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Interview: Jessica Penzias, Book Writer of New Musical FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER

Adaptation of E.L. Konigsburg's classic children's book gets staged reading at Greenville Theatre on August 13 as part of the South Carolina New Play Festival

Interview: Jessica Penzias, Book Writer of New Musical FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER

The beloved novel is now a family musical.

E.L. Konigsburg's cherished, all-time classic novel, FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E FRANKWEILER, comes to life at Greenville Theatre on August 13 as part of the inaugural South Carolina New Play Festival. The creative team includes Adam Ben-David (music), Christyn Budzyna (lyrics), and Jessica Penzias (book). SNPF Artistic Director West Hyler directs the staged reading.

"I met Adam Ben-David on JERSEY BOYS on Broadway, where he conducted the band," Hyler says. "He was fantastically talented and incredibly facile with the keys. We worked closely together for half a decade when I was the associate director of the Broadway show."

As their paths diverged over the years, the two remained in touch. "I would see him frequently in the Theater District and we would catch up with each other. When Shelley and I were curating the inaugural season for the South Carolina New Play Festival, I had heard great things about a musical that Adam had written, along with Jessica Penzias and Christyn Budzyna, based on FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. I reached and asked him for some demos and was blown away by the beauty and sophistication of the music."

The story introduces us to 11- year-old Claudia and her younger brother, Jamie, who run away from home only to hide out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ultimately, they work together to unravel the mystery surrounding a statue that might be a lost work by Michelangelo.

Christyn Budzyna (lyrics) was awarded the 2017 City Theatre National Award for BAKED GOODS which was published and licensed by Samuel French, Inc. Adam Ben-David (composer) is one of the most in-demand Broadway conductors and musical directors and his list of Broadway credits includes BOOK OF MORMON, JERSEY BOYS, SPRING AWAKENING, WICKED, HIGH FIDELITY, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, BOMBAY DREAMS and AIDA. Jessica Penzias (book) is an award-winning librettist and playwright whose shows have received more than 1,600 productions in 75+ countries around the globe. As an associate at Jill Furman Productions, Jessica helped develop and produce HAMILTON, CINDERELLA, SUFFS, and FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME.

"The lyrics, by Christyn Budzyna, are smart and witty, while at the same time capturing the voices and mannerisms of children, and Jessica Penzias' book took a 120 page book and was able to capture the heart of the story with a 90 minute musical," Hyler says. "Needless to say, I was blown away by the demos and script and am delighted to have FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER as the big musical in our inaugural festival."

We asked book writer Jessica Penzias to tell us how the team approached adapting this beloved classic.


How did the idea come about? And how did you get involved?

FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER has been composer Adam Ben-David's favorite book since he was ten years old. In fact, he wrote an amateur musical adaptation of the book as a child.

Years later, during his time as the conductor at Broadway's BOOK OF MORMON, Adam met the grandchildren of author E.L. Konigsburg by happenstance, when they came backstage for a tour. As a superfan of the book, Adam felt it was kismet. He befriended the Konigsburg family and eventually acquired the rights to the book. Adam then recruited book writer Jessica Penzias and lyricist Christyn Budzyna (both of whom he knew from the Tony Award-honored BMI Musical Theatre Workshop) to round out the writing team.

This book is obviously a classic - what was your approach to adapting the material? How did you choose what to leave in, what to take out, what to change, etc.?

Adapting this book is a great privilege and one we don't take lightly. This book feels inherently theatrical to us. The larger-than-life setting of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, immediately leapt off the page. Through the power of theater, we've been able to make the museum another character in the piece - in our interpretation, the artwork comes to life as we see the museum through the eyes of our young protagonist.

There are iconic moments from the book (such as discovering coins in the museum fountain, sleeping in an ornate antique canopy bed) that stick with readers for decades after they encountered the story. We were sure to keep these moments in the book and give them the attention - and musical interpretations - they deserve!

The characters have also left an indelible mark on us since childhood. In our work we strive to maintain E.L. Konigsburg voice as we bring these roles to life.

What is most exciting to you about the show getting a staged reading?

We are so grateful for this opportunity to see the show come to life in a staged reading. Our favorite part of musical theater is collaboration, creating something together that none of us could create individually. In this stage of the process, we get to broaden our circle of collaborators to include a director, performers, stage manager, dramaturg, and musicians. We also get to add another crucial collaborator - the audience. The audience plays an essential role in shaping the storytelling. Hearing a crowd react to the show, gives us useful feedback as we continue the writing process. And the joy of sharing this timeless story with a group of people is what fuels our creative process.

Why do you think this story has continued to resonate through multiple generations?

FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER is the ultimate tale of wish fulfillment. Who wouldn't like to spend a night in the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Readers from all generations can vividly recall the second-hand exhilaration they felt the first time they read about Claudia and Jamie's adventures.

You can learn more about the show and our writing process in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5K_9uGjrHU&t=11s


FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER will be performed at 8 pm on Saturday, August 13 at Greenville Theatre. For tickets and additional information, visit southcarolinanewplayfestival.org.

Regional Awards


From This Author - Neil Shurley

Neil Shurley has been covering the Greenville SC arts scene since 2001. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association, his theatre-related work has appeared in such publications as The ... (read more about this author)


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