TV procedural maven Zuiker, who wrote the two-hour series finale that wrapped up the 15-year run of the original “CSI” on Sunday, may not seem an obvious match for the “Soul Train” property. But Zuiker wears his love for soul music on his sleeve, and earlier this year demonstrated his enthusiasm in a closed industry presentation in New York, where he energetically pitched his take on the musical in a black velour track suit and gold high-tops.
“My parents would play soul music all night long,” Zuiker, who was raised in Las Vegas, said in a recent interview. “In the showroom at the Riviera Hotel where my mother worked, they had Bill Withers, the 5th Dimension. I grew up listening to this music.”
Zuiker was tapped for “Soul Train” by producer Matthew Weaver, who has experience crafting a musical from a catalog of hit songs as one of the lead producers of “Rock of Ages.” Weaver and Zuiker previously collaborated some 20 years ago on “The Harlem Globetrotters Story,” which never got off the ground at TriStar Pictures. Last year the producer and his company, MediaWeaver Entertainment, made a deal with Soul Train Holdings (chaired by Earvin “Magic” Johnson) to develop the stage version of the property.
In Zuiker’s conception, the “Soul Train” musical will tell the backstage story of producer and host Don Cornelius as well as a handful of the “Soul Train” dancers — making it sound, in broad outline, like the kind of behind-the-music tale that has found Broadway success in current shows “Jersey Boys” and “Beautiful.”
“The goal for me is to take 25 to 30 songs and string them together in a way that tells the story of Don Cornelius and the ‘Soul Train’ dancers,” Zuiker said. “The first thing the ‘Soul Train’ folks did was hand me a binder of 20,000 songs and say, ‘Hey, pick 20.’ “
The exact song list has yet to be ironed out, but the show looks certain to include Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around,” Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” and Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” According to Weaver, the “Soul Train” capitalization will be on par with the average for relatively large-scale musicals, which can tend to cost somewhere between $12 million and $16 million.
Zuiker said that although he was familiar with “Soul Train”– which ran in syndication for a whopping 35 years, from 1971 to 2006 — his writing process has included “square-one research,” boning up on the show’s history and talking to some of the people who were there in the early days. (Creator and host Cornelius died in 2012.) He added that although he’s never written a stage musical, he’s always had a healthy respect for stage productions, citing recent titles he’s enjoyed (“Jersey Boys,” “Wicked,” “Kinky Boots”) and adding that since he was a kid he’s wanted to write a show for Broadway.
He said he spent his summer writing “Soul Train” from 5:00 am to 11:00 am every morning, and switching to the “CSI” finale from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm. “I was putting one dream to bed and opening a new chapter on another,” he said.
Weaver said that no workshop or production timeline had yet been set for “Soul Train,” and that the next step will to get a director on board for the project. “We have dreams of being on Broadway in 2017,” he said.