Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar have a long list of Broadway credits to their names. Together, they've written the Tony-nominated score for The Wedding Singer, and provided the sparklejollytwinklejingly tunes for the perennial holiday favorite Elf. On his own, Beguelin provided the Tony-nominated script and additional lyrics to the international hit Aladdin. Sklar's credits on Broadway range from serving as rehearsal pianist for Nine and Annie Get Your Gun to associate conductor on Titantic and Caroline, or Change.
This summer, they're preparing their latest project, the original new musical The Prom, reuniting with their Elf co-book writer Bob Martin and director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw. The Broadway-bound production follows a group of celebrities who, sensing a moment in the limelight, head to a small Indiana town where a high school has canceled its prom because a student wants to attend with her girlfriend. The starry cast, headed by Caitlin Kinnunen as Emma, also features veteran Broadway scene-stealers Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, and Christopher Sieber. The production will run from August 18-September 25 at Georgia's Alliance Theatre.
During their first week of rehearsal, Begulin and Sklar took a break to discuss this brand-new piece, and the musical shorthand that comes with their decade-long collaboration.
How did you come to work on The Prom?
Matthew Sklar: It was actually a concept that Jack Viertel came up with. He was working on an Encores! production, I believe it was Anyone Can Whistle, with Casey Nicholaw, and said, "I think I have this crazy idea for a musical." And Casey really liked it. Jack mentioned that he thought Chad, Bob Martin, and I would be a good team to write it. We had just done Elf with Casey, and we all immediately thought it was a wonderful idea.
So in the show, a high school cancels its prom because it doesn't want a young woman to attend with her girlfriend, and then a group of celebrities come in to save the day?
Chad Beguelin: They're Broadway actors, and they decide they want to do some good in the world. They find this cause and travel to this small town in Indiana with the hopes of making things better, maybe getting a little publicity for themselves along the way, and because they're such egomaniacal Broadway divas, they make it ten times worse. Of course, everything works out in the end, because it’s a musical comedy, but they think this town is sheltered and these people have little lives, and then they realize that maybe the same thing is true of them.
You went eighties with music in The Wedding Singer and Christmasy with Elf. Tell me about your musical work on The Prom.
Matthew: The score has some varying styles. The show takes place in two different worlds. One is in a town in Indiana, and there are a lot of young people in that. It's kind of guitar-driven. I don’t want to say rock music, but it's more of a contemporary sound. And then we have these other characters, played by Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas, and Chris Sieber, and they live in more of a Broadway world. The score is a melding of those two different styles, and that's the musical language we've used for the score.
With your past shows, you've had pre-existing material to serve sort of as a guidepost. How did you go about developing this piece?
Chad: What we did on this project, since it was an original idea, we all got together and mapped out an outline, to song spotting and defining the different characters and musical moments. We brainstormed for a while like that, and then Bob and I went off and put together a treatment. Once we had that, Matt and I started writing songs as Bob and I started working on the book. We had to get a general structure down to begin with, to use as a map for the piece, and then we were able to split it up and start developing the show on the score side and the book side.
Matthew: We usually do a lot of talking before we write any songs. We want to get the shape of the entire piece and see how the songs will function. Once you feel like we have a clear assignment, that’s when we start writing.
Do you and Bob and Casey have a shorthand at this point, having worked together for so long?
Matthew: I think so. We've all been working together for around nine years, on and off, and we all love being around each other. Casey has such an infectious energy, and such clarity in what he wants to achieve. We all have developed a nice shorthand over the years. We all just enjoy being around each other and really getting to the point as quickly as possible, and efficiently as possible, and allowing ourselves to try things. You build trust over time, and we all trust each other. It makes a great experience when we're all working together.
Is there a pressure that comes with creating a new musical about issues that sound like they could be ripped from the headlines?
Chad: It's something that we're trying to handle very carefully. It's obviously close to our hearts. But we want to make sure that it's also a comedy. We have very serious moments, but the way that we're approaching it is that these are real issues. It's just the wrong-mindedness of celebrity, that’s where the comedy lies. But the characters, we're trying to make them as real and nuanced as possible. We don’t want it to seem like a send-up or any sort of parody, that kind of comedy. We're working really hard to make these real people.
What do you want the audience to take away from the show?
Matthew: I think opening their mind a little bit. You just want people to leave being a little more open to people they don't know. We hope they have a great time, but we also hope that they've been moved by the story, as well.