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INTERVIEW: Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty Continue to Journey On

The award-winning songwriters discuss the upcoming New York Pops gala and productions of Once on This Island, Ragtime, and Rocky.

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have created scores for a host of musicals and films, earning a Tony Award, two Oscar nominations (for the animated film Anastasia), and a slew of other honors along the way. Right now, however, the ever-busy pair are preparing for new productions of two of their biggest hits, Once on This Island, which will play New Jersey's Paper Mill's Playhouse, May 30-June 24, and Ragtime, which will play London's Open Air Theatre, May 18-August 8, as well as creating a musical version of the hit film Rocky.

On April 30, The New York Pops will honor this dynamic duo during its annual birthday gala at Carnegie Hall with an evening of their songs entitled Journey On, featuring a star-studded line-up including , LaChanze, Norm Lewis, Marin Mazzie, Andrew Rannells, and many more. TheaterMania recently chatted with Flaherty and Ahrens between rehearsals for this upcoming event about this special show, their career, and their new productions.

THEATERMANIA: How did you find about this special event?
STEPHEN FLAHERTY: This came out of the blue. There will be a film version of our first musical, Lucky Stiff, which begins this summer, and Lynn and I were in the studio working on the arrangements. I felt like I was coming down with a cold, and on my way home, I checked my voicemail and had a call from the New York Pops. We are both extremely humbled.

TM: What are you most looking forward to about the evening?
SF: My mom being in the audience! She has never been to Carnegie Hall. I found a picture of her and my father in the 1950s in front of the venue, and I remember saying to her, "Oh, you've been there," but she hasn't, she was never inside!

TM: Did you have any input into the all-star lineup?
SF: Yes, The Pops are wonderful people. They said you can be involved as much or as little as you want. We've been very much involved on the selection of performers and pieces.
LYNN AHRENS: We all put our heads together. We gave our suggestions and The Pops suggested some talent.

TM: Which performances are you most excited to see?
LA: I can't wait to hear everyone, but I'm really looking forward to hearing LaChanze. She is singing a song she hasn't sung before from Once on This Island called "The Human Heart."
SF: It's going to be fun hearing a lot of these songs that these performers originated. But we are also doing a new song from an upcoming project for the first time publicly, and we are using lots of new orchestrations.

TM: What has kept you together over 20 years?
SF: We have developed as a team, as well as individually. With each piece of work we have done, we try to keep it fresh, and add a new element.
LA: Luck! I didn't know where we were going to go with this; I wasn't thinking that far in advance, but Once on This Island came about immediately after we did Lucky Stiff.

Poster for Paper Mill's
Once on This Island
TM: Once on This Island was your Broadway debut. Looking back, what was that experience like for you?
SF: I was in my 20s when we worked on this show, and we were in rehearsals on my 30th birthday! That was a perfect way to celebrate.
LA: It was the most exciting thing to happen. It's everyone's dream to come to Broadway. We have a photo under the marquee of the staff putting up the letters, and we are pointing up at it!

TM: Now Paper Mill is doing a new multi-ethnic production of the show with American Idol's Syesha Mercado starring as Ti Moune. Are you excited about her casting?
SF: I don't watch Idol, but she walked into the room and her performance was so thrilling. It was one of those situations where no discussion was needed.
LA: She gave a hair-raising audition. We had the same feeling when we first heard LaChanze.

TM: What can we expect from this new production of Ragtime?
SF: It will feature a totally new orchestration. Tim Sheader is directing; he is also directing Into The Woods at the Delacorte this summer. I will be over in London for the early previews. It's very exciting.

TM: The world premiere of Rocky is happening this fall in Germany. What can we expect from the score?
SF: I grew up in Pennsylvania in the 1970s and the cast of characters is very similar to those people. This is my first rock score. There will also be some funk and soul. I read the original script and it is gorgeous. It is like street poetry.
LA: I'm even surprised at the score. It's unlike anything we've written before. It has its roots in Philly and I'm from the Jersey Shore.

TM: When is it aiming for Broadway?
SF: My guess would be 2013. Right now, the eye is on this production.