New York, New York Creators Spread the News About How Their Broadway Tribute to NYC Came Together
Start spreading the news! New York, New York, a new musical about finding love and success in the Big Apple, is on Broadway at the St. James Theatre. We caught up with the starry creative team — led by director and choreographer Susan Stroman, songwriters John Kander and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and book writers David Thompson and Sharon Washington — for a chat about their ongoing collaboration and bringing this production to life. You can read it below.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Who instigated this project? Where did it start?
John Kander: It started because the three of us have known each other for 30 years and like to work together. Literally, it’s like, “What do we do?”
Susan Stroman: A lot of times, you’re handed a script or a novel, but we just wanted to be together to create, so we could see each other and have lunch every week.
David Thompson: That’s exactly it.
John: The sandwiches are good.
David: And the cookies. As Kander said, we’ve been working together for a long time, but the great thing about this is opening up the collaboration so that it becomes an even bigger family. We really started it in earnest after the pandemic when we could actually be together in a space.
Susan: Sharon, of course, was in Scottsboro Boys, so we became friends from that, and she’s gone on to be a great, great writer with her plays, and Lin and Kander are good friends. It was a natural collaboration.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Kander and I had collaborated on a song in 2018, and one day, he bashfully called me and said, “Do you think we could use this song in this little thing we’re working on?” I mean, it’s a showtune in search of a show, so please, have my blessing. I was so proud that they would do that. And then I came and saw the workshop they did a couple years later and I was totally knocked flat. I was like, “What else do you need?” That’s why I’m here.
John: We needed him.
Sharon Washington: This is my first musical, it’s my first big Broadway musical, and I can’t imagine a better team. I went from writing a solo show to this, which is just a little different, right? But the fact that it’s open to a multiciplity of New York stories…I’m a native New Yorker. My family goes back to like 1835 on the island. So portraying the stories of New York is really important to me.
Lin: My family goes back to 1974, and I see a lot of echoes in that in the subplot, which is, there are dreams to be fulfilled here if you just know what the entry point is. It’s very authentic thing.
David: We knew that the essential story was between Jimmy and Francine and the first stages of their musical lives, but there were so many other stories to tell. We were candid from the very beginning that we wanted to tell as many stories as possible, because that’s the thing about New York. You walk down the street and see people in windows and alleys and fire escapes. And you cross paths with people and suddenly things can change like that. That’s what the city is about. Everybody wants something and things can change in a nanosecond.
John: Right after the war, everybody felt as if they could start again. The place to do that was New York. Everybody came here because they thought this is where they could be who they really are. Sometimes it was true and sometimes it wasn’t. But that was what it felt like in this particular year we’re writing about: This is where it can happen. This is where I can be all those things that they told me I couldn’t. That’s really the germ of the idea.
John, what was it like for you to rediscover some of the songs that you wrote with Fred 40, 50 years ago, like “New York, New York” and rediscover them in this context?
John: It was fine. [Laughs]
Susan: It doesn’t feel like that at all. There are many new songs.
John: I don’t know. I don’t think I ever thought in those terms. One of the things about this little group here is that it’s really just about the piece. I really like collaboration. I really like it. As the piece grew, I don’t remember feeling, “Wouldn’t it be great to get a sample of this or that?”
Lin: But it is really fun how those songs have laid the foundation for what the piece is. We’ve got “New York, New York” and “But the World Goes ‘Round,” and we’ve got a song we wrote two weeks ago.
Are you channeling your best Fred Ebb, Lin?
Lin: I’m just trying to keep up with John! We go to his house, we have bagels, we talk about politics, we talk about our families, and then like an hour later, he’s at the piano and he’s going fast and I’m trying to keep up, and then, hours later, we have a song, and that’s basically how it’s been. We went full Gilbert and Sullivan on this last song. He had a melody that came to him at three in the morning, and I got a voice memo when I woke up, and sent him back some lyrics, and then he wrote back, “It’s simpler than that.” It was the 2023 version of Gilbert and Sullivan mailing each other the music and lyrics. We like each other more.
John: My favorite moment. The first time we wrote together, we were up in my shack in the country, and he had his camera on, which I didn’t realize, while we were writing. We both finished at the same time, and there’s a look between us. Now, this thing exists.
Lin: As a matter of fact, it exists in the show.
John: It’s the opening number.
Stro, you’ve worked with these folks forever and ever at this point. Is there a shorthand that you all have now?
Susan: I think we can all say that we learned how to collaborate because of Kander and Ebb. They were the greatest collaborators, and the shows that are the most successful are because of the collaboration not only of the creative team, but the designers, the music department…Everybody’s on the same page. Going so far back with John and Fred, that’s how we learned to collaborate, really. And now, it’s just been a joy. I can’t wait to get to work. I’ll email everybody and say, “How about Wednesday at 2?” and everyone’s coming. You want that.
Sharon: Not only is the collaboration a gift, but we’re all wanting to share this gift with the city. Wait til you see what we’ve got for you. I hope you’re going to be as excited about this as we are. That has really been the attitude.