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Turning an Idea Into a Broadway Success

Amanda Charney talks to Stephen Foster and Mark Suennen about the developmental process for new musicals. logo

Celia Keenan-Bolger, Adam Chanler-Berat, and the cast of Peter and the Starcatcher
(© O&M Co.)
If you watched the Tony Awards this year, you know what a stir the play Peter and the Starcatcher caused on Broadway. I remember hearing it mentioned in the weeks leading up to the show, and thinking, "Now where have I heard that before…?" before remembering; A friend had been to see the show before it was on Broadway, before it was even in New York, when it premiered in California at the La Jolla Playhouse!

Many people never really consider what it takes to get a play to Broadway. Certainly, those who have never gone through the process of creating a show cannot understand the labor of love that takes years and years of time and energy. Looking at Peter and the Starcatcher, you can see how it journeyed from idea to page to stage from its initial workshop in 2007 held at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, to its opening night on Broadway in April of 2012. It seems crazy that only 2 months later, it had won 5 Tony awards!

But 5 years before that night of triumph, the play was just an idea manifested in a workshop situation. How does a show get from an idea in someone's mind, to a fully produced professional production?

Stephen Foster, creator of the new musical The Green Room, started off with a one-act play (written by Rod Damer) that developed into a larger production. "Chuck Pelletier thought it would make a great musical and wrote 5 songs for the show which was produced at Stephen Foster's theater company Off Hollywood. Stephen joined the team and we expanded the show into a 2-act musical, expanding the characters and developing the plot. This was produced at the Group Repertory Theater as a reading and later a two night staged production."

But how did it become a full-scale production? "We made a CD of the songs and shopped the show around. Chuck was cast in the Hermosa Beach Playhouse production of Godspell and he gave the Artistic Director Stephanie Coltrin the CD/script and we developed the show further (reworking the book/changing some songs) and had our first professional production. The entire process took about 10 years with us workshopping it on and off."

Mark Suennen, recent graduate of USC, spent just this past summer interning at the La Jolla Playhouse and assisting with the workshopped production The Nightingale. Since it was a brand new show, produced through the La Jolla Playhouses's "Page to Stage" program, he got to see exactly what went into creating a new musical from scratch. "Up until opening night and even two weeks following, Steven Sater was writing/editing script pages and lyrics to the songs!

"The music process was a little more complete; I worked closely with Duncan Sheik and the musical director in writing down parts, making adjustments to harmonies, instrumental accompaniments, etc. And I would sing parts of songs for him so he knew how they sounded. It was great watching the director Moises Kaufman work with actors and really develop the characters though. Rarely do outsiders get to see the "table work" that is done—talking about the setting, time period, dramaturgy, character development, improvisation, etc. I would say the most remarkable part of the internship was watching such a beautifully constructed, professional production arise from next to nothing."

So who knows; maybe after all the time and effort put into The Green Room and The Nightingale, they'll find themselves on Broadway!


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