BWW Exclusive: New Musicals at 54 Series - Jennifer Ashley Tepper Interviews Amanda Green and Leigh Silverman About AN AMERICAIN BOY
New Musicals at 54 is a series presented by Feinstein's/ 54 Below Programming Director Jennifer Ashley Tepper. Some of the 10 new and diverse musicals by a selection of today's most talented writers have had out-of-town productions, some have had workshops... now's your chance to be first to see them in NYC! Join us at New Musicals at 54 for one-night-only concerts celebrating each new show with songs, behind-the-scenes stories, and all-star casts!Click here to learn more about the New Musicals at 54 series. Use code NEW20 when purchasing tickets to three or more shows in the series in a single order and receive 20% off tickets in the Main Dining Room or Bar Rail Tickets and more information: http://54below.com/artist/new-musicals-at-54-an-americain-boy-by-amanda-green-liz-flahive-richard-thom/
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: Based on a true story, An Americain Boy is an original rock thriller that tells the story of a charismatic and manipulative young man from France who will do anything to get a family, and the American family who will do anything to find their long-lost son. It explores the lengths people will go, and the lies we will tell ourselves, and others, for love. The show has music by Olivier-Award winning composer Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer The Opera, Anna Nicole, The Tracey Ullman Show), lyrics by Tony-nominated lyricist/composer Amanda Green (Hands On A Hardbody, High Fidelity, Bring It On), and direction by Tony-nominated director Leigh Silverman (Violet, Chinglish, Well).
When did you start writing An Americain Boy and what was the initial inspiration for it? What stirs you about telling this particular story on stage?
AMANDA GREEN: It's an idea I've had for a couple of years. A great writer, who is a pal, brought the story of this young man who was a serial imposter to my attention. The true story is so improbable and dramatic and reveals profound truths about human nature - our wishful need for people who are gone to be still with us. The protagonist of the story also caught my attention - the way that he has to re-invent himself on his feet and is constantly in peril of being found out. His journey is breathless - it's like he's jumping from ledge to ledge for safety - and he can never rest. And his bizarre need to make up stories about himself and change identities all stem from his desire to get love and a family.
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: Musical theatre seems to have a great tradition of "impostor" stories, from The Music Man to Catch Me If You Can... and An Americain Boy is joining that tradition.
What excites you most about writing for the theatre today? And on the flip side, what are the most significant challenges you feel that writers for the theatre face in 2015?
AMANDA GREEN: I'm so excited that musicals have had such a resurgence in popularity in the past 15 or so years. And with Hamilton, Fun Home et al, I feel like we're in a very exciting and rich artistic time. I feel like there's a freedom to tackle new subjects, and to use all kinds of music, language and idioms. I feel like women are just beginning to hit their stride in gaining access, opportunities and a big voice in musical theater.
I'm so excited to be working on An Americain Boy. I've been a fan of Richard Thomas since I saw the concert of Jerry Springer, The Opera at Carnegie Hall. I thought, "Who is that guy?" I got his email address from a producer friend, and wrote him a fan note and said I wanted to work with him. That was 7 years ago. I actually flew to London back then, and we spent a week talking about ideas and working on songs, but nothing specific panned out. When I hit on this idea, I felt he was the right match. We'd stayed in touch and had been talking about various projects on and off, but this one struck a chord. He was excited as I was. And we've had a blast working on it. We're working trans-atlantically - so he flew over her for two weeks and we had a writing blitz. We skype often. I'm on my way to London to write with him the day after Christmas.
AMANDA GREEN: I've loved Leigh Silverman's work from afar. And then I got a chance to work with her a bit a couple of years back when she directed a concert version of High Fidelity. Her intelligence and theatricality blew me away. She put things together in a new way that made the storytelling fresh, moving and exciting. I knew I wanted to work with her and was so excited when she said yes.
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: Here is a clip of that very High Fidelity concert, which happened at Feinstein's/54 Below and was a wonderful reunion of a very special show!
AMANDA GREEN: As a writer, I'm excited to write in different musical styles, and for different characters, voices and worlds. For instance, An Americain Boy has a heavy Michael Jackson influence - also rock music like Green Day, The Clash, etc. - all music I love. I'm incredibly excited to write songs like that that are also theatrical.
The challenges in the industry are also the growing popularity of musicals. There is a glut in the market. Happily, what was once 'the old dinosaur' of entertainment is now one of the last bastions where artists can be heard by a wide audience and paid for their work. So it is more competitive perhaps than it ever was.
There is also the age-old pull between the artistic side and the commercial side. It is always more difficult to get something 'special' and less overtly commercial, produced.
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: Amanda's own youtube channel is filled with gems that are both from shows and that are stand-alone songs: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8nOzAVXlhk4CD9IGzaDGeQ/videos
Leigh, when working on a new play or musical, what are your first steps in collaboration with writer(s)? What are the conversations you find most helpful to begin with?
LEIGH SILVERMAN: My first step is to get all members of the creative team onboard and heading in the same direction. What story do we want to tell? What are the big questions we want to explore? What is our tone? Why are these characters important and what does their story reveal about humanity? Why does this story have to be told through song? And then I set deadlines so we all do the work. Then I try and pull myself out of the process a little and let the writers work up some magic and give me something to respond to.
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: What was your first exposure to theatre? When did you know it was what you wanted to pursue as a career?
AMANDA GREEN: In the womb. Always.
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: Amanda Green is the daughter of Broadway legends Adolph Green and Phyllis Newman. Recently on Broadway she revised some of her father's songs for the On The Twentieth Century revival. She tells some fascinating tales about that here.
The story of An Americain Boy involves the intersection of France and America. What interests you about exploring that cultural exchange?
AMANDA GREEN: The expectations and image of America that some foreigners have. America as the magical place that will fulfill their dreams. Especially this young man who is severely fantasy prone. And the reality.
The clash of cultures - and him navigating the waters and trying to figure out the rules and fit in.
And also how human nature is the same the world over - everyone wants love security and a home.
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: Amanda, you are a writer who has performed your own work in concert. How do you find that impacts your process? What excites you about sharing your own work as a performer and do you find that you learn about the piece you're working on from those experiences?
AMANDA GREEN: I love performing! And the first time I performed a song I had written was transformative. The experience of articulating something I felt deeply and then communicating it to an audience felt profound. When I started out, I was writing pop songs and drawing form personal experience. I found a great freedom in 'widening the net' and writing not from my experience and to 'express myself', but for specific characters in specific situations.
Performing a song I've written for a character in a show is an experience I love. I mean, I understand what the author's trying to say, and how she wants the lyric articulated! ;) It's also a quick way to find out if a lyric or a melody's not working: if it's awkward to sing, or I can't 'put over' the lyric, or find the logic behind it for myself - I know another actor won't be able to either. If it's hard for me to spit out a lyric - and it's clumsy on the tongue - that's another problem that needs to be addressed. Also, I can feel how audiences respond to it - and if they don't.
But the feeling of performing a song I wrote or co-wrote and connecting with the audience is a visceral thrill, and keeps me loving doing what I do.
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: What else are you working on right now? What are you most looking forward to working on in 2016?
LEIGH SILVERMAN: I am in the middle of a number of musical projects - both new and revivals - as well as plays - both new and revivals. I have toes in all kinds of waters right now.
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: Here is a clip from the recent Broadway revival of Violet, which Leigh directed:
What is your ideal future for An Americain Boy?
LEIGH SILVERMAN: I want An Americain Boy to premiere in 2017.
JENNIFER ASHLEY TEPPER: Don't miss your chance to see the show first, at Feinstein's/54 Below!
The creative team will be joined by Jarrod Spector (Beautiful, Jersey Boys), Alysha Umphress (On The Town, American Idiot), Rachel Bay Jones (First Lady Suite, Pippin), Jessica Crouch (NYMF, Next Broadway Sensation), Josh Young (Jesus Christ Superstar, Amazing Grace) and a surprise guest or two. Be the first audience to hear songs from the show, as the creative team takes you through the story.