They have an idyllic life until the sister shows up. She’s a really trashy, unfiltered woman who is living in a van with her 14-year-old daughter. She’s a total mess. She shows up unannounced, stirring the pot, poking holes in their life. The guy who’s not her brother sees her as a grifter, a Blanche Dubois situation. It’s a comedy. Hopefully, the ending is heartwarming.
What was the process in getting the play produced?
Originally with the first draft, I was able to have a few readings in different places to make sure that the funny stuff worked, that it was believable. It came across Mark Lamos’s desk. I met him and we hit it off. We did a reading at The Playhouse, which was great. I learned what I needed to work on.
Who was at the reading?
The reading was for the rest of the staff and the board members, so they could hear it out loud and know what got a reaction, what didn’t. I did another rewrite.
What was it like to work with Mark Lamos?
I’m continually impressed by him. It’s been a really great experience. He’s smart and kind and he knows what he’s doing. We’re in the middle of auditions. I’m expecting to hear singing [laughs], but the focus is just on the acting.
What was your favorite project?
When I wrote the lyrics for Elf The Musical. It was so much fun, especially to see families have fun. It was all about joy and happiness. I’d go to the show and then go into the lobby and see who had the best time by the smiles on their faces. I’d take them for a backstage tour and introduce them to some of the actors.
You worked with Alan Menken on the musical Aladdin, which is now playing in Seattle. What’s different about the show?
The challenge with Aladdin was to keep the spirit of the movie and all of the beloved songs and scenes, while making it fresh for audiences. There were also a lot of songs that were cut from the movie that Alan wanted incorporated into the musical. This meant approaching it like a puzzle and finding places where the cut songs could go and still move the story forward. The great thing is that these songs are so wonderful and it's thrilling to get to see them brought to life again.
What was your most challenging show?
It’s funny. Harbor is not the most challenging, but it’s unfamiliar doing a play. It seems more challenging that doing a musical. With a musical, there’s a whole team putting a show. There’s more collaborating. If something doesn’t work, it might be your lyrics or the dance number, or the choreography. I have nowhere to hide!