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Now Presenting Secondhand Lions: The Musical

Written byTJ Fitzgerald

Monday, August 21, 2006; Posted: 12:59 AM

© 2006 www.broadwayworld.com. All rights reserved.

Be sure to read the excellent original article.

   

Thanks to some wonderful folks, I will be following the journey of a new musical currently in the creative stages as it makes it’s way from the paper to the stage. It’s a wonderful opportunity for all to see the birth of a new work from the writing to the stage. Hope you enjoy it as much as I will.

It’s a trend that seems to be more and more prevalent on Broadway. Films are being revamped for live stage musicals. And there has been some great success with shows like THE FULL MONTY, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, THE PRODUCERS and HAIRSPRAY.Well, get ready because the trend continues with the musical adaptation of the New Line Cinema’s film SECONDHAND LIONS.

At the helm of this collaboration are Los Angeles based composer and lyricist team Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, writing the music with book by acclaimed writer Rupert Holmes (THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD). Set in the 1950s, it tells the Story of a shy, young boy who is sent to live with his eccentric uncles for the summer and ends up relishing in the wild stories of their youth. This is Zachary and Weiner‘s first collaboration with Holmes.

Zachary and Weiner's credits include the original family musical, MYSTERY OF THE DANCING PRINCESSES, which was presented at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival in New York. They also have a Disney connection which culminated in a stage musical entitled TWICE CHARMED: AN ORIGINAL TWIST ON THE CINDERELLA STORY., which premiered on the Disney Cruise Line. They also wrote an award-winning original song for Disney's animated film CINDERELLA II: DREAMS COME TRUE and are currently finishing work on CINDERELLA III. Soon, they will team up with Broadway producer Adam Epstein for an animated musical film.

A lot of folks have probably heard some of their work in their most recent national Folgers commercial. Zachary and Weiner's songwriting talent extends beyond musicals with their irreverent song for the new Folgers' national campaign commercial. Still hard at work on SECONDHAND LIONS, the guys were up for answering a few questions to give us an inside look at the new work and some background on themselves.

TJ: How did you two guys first meet?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: We attended high school together at the Oakwood School in North Hollywood, California.

TJ: Was it a good match from the start?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: Absolutely. Our sensibilities are very similar, yet different enough that we're able to challenge each other to create the best possible product we can. We began writing together in 1991, after the animated film of Beauty and the BEAST was released. We were so inspired by the confluence of all the things we loved - musical theatre, animation, and film - that we decided to write our own animated musical. We were 17 years old shopping our screenplay and six song (and very primitive) piano demo to major studios in Los Angeles. Throughout college and beyond we kept plugging away until people finally began to hire us to do what we love to do. Recently, we were at Abbey Road in London, recording a 75-piece orchestra for the songs we wrote for Disney's CINDERELLA 3, and we constantly had to remind ourselves that it was actually happening. We've been extremely lucky!

TJ: All this talent in one place! Did you guys attend school for music growing up?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: We have both studied piano and music theory since childhood. Alan majored in music at Amherst College, while Michael attended UCLA.

TJ: So SECONDHAND LIONS the Musical, how did you guys get onboard for this project?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: We were hired by Mark Kaufman, a fantastic executive at New Line Cinema, who served as executive producer on the film as well. Mark had heard our demo CD, and offered us the opportunity to "demo" some songs for the show. We sent in our demo and didn't have to wait long for a response - Mark called literally the next day with the news that both he and Michael Lynne thought we were perfect for the project.

TJ: What type of preparation goes into creating this musical? Did you have a script to work from or did you watch the movie and go from there?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: Given that SECONDHAND LIONS is based on a successful New Line film, naturally we immersed ourselves in the source material. After that, we and bookwriter Rupert Holmes engaged in a long period of discussions about how to adapt the film to the stage. It was important to all of us to honor the picture, and at the same time create a satisfying and thrilling theatrical experience. At New Line's behest, a new character was to be added right from the get-go, so we felt assured that we weren't bound to create a scene-by-scene translation of the film to the stage. After the three of us talked story endlessly, Rupert went away and wrote a script/treatment of ACT 1. We encouraged him to include any thoughts he may have for song moments. We then in turn wrote songs for those moments, sometimes creating new moments out of scenes he'd written, or brainstorming completely new ideas for numbers. Then we'd send piano demos back to Rupert who would rewrite and then incorporate our songs into the book.

TJ: Has it been difficult in adapting this piece for the stage?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: Well, we've been lucky to have Rupert Holmes as our bookwriter! The process has been quite exhilarating, and the three of us have really enjoyed our marathon meetings where we talk story, songs, character and themes. It's always a challenge creating a musical, regardless of whether it's an original piece or based on existing source material. But once we found our avenue into the show, the process has been very smooth.

Perhaps the biggest challenge we've faced is that the show takes place in two time periods - 1960's Texas and Morocco of the 1920's. The story from the past informs the characters and the action in the 1960's, so they are connected, but you have half as much time to tell each individual story.

TJ:This seems to be a trend lately, taking films and bringing them to live theatre. Shows like THE PRODUCERS, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, MARY POPPINS, HAIRSPRAY and THE FULL MONTY have had varied levels of success both in the states and abroad. Do you feel extra pressure because a film has had commercial success and now you have part of the responsibility of making the transfer to stage?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: As writers we always hope and pray that people respond positively to our work. We never want anyone to ask: "What were they thinking?" or "Why would they write that?" We were excited by the prospect of musicalizing SECONDHAND LIONS because we felt that we could adapt the film to the stage and add a whole new layer to the piece that you couldn't show on screen. For instance, the film's flashbacks work beautifully with Michael Caine narrating through a voiceover the story of his swashbuckling adventures with his brother. But in the musical, we needed to give an actual "voice" to characters who had no dialogue. Rupert's fresh and clever take on the film's sultan and princess got us very excited, and the songs just flowed from there. So to answer your question, the pressure comes from wanting to honor the original film and at the same time, give the audience a new and engaging theatrical experience.

TJ: OK, speaking of Rupert Holmes, what has it been like collaborating with him on the project?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: Working with Rupert is truly an honor and joy. He is endlessly and effortlessly collaborative - always willing to listen to our ideas – never precious about his own - and always working with a keen eye towards creating the best show possible. He challenges us constantly, and has made our material better than it would have been without his input. We find ourselves working harder just to impress him! The only negative to working with Rupert is that all you really want to do when you're with him is listen to his fascinating stories about the staggering variety of experiences he's had in the business. He is a Renaissance man if there ever was one, and to have the opportunity to collaborate with not only a brilliant creative mind - but a generous human being - is an opportunity for which we'll always be grateful.

TJ: Is the show geared toward a particular type of audience or is it one that the whole family will be able to see?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: SECONDHAND LIONS is a show for the entire family. It's about a young and reserved pre-teenage boy named Walter who is dropped off to spend the summer with his two eccentric great uncles. Over the course of one amazing summer, the tales his uncles tell him instill in Walter the courage and strength he needs to become a man. He experiences first love with a girl, and he discovers what it really means to be part of a family. In turn, the older uncles, who have closed themselves off from the outside world, are reinvigorated by their young nephew and because of him, learn that life is to be lived while you are here on this earth.

TJ: It truly is a great story that should translate nicely to the stage.As far as the music, what style of music can we expect from SECONDHAND LIONS?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: The story of SECONDHAND LIONS calls for a variety of musical styles. A lot of the show takes place in Texas in the 1960's, so we've played with a broad country palette - classic western film score music to Patsy Cline ballads to bluegrass and rhythm and blues. Simultaneously, flashbacks occur that take us to France and Morocco in the 1920's, so we've had the chance to explore a mythic Middle Eastern sound as well as some traditional Moroccan music. And of course, there's always room for a French Can-can number.

TJ: Have there been any workshops done on the musical so far and how was the reception to it?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: We are still in the midst of writing the show, and our first reading will take place later this year.

TJ: Is there a target date when we can expect SECONDHAND LIONS to premiere and where will it happen?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: The show will most likely receive an out-of-town tryout in 2008.

TJ: Probably a little too soon, but is there a director lined up for the production and are any performers currently attached to it.

ZACHARY AND WEINER: The current plan is to bring on a director as soon as we finish the first draft. Likewise, performers will be cast for the first reading.

TJ: So, do you guys have any particular influences on your work?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: Our influences range from the classic Broadway greats - Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, - to more contemporary writers like Ashman & Menken, Stephen Schwartz and Sondheim. We both also have a great affinity for classic movie musicals as well as the pop/rock music we grew up with - ranging from The Beatles to Billy Joel and Elton John to U2 and Green Day. But most importantly, we're influenced by the characters and the world of the story we're telling. We never write a song without first dissecting exactly why that song must be in the show. After the idea for the song has "fought for its life" and "won," we determine what kind of music will further illuminate the point we are trying to make. We love assimilating musical styles, making them our own, and creating a song that hopefully informs character and/or helps further plot, while providing an audience with a melody and lyric that stirs their emotions -- be it humorous or intensely dramatic.

TJ: OK, everyone has a starting point in their lives where they decide, “This is what I want to do when I grow up.”When did you decide this is what you wanted to do for work?

WEINER: My parents took me to see a production of THE MUSIC MAN at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles when I was three years old and I begged them to take me back every weekend. We must have seen the show 10 times. Soon after, a revival of CAMELOT starring Richard Harris was in town, which my parents also took me to each weekend. Richard Harris got to know us, as I made my parents wait with me by the stage door to meet the actors. One day, he offered us a backstage tour. It was standing on that stage, looking out at the empty Pantages auditorium, that I first realized that my life would somehow revolve around the theatre. Soon after, I began piano lessons, acting classes, singing lessons. I was hooked.

ZACHARY: I think my parents unintentionally hardwired me from birth. I grew up on a steady diet of classic movie musicals and Broadway shows. I remember as a kid singing "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" while in the bathtub. And my family always encouraged any seed of talent I might have displayed, so when I showed a passion for music, they supported me. When I read my first screenplay at 11 and announced I was going to be a screenwriter, they supported me. And in high school, when I decided that musical theatre was possibly the ultimate and most challenging storytelling venture I could pursue, they supported me. All they've asked for in return is opening night tickets.

TJ: I see that you have done a lot of work for Disney. Has working for them influenced your work?

ZACHARY AND WEINER: It was always a dream of ours to have our songs sung by Disney animated characters, performed in a Disney theme park, and become a small part of one of the most treasured and beloved musical catalogues in the world. But writing for Disney has been no different than writing for the theatre. The songs emerge from the story and characters, and they express themes and ideas that reflect the human condition.

TJ: Thanks guys! We’ll talk again soon.

Special thanks to Tom Kidd. And I hope you have enjoyed this first installment in my series on SECONDHAND LIONS. We’ll meet again soon.

TJ Fitzgerald has been around the New England Theatre scene both as a participant (acting and directing) as well being a theatre fanatic since birth. He had been a featured columnist on interviews and theatre features for New England Entertainment Digest since 1992 and is currently a board member of the New England Theatre Conference. His past interviews have included Tony Award winner Faith Prince, Tony Nominee Brad Oscar (The Producers), Maureen McGovern, (Little Women), Joanna Gleason (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Into The Woods), Gregory Jbara (Chicago, Into The Woods)and Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell). It's been quite a life thus far, folks and the best is yet to come

IMPORTANT NOTE

These articles are gathered here from all over as a resource for serious fans and theatre students interested in Secondhand Lions and the filmography of Haley Joel Osment , Michael Caine, Robert Duvall and director Tim McCanlies. All articles have been credited to the original authors and have been linked back to the original website in which the articles were published. The webmaster of this site does NOT benefit or profit in any way from hosting these articles, and if we have inadvertantly breached any copyright, we apologise in advance and will remove the article as soon as we are informed of the copyright breach. We do ask for your understanding as this is purely a fansite built for the benefit for other fans and serious film students. Thank you.

The webmaster

 

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