Scribes follow wins with different career moves
At this year’s Tony Awards, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal”) won the score award over Elton John (“Billy Elliot”) and Jeanine Tesori (“Shrek”). Those vet tunesmiths, however, have won something far more important: Their musicals get produced on Broadway with the kind of clocklike regularity that recalls the glory days of Rodgers & Hammerstein.
From “The Lion King” onward, John has clocked in four tuners in 11 years, while, in a mere six years, Tesori has seen three of hers produced.
Tesori’s accomplishment is especially significant because, unlike John, she can’t rely on a pop-star pedigree; plus, she works with a different lyricist on each show.
Except for “Violet,” her first musical, “Every other project has come my way. To instigate is not my strength,” says the composer, who somehow never stops working. “I don’t do something that probably won’t see the light of day. I don’t do things for exercise.”
Tesori is working with Lisa Kron to adapt Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel “Fun Home” to the stage, and she and Tony Kushner are one of 10 teams commissioned by the Met Opera and LCT to write a musical work.
Scribes who’ve won Tonys for their scores in recent years have been far less visible on Broadway. Is there a legit jinx akin to the alleged Oscar curse? Probably not. Most musicals take seven years to gestate, and as one composer puts it, life happens.
Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann of “Urinetown” (2002 Tony) have a new tuner, and to show they haven’t lost any of their outre charm, it’s called “Yeast Nation,” to perform this summer at Chi’s ATC. For Kotis, winning the Tony bought him creative freedom: “It gave us the chance to do all those things you’d do if you only had the time.” And the money.
As for his new show’s Broadway chances, “I don’t know about that,” he says. ” ‘Yeast Nation’ has a big chip on its shoulder, and my background has always been storefront Off Off Broadway theater.”
Hollmann’s other tuner, an adaptation of “My Man Godfrey,” written with Rupert Holmes, looks like an easier fit for Broadway.
“Now I appreciate how hard it is to get the second show,” Hollmann says. “Knock on wood. Eventually I will have one.”
Adam Guettel of “The Light in the Piazza” (2005 Tony) had been working on bringing “The Princess Bride” to the musical stage, but that project fell apart over a disagreement with book writer William Goldman on the allocation of royalties for the underlying rights.
Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez of “Avenue Q” (2004 Tony) split up after writing songs for an episode of “Scrubs.” Marx liked that TV experience so much that he now writes for Logo’s “Rick and Steve” and looks “to work in film and TV to bring musicals to a wider audience.”
Lopez continues to write for the theater, working with Matt Stone and Trey Parker on the unofficially titled “Mormons Musical.” It has taken a long time, says Lopez, “because we’ve had to write it in the cracks in their ‘South Park’ schedule.”
Regarding his Broadway follow-up, he says, “I would have thought I’d maybe have one by now.” But then Lopez has also taken time since “Avenue Q” preemed to get married and have two children.
If seven years is the average tuner gestation, Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman of “Hairspray” (2003 Tony) are about three weeks ahead of sked with their Gotham-bound “Catch Me if You Can,” to begin previews this July at Seattle’s Fifth Avenue.
Meanwhile, Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater of “Spring Awakening” (2007 Tony) will see their “The Nightingale” performed at S.F.’s ACT in 2010, with James Lapine directing. Sheik’s “Whisper House” goes to San Diego’s Old Globe this winter. Another Sater show, “Prometheus Bound,” written with Serj Tankian (System of a Down) is skedded for next year at Boston’s ART, with Diane Paulus at the helm.
Regarding his Tony win, Sater says: “It opened doors. We’re not back at square one. But Duncan and I aren’t doing another teen rock musical, which makes it harder. We’re doing unusual stuff.”
On a different note, the lyricist is now writing songs with Burt Bacharach, some of which are going into an original musical, the composer’s first for the stage since 1968’s “Promises, Promises.”
As for those 2009 Tony winners, they met last week with their “Next to Normal” producer David Stone “to confront the question of what to do next,” says Yorkey.
“We’re looking at some adaptations, and we have an original idea as well,” says Kitt. “We don’t want to take too long to figure it out.”