While their names might not yet be as recognizable as songwriting teams like Rodgers & Hammerstein or Kander & Ebb, composer Zina Goldrich and lyricist Marcy Heisler have spent the past two decades infecting the Broadway community with their unique brand of comedic theatricality in numbers like "Alto's Lament" and "Taylor the Latte Boy" (made famous by Kristin Chenoweth), for which the pair says sheet music requests extend as far as New Zealand. Skip to track three on Audra McDonald's new album Go Back Home and you'll discover another Goldrich/Heisler gem about the hazards of dating losers from "Baltimore," a tune that seems to have recently jumped to the forefront of four-time Tony winner McDonald's repertoire.
Though their own names are often hidden behind song titles, the duo will soon be getting some well-deserved recognition. After almost nine years of development, a musical adaptation of the 1998 film Ever After, penned by the women, is in the works to hit Broadway this spring — the first-ever Broadway production for the seasoned songwriting duo. TheaterMania chatted about the project with Goldrich and Heisler, who plan to preview some of their Broadway-bound work at the November 17 concert They Write the Songs at Baruch Performing Arts Center as well as at the team's upcoming 54 Below show, scheduled for December 3. In addition to a Broadway teaser, the nightclub will offer Goldrich and Heisler a venue to unveil a new song that features the latest addition to their trunk of quirky romantic tales.
What do the two of you have planned for They Write the Songs and 54 Below?
Marcy Heisler: At They Write the Songs, I think we're going to do two songs from Ever After and one song from The Great American Mousical, our two big projects in the works now. 54 Below is going to be a total free-for-all. We'll be doing some new songs that might be a little scary, but I love that. We're trying out a new song about having to break up with an ex's beloved pet...something we've never written about before.
Zina Goldrich: It's exhilarating because you don't know how it's going to work out. Most of the time, as long as it's not a disaster, [it's] great.
Marcy: And if it's a disaster, you just write a song about the disaster.
Do concerts help you iron out the kinks in your material?
Zina: I think sometimes you can get a sense of how a song is working. If you think it's a comedy song and nobody's laughing you have to reexamine.
Marcy: I'm a huge believer in that audiences always tell you what you need to know. It's how you can control getting an audience. I can't always control when a reading will be or when a production will be, but I can control when a concert will be, and sometimes Zina and I want answers sooner than we can get them. And [with concerts] we get them. It's a great antidote for impatience.
Zina: And it's just fun. We enjoy doing it.
You two seem to perform your own work in concert more than other songwriting teams. Is it important to you both to perform your own songs?
Marcy: I think when you see your material in the hands and hearts of a Broadway performer, there's nothing like it. There are things that actors can do with our material that we could only hope to do. But I always like to see writers sing their own stuff. Part of our performing ritual comes from that. I love to see Charles Strouse sing his songs — I'm very interested in seeing the songs come out of the writers, so we always make sure to do a little bit of that.
Is it difficult at all to switch back and forth between your writing and performing brains for these concerts?
Marcy: You have to wear a lot of different hats. Marcy the writer [will] write one thing and Marcy the performer will sing another, and you have to talk to Zina the musical director and Zina the collaborator about [things like], Is this song too long? You really have to police each other [because] Marcy the performer is like, Wait a minute, it's not too long at all! Let's do another verse!
I'm assuming it takes good communication to keep a writing partnership together for twenty years.
Zina: Oh, we communicate a lot. Every day — all day — until we can't communicate anymore.
Does your partnership feel like a marriage at this point?
Zina: I always say that Aaron is my husband and Marcy is my wife…I work with my best friend. I love it when we write. It's my happiest time. Finishing a new song always feels so satisfying. I get excited [wondering], Who can we get to sing this? What's it going to sound like? And more important, Will people like it? So that's fun. I'm lucky. I have a fun job.
Marcy: I have such a respect for Zina's talent that writing with her is always a priority. We of course have had our fights in the past, but you have to have a really healthy respect for somebody else's needs and also learn how to assert your own. The give and take of it is what makes working in theater so much fun. You're never alone in a room.
I'm sure Ever After has tested the strength of your writing partnership…That show has been in the works for nearly a decade now, correct?
Marcy: Since '05, yes indeed. It has taught us so much about so much. I'm very excited that it really looks like it's going to get a production next year.
Zina: And I can only hope that it runs much longer than it took to get up. So hopefully it will run for a very long time!
Marcy: It's funny because people [say] all the time, "You're waiting for Broadway" and all that, [but] when you look back on experience, the fact that we have twenty-years-worth of songs is important and fun and meaningful. Of course we want the Broadway show, but all of this combines to make a writer's life…I think that we've built a catalogue of work that is meaningful to us, and that we're proud of, and that, thank God, is shared around and that other people seem to respond to. And I think that can't help but inform whatever's about to happen.
Zina: It may be somewhat cliché, but Broadway is a destination. I'm focusing on the journey right now and the journey's pretty fun. I really want to be on Broadway, but I'm not unhappy. Yes, that is an important goal for me, but I still think that I've achieved so many of the things that I've wanted to achieve and that's just another goal yet to be achieved.