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Interview: Tony-Winning Director Alex Timbers Talks His New Book, BROADWAY BIRD

Alex Timbers is the acclaimed director of Moulin Rouge! the Musical, David Byrne's American Utopia, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and more!

Interview: Tony-Winning Director Alex Timbers Talks His New Book, BROADWAY BIRD

Tony Award-winning director and writer Alex Timbers has released his first book, a children's picture book, titled Broadway Bird, a charming, irreverent, heartfelt story set in an all-animal version of Broadway.

In Broadway Bird, Louisa is a tiny parakeet with a HUGE dream: to be a Broadway star. But no matter what she does, everyone keeps telling her she's too small to make it big. When a chance at her big break comes, Louisa learns that no matter how small you are, with a little talent and a lot of hard work, you can do anything-even be on Broadway. With witty, colorful illustrations by UK artist Alisa Coburn filled with visual jokes on every page, this hilarious picture book from renowned Broadway director Alex Timbers is a love letter to New York City and the magic of theatre.

Proceeds from sales of the book will benefit The Actors Fund, which supports the Broadway community, and Wild Fund Bird, the only non-profit in New York City that provides medical services for injured, sick, and orphaned wildlife.

Timbers won the 2021 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for Moulin Rouge!, recipient of 10 Tony Awards overall including Best Musical, and which continues its smash-hit run on Broadway, as well as in the UK, Australia, and across the US. He is also currently represented on Broadway as director of the musical, Beetlejuice, which returns to Broadway by popular demand, and was nominated for eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.

His extensive theatre credits include David Byrne's American Utopia; Peter and the Starcatcher (Tony nomination); Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Tony nomination); Rocky: The Musical; David Byrne & Fatboy Slim's Here Lies Love; The Pee-Wee Herman Show; Nick Kroll and John Mulaney's Oh Hello on Broadway; and many more.

In film, he is directing an animated musical for Warner Bros. entitled Toto, that retells the story of The Wizard of Oz from Toto the dog's perspective; and in television, he co-created Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle, for which he received a Golden Globe Award for 'Best Television Series-Musical or Comedy', and has directed numerous concert specials, including the Emmy-winning Netflix special John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City. For his work on and off Broadway, he is also the recipient of Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle, OBIE, and Lucille Lortel Awards, among countless honors.

Broadway Bird is recommended for readers ages 4-6 (and for book and theatre lovers of any age).


Interview: Tony-Winning Director Alex Timbers Talks His New Book, BROADWAY BIRD

What inspired Louisa's story?

Well, you know, I have a young niece and nephew and being a theatre director, it's such a difficult thing to explain what that is. I find that even when I'm speaking to my parents or friends, it's hard for them to understand what a theatre director is. So I was just thinking as a lover and advocate of theatre, in addition to being a practitioner, what would be a way to introduce young people, like my niece and nephew, to the world of theatre and the magic of Broadway, and that's kind of where the idea began.

Did you find that there was overlap in creating the book with your skills as a theatre practitioner?

Absolutely. There was a lot of thinking about the three act structure, thinking a lot about how you weave a theme through every scene and every character, how each new page turn is almost like the curtain going up on a new scene. I think there's definitely a relationship between those two. I always think of theatre as a visual storytelling medium, and what I love about what Alisa has done with the illustrations is that it's so fascinating to see what the text needs to hold and what the visuals can bear and how they don't double up on each other. So they're really additive. All these things relate to what we do in theatre, but felt really fascinating and applicable in creating a picture. I think what we're talking about is a real economy of storytelling. I remember when I was in my twenties, I assisted Des McAnuff on Jersey Boys on Broadway, and I remember one of the things he would always say to the book writers was that in a musical, you never repeat yourself. You say it once and the audience understands. I think that's the kind of thinking that you apply to a picture book, right? Because you have such a small word count and you're trying to really streamline the character arcs and the storytelling.

Did you have a specific vision for the look and feel of the storytelling? How did you come to work with Alisa Coburn?

Well, you know, I was thinking a lot about those classic children's books that take place in, you know, a magical version of New York, like The Cricket In Times Square, but also books like Lyle, Lyle Crocodile where you've got like an animal in sophisticated Manhattan. So what I loved about Alisa's illustrations was that there was a wit to them and a beauty to them, but also a timelessness. I was also thinking a little bit about, Muppets Take Manhattan, where it's obviously done in the eighties, but it also feels like it could be the fifties or the forties. I think that idea of not wanting to like necessarily sit in 2022 with the book was something that I found Alisa was able to thread in the other work she had done. So I was really excited. One of the things that's that we wanted to achieve with this was to create different layers of accessibility. So, it's for young people, but we wanted to have lots of Easter eggs and things like that for Broadway fans.

Interview: Tony-Winning Director Alex Timbers Talks His New Book, BROADWAY BIRD

I was going to ask about those! I was cracking up reading them. Patti LuPony and Iguana Menzel are my favorites. You must have had fun coming up with those. How did that concept come about?

When I was in Boston and we were doing the out of town tryout, we were in very long technical rehearsals and preview process, and that's sort of where the idea for the book was born. So during all those long hours, during breaks and stuff, it was just so much fun to imagine what would be the animal version of my favorite shows and my favorite stars and the actresses that Louisa would look up to and dream of becoming one day. So that was kind of the lens that we put on everything. Alisa and I bounced things back and forth and then she ran with a bunch of smart ideas that she just came up with on her own. So it was, a true collaboration and really fun and joyful.

How did you build out Louisa's character? What do you hope comes across about her?

Part of what we experience all the time as theatremakers is rejection, right? I pitch show ideas to producers or artistic directors all the time and get "nos." I think that one of the things that I love about Louisa's character is her self-belief and determination, and that it's a mix of hard work and luck that brings about success. So, one of the lessons that you know, I hope people take away from Louisa and her character is that standing out is partly about talent and determination, but it's also about knowing what makes you unique...I think those are some of the things that she really stands for, the perseverance and tenacity of show people.

Interview: Tony-Winning Director Alex Timbers Talks His New Book, BROADWAY BIRD

My favorite thing about this whole project is that proceeds from the book will benefit The Actor's Fund, as well as The Wild Bird Fund. Tell me more about that.

The Wild Bird Fund is a really amazing organization on the Upper West Side. I think it's the only organization in the city that takes in injured wildlife, They take in injured and abandoned animals and help rehabilitate them and make sure they get back into the wilds of New York City.

Who do you hope this story reaches?

My hope is that this is really an entrée into theatre for young people and to the magic of the world that we conjure on stage. I also hope that it maybe helps young people to know some of the great stage actors of the last 50 years. I'm hoping for young people, it will celebrate the power of perseverance and not being limited by how people see you and want to define you. I'm also hoping that for big theatre fans like me, who are quite a bit older, that it's a really fun book and a valentine to New York and Broadway and feels like a delightful celebration of this world we inhabit and love.


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From This Author - A.A. Cristi

A.A. Cristi is a graduate of the College of Staten Island with a degree in Communications/Journalism. She has performed both onstage and behind the scenes with La MaMa Experimental Theater Clu... (read more about this author)


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