Production: “Ragtime” (Working In The Theatre #272)


(APPLAUSE) A very warm welcome to the American Theatre
Wing’s “Working in the Theatre” seminars. I’m Isabelle Stevenson, and I am President
of the American Theatre Wing. And once again, we are coming to you from
the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. These seminars offer a very rare opportunity
to hear discussions of the realities of working in the theatre, coming from an extraordinary
list of performers, producers, playwrights, directors, designers, press agents, union
and guild leaders. And since the Wing first introduced these
seminars, nearly 1000 of Broadway’s and Off-Broadway’s best have been seminar guests. The Wing is founder of the Tony Awards, which
are given for distinguished achievement in the theatre. However, as many of you know, we are much,
much more than the Tony Awards, proud as we are of having established them. But for example, our year-round programs are
dedicated to serving the community and the theatre. We honor excellence in the theatre, and we
help to develop new audiences, discriminating audiences. To do this, we have created an audience development
program for students. The “Introduction to Broadway” program,
which began only seven years ago, has enabled over 70,000 New York City high school students
to attend a Broadway show. And frequently, they meet and question the
cast. The majority of the students have not been
to a Broadway show ever, and also for the first time, have come to Broadway. And then there’s our newest program, “Theatre
in Schools.” Here, theatre professionals, like those you
will meet here today, go directly into the classrooms to work with and talk to students
about working in the theatre, what is ahead for them as they enter the world of theatre. And then of course, there is the Wing’s
legendary program, the hospital program, which dates back to World War Two and the Stage
Door Canteen. And through it, performers from Broadway,
Off-Broadway and the cabaret world have entertained more than 75,000 patients in nursing homes,
veterans’ hospitals, children’s wards and AIDS centers, all in the New York area,
bringing the magic of theatre to those that can not get to the theatre itself. We are proud of our history, the work we do,
and we are happy to have the wonderful working relationship with the theatrical community,
that enables us to bring people like today’s producing team to you, so that they can share
with you what it is to work in the theatre. We hope that you will enjoy and learn from
today’s seminar. And today is the production of RAGTIME, all
the people that have made it possible. These are the people that put their money
on the line and bring you the finished production of this extraordinarily good show that has
opened 42nd Street to all of us. I’d like you to meet, from your left, Terrence
McNally, Stephen Flaherty, Garth Drabinsky, Lynn Ahrens, Frank Galati and Jon Wilner. And then, to act as moderator is our own Ted
Chapin, who is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Theatre Wing and President
of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Corporation. Thank you all for being here. (APPLAUSE) Thank you, Isabelle. It’s an honor to be here. I think it’s surprising how many great American
musicals are actually about America, because there are very few that are. Most of them are placed in exotic locations
or about people and characters who could arguably be in any number of places. But I think there’s absolutely no doubt
about the fact that RAGTIME is a musical about America. And I think it’s not an accident that it’s
based on a novel that takes place at the turn of the century and it has now morphed into
a musical at the end of the century. And I think that’s a kind of wonderful book-ended
kind of situation to be in. Because it’s such an American story, I want
to ask the first question to the Canadian in the group (LAUGHTER), Garth Drabinsky,
the producer, whose money has gone a long way to making RAGTIME what it is. I know that Livent, your company, has been
around for a number of years. And obviously, one of the goals was to create
new works of theatre from the ground up. So my question to you is, why RAGTIME? Well, when the idea was first presented to
me, to re-examine the book, I hadn’t read the book in about twenty-some-odd years. Certainly, I guess it was just about twenty
years. And I had a chance to quietly sit on a beach,
which never happens often, and I reread it. And I was unbelievably impressed with the
power of the story again, how much relevance the story has today, and what I thought were
the myriad of opportunities to musicalize it, from the very precise characters that
Doctorow had drawn, to the events themselves, to the metaphorical direction that Doctorow
takes us in the book, to its themes. And it seemed that it was the perfect answer
to what to do after a restoration of SHOW BOAT, because I was really mired in that period. And I felt something very attractive, and
drawn to it, and wanted to explore it even more deeply than SHOW BOAT got us to explore
that period. And it made all the sense in the world to
move with it. And when you met with Doctorow, I read somewhere
that he hadn’t had a good experience with the movie, so that he may have been reluctant
to have the conversation. Yeah, he was really depressed about the movie,
because the movie only really focused on the story of Coalhouse Walker. What it didn’t do was deal with the intertwining
nature of the three stories, the story of the WASP family, the Jewish immigrant, and
the Harlem black man, Coalhouse Walker, and each of their struggles and journeys. And that to me was fundamental. I couldn’t understand how you could ignore
that, in fact, because it was the essence of what made the book so spectacular. And it was my job to convince him to have
faith that it could see another manifestation again, if we brought the right constituency
to the project. Have all of you seen the movie? I’ve never seen it. I have now. You have now? Frank, did you see it? Yes, I saw it when it came out. And then I looked at it again before we began
work on the show. And what was your reaction to it? Well, I was disappointed in the film. I was disappointed in it when I saw it. I thought the novel was truly a work of art,
an extraordinary narrative. Interesting because the style of it is so
reportorial and restrained. It’s not cold, but there are tensions in
it that I think allow you to feel very deeply, because it’s a disciplined narrative. And because of the historical characters,
and as Garth says, because of these intertwining forces of action, I thought it was brilliant. But the film seemed to be me, in addition
to focusing on Coalhouse Walker Jr. mainly, it seemed to me to sort of not quite know
what it was doing in terms of tone. I thought it drifted. And the dialogue, I thought, in the film was
very disappointing. You know, we actually have not talked really
about the film (LAUGHS), I don’t think ever. But the dialogue seemed to me to be very flabby
and kind of improvisational. It seemed to be left up to the actors to interact
with each other and dialogue. It wasn’t terse. It didn’t have energy. So it was disappointing. Well, it’s interesting. I mean, I have a confession that when I first
saw RAGTIME and read how much everybody didn’t like the film, I was surprised because I do
like the film. And one of the interesting things that I remember
about the film is, it was made by Milos Forman, who is not an American. Yes, right. And I’m fascinated by his very particular
non-American view of America. Because with his movie of HAIR as well, it’s
not the America that Americans know, but it’s fascinating. And I have to compliment you, because one
thing I missed when I saw RAGTIME in Toronto was the relationship between Tateh and his
daughter, because Mandy Patinkin did it in the film and I confess I’ve known Mandy
for a long time, so of course I had to go see the film, even if I didn’t like it or
not. But there was a shot in the film of Tateh
and his daughter in an ice cream parlor, sharing a very positive and sort of father-daughter
moment. And I remember when I saw the film, feeling
“These guys are going to get through. Whatever happens to them, they’re going
to get through.” And I think it’s something, I don’t know,
it may not have influenced you at all, but that is something that I feel now in the show,
there’s much more of a feeling that there’s a positive side to Tateh’s story. Right. We worked on that character a lot, but not
because of the film. I mean, we really made a decision not to look
at the film before we started, because you really don’t want to be influenced by what
somebody else, you know, chose to do with the source material. So we didn’t look at the film. Didn’t you find anything to steal, now that
you looked at it? (LAUGHTER) No, actually I got scared, because I didn’t
know that in the film, Evelyn Nesbit was in Tateh’s movie. And you know, she’s in our movie, but we
didn’t know that. So I thought, “Oh, my God, we’ll be sued,”
but you know. (LAUGHTER) Will you be? It’s fine, it’s fine! Don’t mention that word! (LAUGHTER) What I think is sort of interesting is that,
as a filmmaker, I think he chose the most active of the three stories to put on the
screen, and I can understand making that choice. Because you know, the Coalhouse Walker story
is an outward story. It’s a man that something terrible happens
to him, he goes on a rampage. He’s a very active character. And in reading the book, one of the things
that we talked about a lot was how to make the other two stories equally as active. You know, Mother’s story is a very internal
journey, from a Victorian housewife to a self-aware woman of the twentieth century. And you know, it’s not that she does anything
particularly dramatic, other than take in a black infant, into her home and into her
heart. And that’s a huge action, but yet the rest
of her journey is very, very subtle and very internal. And with Tateh, it’s sort of the same thing. You know, he goes searching for a life and
for work and for a way to raise his child. But you know, he doesn’t blow up the Morgan
Library or anything. So you know, those were harder to weave in
and give equal weight to, you know, make them equally as interesting and as dramatic as
Coalhouse’s story. So I understand why he chose to do that, you
know. Yeah, that’s neat. I want to back up a little. So Doctorow is won over by your charms and
you decide, “Okay”? (LAUGHTER) Right, well, some of us know that. So now you have a musical. You have something in your mind, and you may
not know exactly what it is, you may know precisely what it is. What I knew was, I had control of a magnificent
asset. But from that point of view, to be able to
find a great musical out of a wonderful story, there needed to be, you know, that confluence
of events happening and a merger of great talent. Was Terrence not the next person you went
to? Terrence was the first and only person I went
to, because I had an incredible experience with Terrence on SPIDERWOMAN. I got to know him very well, and my profound
respect for his talent and humanity was very clear to me after the SPIDERWOMAN relationship. And I thought that out of all of the writers
who were engaging in writing librettos for musical theatre today, that he would be an
absolutely fabulous choice, to give him the challenge of solving the riddle and first
instance of this complex book. And much to my thrill and excitement, he said,
“I’ll rise to the challenge, if I can, and have a go at it.” And that’s when it all began. So did you do a treatment, or what did you
do next? Well, I told Garth, one, I said, “Let me
reread the novel.” And I had only reread about half of it when
I thought it really had the passion and size for a new musical. I had never seen the film, so it never occurred
to concentrate on the [Coalhouse Walker story]. Not having seen the film, I didn’t know
that, “That’s the way to do it, just tell the story of Coalhouse.” So to me, the whole challenge of doing it
is in weaving the three stories and respecting them, because they all do connect finally,
but not until the very end. And I said I would do a treatment, and that
if Doctorow approved of the treatment, the tonality of it, then I’d be happy to do
it. I did not want to be adapting a novel if the
novelist was going to go around saying, “They’ve changed this, they’ve done that.” Because clearly, you cannot put all of RAGTIME
on the stage. It would be longer than PARSIFAL and THE RING
CYCLE combined. (LAUGHTER) Right. So it’s selecting the right material and
telescoping, always respecting the spirit of the novel, which I thought was my biggest
assignment. And after I did that, Doctorow said, “Fine.” And so, we knew kind of that we had a blueprint
to do the show, an approach to this large amount of material, and that’s when Lynn
and Stephen joined forces with me. But it was very important to me that Doctorow
know the direction it was going in. And then I said, you know, “Go away. Leave us alone! (LAUGHTER) Don’t look over our shoulder!” Yeah, while we were working on it. Before you said, “Go away,” were there
any specific things? I mean, obviously, as you just said, you couldn’t
do the whole thing, you had to pick and choose certain things. Were there any that he said, “Why did you
pick that or why didn’t you [pick that]?” Much later, he would say, “I miss this or
that.” But at that point, he just liked the approach? Yes, yes. May I ask? What are the mechanics? Is that normal, that when you option a property
that’s already been published or printed as you did, must you have the approval of
the author as you go along? Well, in this case, what was different than
SHOW BOAT is that he was living. And so, it makes it more complicated, you
know? Because you want to pay honor to an author,
certainly someone of the stature of Edgar Doctorow and what he has contributed to American
literature. And Terrence and I both were in total agreement
on this. If we couldn’t make him excited about what
we were trying to do and where we were going with the show, what was the point? I didn’t want to go through an experience
that he would feel the same way as he did about the film. That would just not be there. Life is too short to want to spend three years
in trying to hurt somebody as opposed to elevate them and excite them with what we were trying
to do. So he was given certain, you know, rights
of consultation and approval in the first instance, just because it was so relevant
to him, this work. And we were happy to give it to him, because
if there wasn’t a consensus as to direction, if there wasn’t an unanimity about it, at
any time, in any pretty serious way, then you know, it just would have fallen apart. I think “respect” is the key word to what
Garth just said. Yeah. Because it is a novel that I cared about very
deeply, as I cared about SPIDERWOMAN. If Manuel Puig had not liked what we had done
with SPIDERWOMAN, I would have been very — It’s also simply common sense. — I would have failed somehow, you know? If you’re not in agreement, then there’s
something that you’re lacking there, too. Yes, I think that’s true, and I think that
Edgar’s involvement and permission notwithstanding, the work itself, I mean, even if it was a
work that came to us from an author no longer living, I think (TO GARTH) your instinct initially
was to honor the work. Yes. Not just to honor Edgar, that is a factor
of him being among the quick. Right, right. But because the work itself has integrity
as a whole, and because you wanted so much to try to achieve its wholeness, even though
it would have to be telescoped, I think that was the secret and the first move into creating
it. RAGTIME the novel is never an excuse for writing
a musical. It was the reason for it. Sure. Very different phrase. Which is a subtle difference, but an important
one to me. And very much, if RAGTIME were to be a wonderful
novel, it would be a wonderful Broadway musical. I wanted it to be this one, the one we ended
up with. And we worked very hard. There was a real agreement about what we were
all in that room to do, with Lynn and Stephen and Frank and Graciele and Garth as producer. That’s important. It’s in the work. And there are shows that that is not true,
unfortunately, and some successful shows, I think you could say, “This musical is
very successful, but it bears very little resemblance to the tonality of the novel or
film or short story it was based on.” Where here, I think we really worked to make
it seem like, if the novel could sing, this is how it would sing and move and dance. And that’s what it did. I want to bring the composer and lyricist
into this, because you did something quite extraordinary in finding a composer and lyricist
for this property. Well, you know, it really wasn’t just for
this property. It was the dilemma that all producers have
today, and that is, finding the relationships that will take them through a generation of
creating musicals for the theatre. And I knew, because again, I go back to a
historical relationship I’ve had with Hal Prince. And it was just yesterday I was on a plane
with him, we were coming back from London after we had opened SHOW BOAT there. And all through his career, he worked with
new composers. That was one of his landmark contributions,
new composers. And I felt that it was absolutely fundamental,
if we were going to make a major thrust into the producing of original musical theatre,
that I had to establish new relationships, or relations for the first time, with a group
of men and women who were going to give me great confidence. And I would, in turn, want to encourage them
to do, hopefully, great things. And so, you know, we canvassed an array of
possibilities, based upon our own investigation as to where the industry was today and who
were doing great things or had the potential to transcend into a whole new plateau in their
careers. And it was on the basis of Terrence’s treatment
that we were able to encourage a tremendous response from very talented people. But Lynn and Steve were so far, you know,
beyond where anyone else was when they responded to the treatment, it became so clear to me
that they were the absolute perfect choice. And I didn’t have, you know, a crystal ball
on this thing, you know? And you never know ultimately if you’re
making the right choice in any creative catalytic involvement. But boy, you know, they were dead on. And they wanted to work with Terrence, and
it was a marriage that seemed to be destined, and I made it. Well, you made the right choice, but you made
— When did they come on board? After Terrence and after Frank? No, after Terrence and before me. Yeah, that’s right. But now we’re putting the pieces together. Right. But you had a choice. Because I believe what you did was you sent
something that Terrence had written to a number of composers of lyricists. And they then — Oh, sure. I said to all of them, “Here’s a few thousand
dollars or whatever. Go into a recording room, if you’re inclined,
after you’ve written some songs based upon the inspiration of the treatment and see how
it works.” Because you know — One thousand dollars! (LAUGHTER) That was in 1995 (PH). (LAUGHTER) But the point is that, you know,
the one thing that I’ve also realized, you know, why put people through three years of
rigorous artistic creation if they’re not going to respect each other and the potential
from the very beginning? And that’s another thing. So this is a good way to find out whether
it’s really going to work at the beginning or not. It was a very smart thing to do. But I preface this by saying you did something
bold, because I think you did. I want to ask Lynn and Stephen, you knew you
were in a competition of sorts, right? Well, you know, it’s a different way of
going about things. It’s not unprecedented. You know, when you go through the history
of Broadway musicals, commercial musical theatre. And Jerry Herman auditioned for David Merrick
to get HELLO, DOLLY! You know, a young songwriter who had basically
done, I believe, one or two early shows before that. Jule Styne, who was a wonderful, popular show
biz tunesmith but had never done a dramatic work, and there’s nothing to the producers
of GYPSY to indicate that, I understand auditioned to get the job of writing the dramatic score
of GYPSY, to prove that he could do it. And Lynn and I have written a variety of scores
in a variety of styles, but there wasn’t, I don’t think, to most people, something
that would indicate that we could work on this type of large scale, dealing with very
dramatic issues, political and social issues. And yet, in my own searching for new projects,
I had been looking for something that would be quintessentially American, that would deal
with questions about what it is to be American and the roots of American music. And so, I had been searching for a very long
time with Lynn to find a project that would be able to convey this. And when the opportunity came along to be
considered — I said, “We’re too busy.” (LAUGHTER) She said, “We’re too busy,” and I thought,
“This is the biggest opportunity!” I have great foresight. (LAUGHS) It was a wonderful opportunity, and I just
dove into it. And we both did. I think — I’m sorry, Frank, go ahead. No, I just wondered. Isn’t it true that what you composed first,
what you worked on first, remains the first measures of music in the show? Yeah. It’s interesting. I always call it, you know, what is the key? What is it that allows you into the piece? And we were looking at this document, the
sixty page document of Terrence’s that we had been given. And the opening stage direction was “A little
boy standing on the stage, watching a black ragtime pianist begin to play.” And there was a quote from Doctorow about
what the music sounded like, “bouquets, small chords.” And that imagery and that stage direction
was my way of getting in the piece. And the very first notes of RAGTIME, which
is a piano solo, sort of coming from the past to us in the modern day as viewers, the very
first notes in the show were the first notes that I wrote in the score. And they’re still there, unchanged. They’re still there. Basically, the unprecedented thing, I believe,
in this process of choosing a composer and lyricist was that, yes, people have auditioned
one at a time in the past. And we were in competition with, I believe,
eight or ten other teams. We don’t know who they were or how many,
exactly. We didn’t want to know that. But that was somewhat unprecedented. And so, we just had this image of people all
over New York, you know, in their living rooms and studios and what not, going through Terrence’s
treatment. You know, number eight or whatever! And looking for clues into this process. But what we realized immediately, upon reading
his treatment, was that there was a tone that was established. And it’s interesting to go back. I don’t know if you’ve done it, Terrence,
recently. But I recently reread his original treatment. And it really kind of bears no resemblance
to the show that’s on stage now, and yet, it’s all there in some form or another. It’s really interesting. All the events are in different order, but
the tone is there. And that is what inspired us, and I think,
why we got the job. Because we knew immediately that we wanted
to maintain, as Terrence had in the treatment, some of Doctorow’s language, some of his
beautiful prose, and weave that into music. So the first thing that we wrote for our audition,
if you will, was the opening number of RAGTIME, which remains pretty much in its original
form. Three out of the four songs that Steve and
Lynn wrote and were recorded are in the show. Three out of four, which is astonishing. Was that all up to Garth or to Frank? No, Frank’s not involved. He was in Chicago! (LAUGHTER) He was in a pizza parlor in Chicago! (LAUGHTER) I was grading papers in Chicago. He was directing plays! But I wanted to ask Terrence, this sixty page
treatment. As you did it, clearly part of what you were
doing was to visualize, if you can visualize music. Huh. Well — What whoever this somebody is would give you. Yeah. Let me say a couple of things. One, I think what was really unprecedented
about this — I’m a great believer in audition. I’m a playwright, and every great actor
I’ve ever worked with has been willing to audition for a role, number one. So everyone says, “This is so unprecedented!” Friends of mine said, “You’re writing
a treatment for a musical?” I thought it was ninety pages. Only sixty? It felt like ninety. (LAUGHTER) Very dense pages. I got paid a thousand dollars, too. (LAUGHTER) I said, “That makes perfect sense! Why do I want to work on this show if Garth,
and Doctorow has some approval up in heaven, doesn’t like it?” You know? Then I said to Garth, “This is a great idea! I don’t want to work with people who don’t
hear the same [music].” I hear the music, or I can’t write it. But the unprecedented thing was, when I heard
the scores, I didn’t know who’d written any of the music. I know Lynn and Steve a little bit off stage. We’d met once or twice. I had admired their first three shows enormously. If I had listened to the cassette, saying,
“This is by Lynn and Steve,” I would have wanted to like it. If you say, “Here’s a new song by Irving
Berlin, and here’s one by Joe Blow,” you’re going to tend to want to like the Irving Berlin. So I was glad. When it was over, I said, “Garth, the only
composer/lyricist, whether it’s one person, two people, I want to work with, the only
one who hears the same show I hear is number four.” And he said, “Doctorow said the same thing,
and I feel the same thing.” How interesting. Then we opened the envelope and it was Lynn
and Stephen, which made me happy, that they weren’t people in real life I loathed. (LAUGHTER) You know, like my worst enemy! But I said, “These people hear what I heard,
and I can’t articulate it in notes.” And I was trying to set a trap — no, that
sounds bad. A lure, you know, a lure to make them bite
the right way. And it was so interesting. They chose like the hardest stuff. Umm-hmm. The opening, the death of Sarah. So many other people chose little pastiche
things. And I said, “These people, whoever wrote
number three, it’s very talented, but they show no commitment or passion. You know, I really went to bat. I wrote a whole treatment. The only people I’m hearing that really
wrote a couple of real songs are these.” And that’s why I wanted them, too. So all of this is unprecedented. It shouldn’t be. It’s common sense. Theatre is collaboration, and if you’re
not singing from the same chart, you’re going to have chaos. You’re going to have a twelve tone musical,
which no one wants to hear. WOYZECK, the musical! (LAUGHTER) Particularly with this material, too, I think,
because there are so many ways to go with it. And it’s so personal. Right. And it’s so personal. Because when I read it, I thought the main
character was Younger Brother. Lynn, Mother. Right. I thought it was Mother, you know. A friend of mine who teaches the book said,
“Well, who’s playing Father?” It was the first question. I said, “Father?” “Well, that’s the main role, isn’t it?” (LAUGHTER) Everyone sees the story totally
from their point of view. Yeah. And that’s why it’s so rich and universal. It was interesting. And then I was responding to Coalhouse, and
then Garth was responding to the character of Tateh. Tateh. The Jewish immigrant. The immigrant. Okay, so now everybody’s on board. The agents have come in, and they’ve signed
the contracts and the agreements. No! (LAUGHTER) Now, what happens? In about two weeks. Before we get to that, though — Well, we’re about ready for Frank, though. I would love to ask you who the others of
the teams are, but that’s not fair! No! However, are any of the other people people
that you’re working with? They are people that we will work with. Okay, fair enough. And to my point, though, about staying with
teams through hopefully a generation, nobody can want to work with this assemblage of genii
more than I do again, you know? I mean, the thing that I think you will garner,
I hope, at the end of this — I may be saying this too much in advance — is that there
was an incredible harmony created with this constituency. I wish Graciele were here today as well. And that’s so much the key to success in
the musical theatre. You need harmony in the evolutionary phase
of a work being created for the stage. And it’s so hard to create that harmony. And it’s all based upon the essential ingredients,
being the constituency. It’s interesting, on this platform a couple
of days ago, somebody made a differentiation between collaboration and decision by committee,
saying that the musical theatre is collaboration. It is not decisions by committee. And I think that’s sort of what you’re
saying. You have to trust each other and have a group
that works. Totally. And you know, you need to have the confidence
to engage in a rigorous artistic debate and discussion and push people to really emphatically
support a position. And when they’re really able to demonstrably
and clearly enunciate their reasons why they want to take that position, then you’d better
give it some pretty good consideration. And those are the type of relationships that
create, I think, great art. The best idea wins. Frank, how did you get into this? You’re in Chicago in the pizza parlor. I was in Chicago, not in a pizza parlor! That was his comment. Oh, I missed that. It was deep dish! They’ve got it here now, too, it’s not
as special any more. (LAUGHS) No, I said I was grading papers. Garth and I had talked briefly about my participating
in a workshop of another show in Toronto. And it didn’t feel right to me, and I was
critical of the material that he gave me. And I was afraid when I responded to it that
I would probably never hear from him again, because I thought I was a little harsh. But some time after that, I did hear from
him again, and it was to consider the notion of RAGTIME as a musical. When I first heard the idea, I thought, “My
God, what a brilliant idea!” You know, I mean, that’s a kind of fundamental
thing, too. The instant you hear it, the instant you hear
the title, and you think, “RAGTIME? Well, it’s a musical form, for one thing. It’s a story with sweep and emotion and
a panorama. And it’s a story about destiny and America. It’s big and it sings.” So it just seemed like a fantastic idea. And then I was given Terrence’s treatment,
and when I read it — again, we’re all saying the same thing, and we’ve come into this
with different points of view, but we really have created, I think, together, I’m happy
to say, a unified vision. I mean, when I read Terrence’s treatment,
it was as if a bell rang. I mean, from the very first words of it, I
realized, “Oh my God, he isn’t going to contort or distill in some artificial way
this great work. He really is going to let it [be].” I mean, just the eloquence with which you
said, “You want to find out what the novel feels like when it sings.” And that narrative itself was such an important
part of the way in which the story was going to be constituted. That is to say, it wasn’t just going to
be a series of scenes and songs that were going to move the action, but that Terrence
was going to have the courage to embrace Doctorow’s prose and to allow the kind of energy that
you can get when you speak a sentence that goes a great distance, to have time on stage. You know, “In 1902 Father built a house
at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York, and it seemed for
some years thereafter that all the family’s days would be warm and fair.” (AUDIENCE MURMURS IN APPRECIATION) I mean,
that was the first line of the treatment. And that is the first line of the show. It’s the first line of the novel. And what’s better? His first notes. His first notes, absolutely. So the thought that narration was going to
be an important part of the storytelling energy was crucial to my heart, personally, as I
read the story. And also, if I can interrupt, the narrative
device was something that Lynn and I grabbed onto as songwriters, because we realized that
there were ways that we as musical dramatists could take the device that Terrence had started
and weave it into the score. So songs like “He Wanted to Say,” which
is a song that Emma Goldman sings in Act Two, about all the passions and ideas inside the
character of Younger Brother that he’s unable to express. So she winds up narrating his story. In Act One, in “The Night that Goldman Spoke
at Union Square,” he, Younger Brother, narrates Emma Goldman’s section of the story. And the idea of other characters telling parts
of various other characters’ stories and setting the narration to music, that was something
that we really tried to weave throughout musically. Yeah. And in many ways, in addition to the other
things that we’ve already said, RAGTIME is about story, you know. It’s about the way story heals. It’s about the way story allows us to live,
to bring generations into the living experience of our history and our lives. So that even in a song like “Your Daddy’s
Son,” which is not narrative in a kind of direct audience/narrator relationship, it’s
a mother telling the story of the turbulent birth of the child in the form of a lullaby. And by so doing, Sarah, in singing of that
tortured and turbulent event, the breakup of her love and relationship with Coalhouse
and the brutal birth of this baby, by telling this story, this lullaby, she heals herself. She’s able to live. And the audience is also able to gain access
to her heart and root for her and see that she’s a heroic figure and character. And also, I think the child needs the story. Right. The way the child needs nourishment. And actually, what Frank just described is
something that’s not in the original source material. Yeah. Sarah is almost a mute character in the original
novel. So to Lynn’s credit, she said, “You know,
I really need to understand this character as an audience member, so that I can be with
her story.” So I can like her — And understand. — and so I can go on her journey with her,
you know. And the interesting thing about the novel
for all of us, I think, is that there is a lot left unsaid in it that you intuit. And that was one of the reasons that it seemed
like such a great idea for a musical. Because you know, songs heighten emotion. They find the emotional moments and they put
them on stage. And they’re intuitive and you read between
the lines. And you think, “Oh, this young African-American
woman must be thinking this at this point,” but it’s not said in the book. It just chronicles what she did. And that’s true for many of the characters,
Mother too. So that was one of the great things that I
think we all found in writing the show. The novel is cool emotionally. Very cool. Yeah. Yes. And I think the music and lyrics add a passion
to it and a humanity. Yes. And plus, you know, to me a novel is a two
dimensional art form. You know, it’s you and your eyes reading
this. The minute you stand up and move in space
and time, Sarah can not be a mute character in the theatre or she would not exist. So we had to flesh her out. But on the other hand, she’s not a very
verbal character, either. That would have been wrong. Right. And Lynn came up with the perfect solution. Lynn and Stephen wrote this lullaby, which
was written in rehearsal. Which again, inspiration of actors. When you have an Audra McDonald, you really
— That’s right. And she’s sitting there being a mute character,
you say, “Something’s wrong!” (LAUGHTER) Because when we first did our first workshop,
Sarah didn’t sing until “Wheels of a Dream.” Right, that’s correct. She just had half of one song. And she’s also murdered at the end of the
first act. She didn’t appear in Act Two at all. And yet, for Audra McDonald, with virtually
no material, to want to be a participant in the workshop, actually the first reading. Right. It was incredibly valuable to us. And she was very open to the process. So we were able, Lynn and I, to try different
things musically. We had this wonderful performer, actress,
available to us. And it really, for me, helped find what the
voice of Sarah sounded like. Because I didn’t know that at first. When you got to the workshop, where were you,
at the workshop? [TO JON] When did you come in? First of all, there were readings before there
was a workshop. Right. So I just want to distinguish between that. We did two readings, which were each two weeks
in length, both at York University. In Toronto. After the first final draft of the musical
was actually in our hands, and we could put together a cast and explore it. And by that time, Frank was very much involved
now, with the process, so that we all got together at York University in Toronto for
two weeks. And it was just a breathtaking experience. It’s so incredible to see, you know, a scene
or scenes read, examined, and then have the authors disperse, work all night and come
with new pages and new musical material and have it rehearsed and introduced. And this went on tirelessly for ten days. It was so exhilarating, I cannot tell you. And that’s when we saw — Who was involved in that for ten days? All of us here, and then who else would be
part of that? This was the essential group, I think. And the cast. And the cast. Because the cast was continually available
to us to interpret, and very, very crucial, I think, this aspect of it. Because the actors and actresses, the singers
and dancers, and we were given by Garth the time and the forces to do this, were able
to commit themselves fully. I mean, we weren’t rehearsing, we weren’t
getting up and walking around. But they were able to, you know, “Give us
your absolute, ultimate best, most honest interpretation of this line and this song,
so we can test it at its best, to see whether or not it passes the test.” And then if something felt like it didn’t
work, we would huddle at the end of the day and they would go off and create. I mean, this song for Audra that we’re talking
about happened during that first reading. And it was written overnight. I’ll never forget the morning that Lynn
said, “Come here and look.” And I looked over her shoulder at her computer
screen and she had the lyrics for “You’re Daddy’s Son.” And as they scrolled up, I clutched and couldn’t
believe my eyes. And it’s so eloquent, it’s so perfectly
formed. And there it was after one night! Then Stephen came in and played it, and that
afternoon we said to Audra, “Come here and sing this for us.” That was actually a wonderful experience. That was great. Because Lynn and I had written the song together
for most part, in the room together. And then I went off to my lonely little room
at the Novotel across the street, trying to work on the arrangement. And I kept thinking, “There’s no inspiration
in this pink and gray room.” And so, what I did is I brought the song as
far as I could bring it musically, and then brought Audra into the process, watching her
act. And I was getting so much, just as an observer
of the performance. I said, “I have a little Walkman here. Do you mind if I turn this on?” And basically, I was acting as almost another
actor responding to her, as if we were playing a scene together. So I was sort of tailoring what the arrangement
would become. And by the end of the day, we had the song,
which really hasn’t changed a note since then. No. And she sang it for Garth. We asked Garth to come in. And well, you know, it was one of those once
in a lifetime experiences. For me, I felt so privileged to just be at
the threshold of the room where this was happening. It was a miracle, I thought. All right, now we have to move on. Where does the selling come in? You have the general manager. I remember precisely the moment I first heard
of RAGTIME. And it was the first twenty-four hours after
the opening of SHOW BOAT in New York. And we were doing the quote ads. And it was exactly twenty-four hours later,
I ran over to Garth’s hotel, over to the Four Seasons Hotel, to take him the quote
ads. And we were exhausted, and we were moving
the quotes around. And all of a sudden Garth said, “Stop and
listen.” And he put the tape on. And I have no words. And I left there, and I was soaring. And it was the first time I’ve heard in
years a new musical, and it was a thrilling moment. And about two months later, I went to the
reading at the York. And I remember they were just reading the
show, and I saw the train that Tateh was jumping on. I saw it! And it was a very exciting moment, because
it doesn’t happen that often. And part of this is due to your wisdom, I
think, because you were able to give them all the opportunities. Did you know how many workshops you wanted,
or did you follow your instinct? Didn’t matter. I gave them what I thought they needed, which
turned out to be two readings. And then, everyone felt that it was time to
bring an even larger acting contingent together to work with Frank and Gracie in staging this
work, which we did again in Toronto, this time at the Canadian Opera Center in downtown
Toronto. And I think we had six or seven weeks. And whatever I was describing, in terms of
what was going on during the readings, was even more fervent and exciting during the
workshop stage. And once again, the work kept leaping ahead. And I knew, we all knew, that by the time
we saw three or four performances of this work before an invited audience of some two
or three hundred people each night, that the emotional connection was being made, that
the storytelling was so coherent, that the characterization was being fully set out before
us, and that very little had to be done to give us the confidence to mount a first class
musical. In the business of show business, you said
before “as many as they needed” you would give them. Why are you able to have the luxury of giving
them that many more workshops, that many more readings, that many more whatever? My priorities are quite simply that it’s
cheaper and clearly much more, I think, appropriate to eliminate the pressure from artists in
the nurturing of work. What about costs, though? Well, the costs. But it’s infinitesimal compared to what
the costs are of having a show fully mounted in some theatrical state, somewhere outside
of New York City even, with thirty or twenty-five orchestra members, sixty or seventy backstage
people, a whole support system of designers and assistant designers and so forth, as somebody’s
arguing the merits of a particular moment of dialogue or a musical moment that may go
on for days. That’s at its simplest form. And it’s certainly much more complex if
there’s bigger problems that are apparent. I would rather either stop the work’s creation
at the workshop stage or reading stage, if I see that we can’t resolve issues, rather
than going forward and putting ourselves through financial and emotional agony, in no particular
order. I also think, in the creation of the show,
to allow yourself to be the most flexible that you can. You know, because we discovered the show through
a series of two readings and through the workshop. But for these two readings and the workshop,
it was done with a group of actors and just a double piano arrangement. So by being that flexible, that really allowed,
I think, the three writers to really make bold choices. So in other words, you could see something
on a Tuesday. And then if you would get an idea Tuesday
night that would be absolutely the opposite way to go, but a very exciting way that you
would want to see, that way you could write it that night or the next morning and see
it up in front of an audience the very next day. And we did a lot of that. Yeah. Where if you’re in production with a thirty
piece orchestra, costumes, it would take you maybe two weeks to put in the same sort of
change. Obviously, it’s very logical as you describe
it, Garth. But workshops today are so terribly expensive
the way they’re being done that most producers can’t afford to do what you did. Well, what Garth I think is saying, they’re
a bargain compared to trying to rewrite the show. Right. And the sets are there and the orchestra. Absolutely. But I wondered why everybody else didn’t
have them? Well, I should also [say], the last two musicals
that Lynn and I have written together were both done at not-for-profit theatres, and
they were both done through a series of readings and workshops. They were done identically to the way Garth
produced RAGTIME. It’s on a larger scale, because it’s a
larger show. A larger scale. It’s a larger cast. And it needs, you know, a larger investment,
I would assume. But it’s the same process. Yeah. Economically, it sounds like a very smart
way of doing it. I also think what Garth is doing that makes
great sense to me is the first two workshops were readings. We spent time with Frank and Gracie or material
that, eventually, they put it on its feet. But we didn’t spend hours, “Get up, Mother. Cross here, the little boy.” Right. So when you went to the room, the actors were
sitting there with music stands and it said in front, “Mother,” “Tateh,” the character’s
names. So many people do a staged workshop, which
costs a lot more money. And we just got the material sort of right. That’s right, that’s right. So once we went into production, we never
made scene eight scene one and made those kind of changes that throw a whole production
out of [whack]. Right. The show was sort of frozen, in a way, other
than fine-tuning, before we did the physical production, it seems to me. Well, in a way. But you see, I think one of the other advantages
of this process is that the physical production was also in a dialogue relationship with the
development of the text. So that when we got to the actual first staged
workshop performance, Eugene Lee, who’s the set designer, Santo Loquasto, the costumes,
and Jules Fisher, Peggy Eisenhauer (PH), the lighting. But when Eugene Lee saw the first staged performance,
and he and I had already been in conversations about conceptual ideas and Garth, we had all
shared notions about what the show might look like and talked about Penn Station and so
on. But anyway, after that first performance,
he said to me, “Well, you know what? This show really doesn’t need any scenery.” (LAUGHTER) And one of the things that we committed
ourselves to as a value was that we were not going to ask Stephen and Lynn to create one
single additional measure of music, in order to make these transitions, that would bring
the dramatic tension between conflicting forces and scenes as close together as possible. So that after you hear the most heartbreaking
epithet in the show, the greatest insult that poisons and stenches the air, the very next
thing you hear is [HUMS] Sarah coming on, singing her lullaby. You cannot interrupt that kind of flow with
the trucking of a piece of scenery across the stage or something physical and cumbersome. And Eugene knew that, and he understood that. And so, much of what he was going to focus
on, in the aftermath of that workshop, was ways in which we could streamline the physical
production so that the space itself would be psychological. Not scenic, but sort of, you know, with psychological
energy, the way Shakespeare’s stage is. Can be any time and any place, in the blink
of an eye, in the speaking of a line of verse. But the other thing that I just want to add
is that it was also true that Lynn and Stephen and Terrence were fascinated and turned on,
as we all were by each other’s areas of focus. And I’ll never forget the first time that
we looked at the model of the set together. And we kind of talked through and looked at
it and played with it and showed the little things that we could do. And I remember once in the rehearsal room
in Toronto, there was a shaft of sunlight one afternoon coming in through the window,
and it happened to be falling down onto the little paper model. And Lynn and I walked over and looked at it. And there were times when I think some of
the things in the writing and in the creation of musical ideas would be a result of sensing
what that physical space could feel like. What you could do. That’s right. What it could do. So you see, I mean, it was a dialogue between
these various modes of expressiveness. Was it your job, then, in advertising, to
convey this to the public? Or was it publicity to do that? What is the difference between advertising
and publicity? Well, you know, it’s a responsibility, because
these very talented people were working on the show for a long time. And the first step to tell the public is the
advertising. So it’s a responsibility. Did you create that? Actually, the great thing about working on
a Garth Drabinsky project is that it’s a collaboration. And it’s a collaboration of two very talented
agencies in Canada, plus our agency in New York. And it’s one team. And along with the entire company. I don’t think that anything is one item. It’s all how it works together. But at some point, that has to be brought
to the public before they themselves, the public can see it. Yes. So how do you do that? And who does that? We try to get into some part of what it is
to produce, in the show. Let me help Jon out, take him off the hook
a little bit here. Early on, even prior to the staging of the
workshop in Toronto, as I dealt with the creative problems, I had to deal with the marketing
problems. And what we did was, obviously every one of
these readings, we had our agencies at these readings. So they began to feel and understand the work
early on, because they’ve got to be in that same time link with you, or it all falls apart. And you know, we went into huge briefing exercises. And my job is to inspire an advertising agency,
or in this case, three of them, to bring me ideas. Throw tons of ideas at me as to how to solve
the problem of getting to the marketplace on a show. And I remember one day that I had just finished
a day at Ellis Island. The reason I was there was, one, to do the
research on the immigrant experience, I wanted to do that very much, but also the architect
who did the restoration of Ellis Island, Dick Blinder (PH), was my architect for the theatre
on 42nd Street. I wanted to see what he was doing a few years
back. And I came back with 400 videotapes, books,
magazines, memorabilia. It didn’t matter what I could buy, I just
bought everything. I was a great consumer that day. (LAUGHTER) And I brought everyone around the table. I said, “Look, you’ve got to see this. I want you to understand it. And I want you to emotionally involve yourself
with the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. What does that mean in terms of selling this
show? How can you, you know, make that a reality
in respect of our marketing?” And so, they were invited then to go back,
study the problem, from logo development to imagery. Remember, there’s no show yet. There’s no formal cast. There are no costumes. I don’t have the benefit of all of that
to work with. I have a name of a show and what the story
is all about, and that’s all. What he’s saying, also, it’s an evolving
process. I can’t tell you how many times over the
past twenty-five years I’ve been given a script, and now, “Do the advertising campaign.” Well, it doesn’t come from a script. It comes from a process of living the show,
for a long period of time. And it’s all elements of the advertising
campaign to entertain the public so that they will come and buy a ticket. They’ve done their job. Now it’s our turn to tell the public. And it’s a combination of television and
radio and newspaper ads and outdoor. But the public shouldn’t know. When we saw a sign on the West Side Highway,
or we saw a full page ad in the New York Times, the ideal is for the public to not know exactly
where they saw it but to be educated, “There is a musical out there, a new musical that
we want to see.” And it doesn’t come from any one item. Fundamental to all of this was, again, after
the workshop, I made a decision very early on that as soon as the workshop was completed,
that I wanted a cast album out of this show, before it had been mounted as a first class
musical. Now that’s been done several times over
the years. Lloyd Webber did it with EVITA. He did it with JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Called a “concept” album, if you will,
back in those days. And the relationship I had with BMG, fortunately,
was supportive enough and encouraging enough to support this process. And without having an orchestration of the
music — again, you can’t sell the show on radio, you can’t sell it on television,
it’s just you can’t go anywhere with it. And when I said to Steve, “We’re going
to do an album in the DeLinn (PH),” I mean, they were extraordinarily excited by that,
because it gave them something else and that was the ability to work with Bill Brone (PH),
our orchestrator, and to begin to merge his vision and ideas of the musicalization of
the show into this complicated process of making it all merge together at the appropriate
time. And also, by bringing Bill Brone, who’s
a wonderfully talented orchestrator, who had just done SHOW BOAT for Garth, by bringing
him in at that point, I was able to further my process. You know, because how did the world of the
Lower East Side sound versus the world of Harlem versus the New Rochelle world? All these different types of music that were
going to live and combine and connect and bounce off one another. By bringing Bill in at that point, it wasn’t
just about making a record, you know, to sell a couple of tickets. It was, again, part of the process of the
writing of the show and the education for all of us of what this show would sound like. And we were able to bring Bill in, and have
an orchestra read through session over three days, stop that process. Bill and I could have further discussion. He and I were actually Siamese twins, you
know, for the past two and a half years, side by side, working on every measure. And we were able to begin our dialogue and
work and develop things. And then finally go into the recording studio
up in Toronto in July of — ‘96. ‘96. But that was before the production was actually
mounted. That’s right. So this was sort of your own version, I mean,
part of the workshop process. Yes, right, right. It was just going to sound like the cast album
after it had been mounted. Well, we had done it, I think, about a month? I can’t believe this as I say this. About a month and a half after we had stopped
the workshop. Yet Lynn and I had ideas for new songs. There were four songs on that recording that
had never been ever done on stage, but they seemed like the right songs. And we wouldn’t have known that, had we
not done the workshop. So we wrote them, and we just put them on
the record. And they’re all in the show, except one
that has since sort of fallen by the wayside. Where is the cast album sent to? Radio, television, what? Is it the modern day version of the song plugger? No, no, it was distributed by RCA. It came out, actually in October of ‘96,
before the show opened in Toronto in December. But the orchestral tracks, as well as some
of the vocal tracks, became absolutely fundamental, in terms of what Jon and our two Canadian
agencies were dealing with, for the purposes of creating the advertising materials for
the show. So it was a double purpose for us. I see. And if I could just say something about Bill
Brone and the orchestration dimension of this, it was so interesting to me, and moving, actually,
as well, that in those rehearsals in the workshop and subsequent rehearsals before that first
“Songs from RAGTIME” album was made, Bill would come and sit in the corner of the rehearsal
room and work all day as we rehearsed. Just being in the room with the actors, feeling
how the scenes were emerging, what the discussions were like, where the climactic moments were. So that the orchestration, in addition to
being a part of the dialogue between all of us, was also a factor of his getting a sense
of what the actors were doing and how these scenes were being rehearsed and being shaped. And of course, needless to say, to have the
writers with us all the time during the rehearsal process meant that they were continually present,
continually affirming or questioning what it was that we were doing. You know, as you rehearse a scene and you
work with an actor, what could be more thrilling than to have the creators of the scene there,
to interact and to help and to question and to evaluate what’s going on. I wanted the potential audience to feel the
way I felt when I went to that meeting. And I wanted the potential audience to feel
what I felt when I first heard the first ten notes of music, that I wanted more. And I knew that was the way. I wanted the public to want more. And that was the main goal. Well, then there’s the advertising. There’s the cast album that you have for
selling. All of this before the show is open. Now what happens? Publicity? Marketing? Do they come in? Can I ask an interim step? I want to ask about the theatre. Where in this process did the idea of building
a new theatre on 42nd Street to house RAGTIME [happen]? Or were they separate ideas that happened
to coincide? Yeah. I mean, the opportunity to build a new theatre
came in 1995, after MTV let an option lapse on the Apollo/Lyric Theatre. And we had put our oar in the water, so to
speak, and said, “Call us the moment they don’t exercise that option, because we will
show you how to build a theatre from these two theatres.” And they failed to exercise the option and
we went in there. Now, at that time, it was still a year and
a half before RAGTIME had opened in Toronto. So we made a decision to go ahead with the
theatre in New York City, irrespective of whether RAGTIME was going to work creatively
or not. However, it is to be said that if RAGTIME
was a success in Toronto, what a perfect venue it could be, because both of these theatres
were built at the turn of the century, at the time that RAGTIME was set, and in many
ways could reflect a lot of the esthetic and emotional value of what the show was all about. But it was a decision made totally independent
of RAGTIME. We needed a venue in New York City, and we
needed a venue that could really accommodate musicals of every shape and variety from a
physical standpoint as well as a size that could generate a sufficient gross to allow
you to advertise [and] the substantial cost of mounting a musical. Now, I want to ask you, I think there’s
some general confusion about exactly what the Ford Center is. Because it is a brand new theatre, and yet,
it’s two theatres that would have been landmarked in some style? They each had historical elements, and essentially
what happened was we took the site plan of both theatres, drew a brand new theatre on
that site plan, and then we had regard to all of the historical elements that had to
be retained from those theatres in creating a new environment. And so, the historical items were all saved,
moved to a warehouse in New Jersey where they were all restored, and put back into the new
facility in the various architectural, philosophical, you know, way that the work was conceived. It was an extraordinary job. I remember walking down 43rd Street and seeing
just a facade, beautiful brick facade of the Lyric Theatre, with absolutely nothing behind
it. (LAUGHTER) And myself wondering if it was
going to topple over, but clearly that didn’t happen. You did a remarkable job. All right, now, how is RAGTIME doing now at
the theatre? Well, it’s the highest grossing show on
Broadway. I guess that’s the easiest way I can sum
it up. So it’s doing very well. And from the audience reaction, which is more
important, because that determines the long term duration of a show — How large is the theatre? How many seats? It’s a little over eighteen hundred seats. Eighteen hundred. Yeah. Are you still tinkering with the show? (LAUGHS) I want to! No, we actually stopped about two days before
opening night, and then decided that that was going to be it. But we tinkered with it in Toronto, we tinkered
with it in L.A., and we’ve tinkered with it in New York, and we’ve done major surgery
all the way. Great luxury to have all these productions. Yeah. Because you can just [change things]. Yeah. Yeah. Little stuff that doesn’t make a huge difference,
but it does to the writers. It tightens, yeah. And it’s just better. And that’s a luxury. Because shows used to go out of town. I’m sorry, Stephen. No, it was more than just like little tinkering
things. I mean, we were actually adding new songs,
new sequences. At one point, we had one version of RAGTIME
running at the Ford Center in Toronto and a totally different — well, I shouldn’t
say totally different, but substantially different version running at the Shubert Theatre in
Los Angeles. And you know, by the time we got to New York,
there were other changes. Are there any songs that were cut out along
the way that you had a special fondness for that you think might go in that trunk and
get used some other place? “Side by Side by Ahrens and Flaherty,”
I always say! Well, you know, it works for some of them! (LAUGHTER) Really, only one major song was cut, it seems
to me, a duet. Yeah. You know, as you go along writing and you
sort of learn what you’re doing a little more, your proportion of cut songs diminishes,
or at least it has in our case. Yeah. We discarded very little, it seems to me,
compared to other shows I’ve worked on. Not a lot. Everything that we wrote, I think in some
form or another, ended up in the show. Even if we wrote a melody or a song that we
ended up not using, maybe the bridge remained or something like that. Right. So there really was very little waste. Are there any lyric ideas from Doctorow? Oh, sure. I mean, all through. Sure. I mean, some of those lyrics that we see on
billboards and stuff, are those all yours? Do any of those come from [Doctorow]? Oh, I think those are all mine, but I don’t
know. You know, I sort of lost track at a certain
point. Well, good! There’s one moment in the show that I actually
couldn’t remember whether I had written or he had written. (LAUGHTER) And I went back to the book and
I found the specific scene, and it’s right after Mother has found the baby and she hears
the Italian ice man coming and the gardeners coming up the hill, the maids. And it doesn’t say how she feels or what
she was thinking. And I realized that I had filled that blank
in, you know. I’m rather proud of it! But it was my sort of interpreting what she
thought at that moment. You know, I never stopped to think they might
have lives beyond our lives, and he doesn’t go that far. So you know, it’s always inspiring. But go back to the nitty-gritty. How much merchandising? How much publicity? How much does that enter into it? What happens? Well, I can tell you that after the opening
of this show, the superlatives of the quotes replaced the lyrics on the billboards! And for the first time, we were able to say
the superlatives because it was about us rather than us saying it. So for the first time, the advertising campaign
shifted to how terrific we were received in New York by the critics all over the country. So that gave us another tool to use. An important tool, because before that, it
was not our desire to tell people, we wanted to show them how wonderful it was. We couldn’t tell them, it’s not done. So now we have that tool. Now, this time of year, we’re receiving
awards and that’s another tool. The main tool, the biggest tool, is the audience,
is the eighteen hundred people coming out night after night, eight times a week. Talking about it. And that is the biggest tool. Telling it to their friends. That’s right. And all the advertising in the world can not
make a show that the audiences do not love work. It’s the audiences. And a wonderful advertising campaign can make
a show that’s doing well sell out, make a show running three years run five years. But it’s the audiences that are there every
night that make that show work. I was going to ask, what was the most nonstandard
publicity kind of thought that you had? I know, at one point, the opening night party
on Ellis Island was an idea, which is kind of a nonstandard idea, going to Ellis Island
in January. In high heels! (LAUGHTER) Well, we forgot it was cold! Is there anything, given the particulars of
what this show is, that you thought, “Well, we could do this that other Broadway shows
don’t do?” Well, I’ll you one of the most emotional
experiences we’ve had, that we never could really fully appreciate a year and a half
ago. It happened on Sunday night in Washington
D.C., when our third company of RAGTIME opened, actually last night, but one can say that
it opened on Sunday night, because we were blessed to be able to perform the production
in front of the President and the First Lady and the Vice President. And half of Congress and the Cabinet in the
U.S., I guess, and a lot of other very special people. And it was interesting, because in Los Angeles,
when the review came out, which was wonderful, in the L.A. Times, Laurie Winer, the critic
there, quoted President Clinton’s inaugural address from 1996, which made a major statement
on race relations. And that’s when the whole race relations
policy of this particular administration began to really gear up in a powerful way. And we always talked amongst ourselves, “Now,
wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could really finally get the President to see this show,
because in so many ways it demonstrably depicts the predicament of America today and what
it says for the next century going forward, or what it can say.” And to see him so moved by the experience
and then join us on stage on Sunday and talk to that audience after they had seen the show,
and what he said about the experience of seeing that show, well, that’s publicity that you
are really very fortunate [to have]. I’m dying to ask Garth if we can use it
in a quote ad. (LAUGHTER) “You must see this show! Bill Clinton, President of the United States”! (LAUGHTER) It’s under negotiation! Yes, but who arranged the idea of the opening
of the show along with the time they were focusing on immigration, and the immigration
bill coming up and all of the importance that’s being placed on the immigrants in this country,
their value? Exactly. And who knew, when we began to develop the
show, though we had an inkling that this sort of millennial consciousness was going to become
more and more in the atmosphere as we were getting to the opening. We felt, “Gee, you know, this could be really
interesting. It’s just the turn of the century again.” You know, a few years ago when we — It’s much more than that. But now, now we realize that this was an uncanny
narrative to be telling at this moment in our history. What are you planning on next? Can we ask all of you that? Where do you go from here? Staying together! (LAUGHTER) Forever! (LAUGHTER) Let’s start with Terrence. I think I’d like to keep things secret. (LAUGHTER) Because so many things in the theatre,
you talk about them, and then a year later you see yourself on television, talking about
this wonderful play you’ve written, and I think, “No one wants to hear this stuff!” I wait till the contracts are signed before
I talk about stuff. Can you come back and tell us? Yeah. No, after it’s opened. (LAUGHTER) You invite me and then I’ll come. All right. And what about Stephen? Well, we’re working on a new musical, and
we’re talking about work on a musical film. I can say, “ditto,” because we work together! Is that it? Yeah, you know, we’re working on vacation. You always work together, you never work separately? Not exclusively. Not exclusively. We’ve done things on our own. We’ve been working together as a team for
fifteen years, though. It’s our anniversary. I remember, you were little kids coming up. Yeah, we were little kids. We were young before! Your shows are obviously called “Untitled
One” and “Untitled Two.” That’s right, exactly. (LAUGHTER) Exactly. The Fall Project and the Spring Project. Well, I’ve been working on a screenplay,
an adaptation of a Paul Bowles novel, called “Here to Learn,” for Harold Ramis. So I’m expecting to spend some time this
summer on a second draft of that. All right. And now, Garth? Oh, we’re doing a lot of stuff. (LAUGHTER) That’s what it’s about. We have various works in development. And we’re going to do a restoration of PAL
JOEY, which is going to be read for the first time this summer. And we’re mounting a new musical based on
the choreographic work of Bob Fosse this summer. And it will be in its full glory, hopefully,
in July. And a new musical at Lincoln Center this fall,
with Hal Prince directing and Alfred Uhry writing the book, and a young, wonderful composer
by the name of Jason Robert Brown doing the music. And that’ll keep us active for at least
the next six or nine months, anyway. (LAUGHTER) Yes, and I’ll betray my confidence, but
the New York Times did report PAL JOEY with Terrence and Frank. So I’ll report that, since I read the New
York Times. But don’t believe everything they say! Oh, not at all, not at all. But that was reported, so it’s public record. I believe you can say that. But I do want to say, again, and I think and
I hope and I know that everyone here feels the same way, that it was to be blessed to
have these people in one’s life for so many of the last years, which is why the theatre
can be so spectacularly satisfying. And it should only be that way for a long
time to come. I also think it’s fair to say that having
listened to you all this afternoon, it’s very clear why RAGTIME is as good as it is,
because you have all formed together to make one extraordinary entity, and I congratulate
you certainly. And the designers are a part of that collaboration. Absolutely. We’ll add a few chairs next time. Yeah! We represent many more people. It’s funny to talk about RAGTIME without
Graciele. That’s right. And Jules and Peggy and Santo’s costumes,
which are unparalleled, I think. And Eugene. And the sets of Eugene Lee. Yes. In theatre, that’s what’s so great. You can’t say who did any moment in RAGTIME. Right. That’s right. And we didn’t even talk about the actors,
except for Audra. Right, right. I mean, what Marin brings to that role, Brian
Stokes, Peter Friedman. Just where do you begin? That’s why these panels always seem only
to bring us that much of the story. Right. Yes. These are the American Theatre Wing seminars,
that are coming to you from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. And it’s the American Theatre Wing that
brings you these seminars, and I don’t know when we’ve had one that was so full of information
and the joy of collaboration and the joy of talented people loving and respecting each
other and caring so much about the product that they brought forth. And that product is RAGTIME, a marvelous show
that is making Broadway and 42nd Street one of the most exciting places to be. And thank you so much, the whole producing
and creative team of RAGTIME, for being with us at the American Theatre Wing’s seminar
on “Working in the Theatre.” Thank you so much. (APPLAUSE)

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