Adam Guettel Faces the Music

Will his lushly romantic new musical win him mainstream audiences?

By David Savran

An innocent young American woman and her wealthy, protective mother spend a glorious summer in Florence, seduced by Renaissance art, the Tuscan sun and the ragazzi. A handsome stranger sweeps the daughter off her feet and she savors her first, sweet taste of love. Her mother’s fears, meanwhile, about calculating, manipulative Italian men—it is 1958, after all—prove unfounded. Despite an unlucky misunderstanding (followed by a timely reconciliation), daughter and boyfriend at long last tie the knot in a matrimonio splendido

Although this sketch makes it sound like little more than a fairy tale, the new musical The Light in the Piazza is in fact the product of two of the most uncompromising talents in the American theatre today, composer/lyricist Adam Guettel and playwright Craig Lucas. While the pair describe the piece as an old-fashioned musical, it is old-fashioned with a difference—neither writer is noted for romantic clichés, uncomplicated characters or cock-eyed optimism. Their musical adaptation of Elizabeth Spencer’s celebrated short novel (also the basis for a forgettable 1962 Hollywood film featuring Olivia de Havilland as the mother) uses the fairy-tale plot to focus on the deeply ambivalent emotions aroused in Margaret when her daughter, Clara, falls rapturously in love with the dashing Fabrizio. For the secret that Margaret keeps inside is the knowledge that her vivacious, 26-year-old daughter’s mental development was in fact halted by an accident at age 12. So in dealing with Clara’s all-consuming passion, Margaret must also confront her own personal disappointments, anxieties and guilt. Because Guettel and Lucas dramatize the emotional and moral complexities of this story with startling richness and subtlety, even the happy ending remains slightly off-kilter, posing as many questions as it answers. 

After a critically acclaimed run last summer at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, this groundbreaking musical opens at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago this month, directed by Bartlett Sher. 

Guettel and Lucas have been working on The Light in the Piazza for more than three years, and their perfectionism shows. As a playwright, Lucas is known as a restless experimenter whose richly textured and evocative plays range from the mysteriously ironic comedy of Reckless to the wrenching tragedy of The Dying Gaul. But this is his first book musical. He notes that one of the main challenges for him has been to take “what is essentially an interior monologue” and find the dramatic means to convey both the story’s psychological intricacies and its large-scale, almost cinematic scenes of Florentine life. He has solved these problems by “consciously seizing and capitalizing on the dramatic action,” both of the piece itself and of each character, and “condensing them to their essential gestures.” This economical and precise mode of storytelling dovetails with Guettel’s radiant, chamber music?like score that combines the lush harmonic world of Fauré, Debussy and Ravel with an Italianate lyricism. 

Although Craig Lucas used to perform in musicals (including Sweeney Todd on Broadway), Adam Guettel has a longer and more complicated involvement with musical theatre. From the time he was a toddler, he was lucky enough to be taken to see the musicals of his mother, Mary Rodgers, and his grandfather, Richard Rodgers, beginning with a revival of Oklahoma! The Light in the Piazza represents only his fourth professionally produced, full-length work, after three collaborations with director Tina Landau, including Floyd Collins and Saturn Returns. A trained musician (like his grandfather) with an inspired musical and theatrical imagination, Guettel represents perhaps the most accomplished of a new generation of musical theatre writers who are building on the innovations of Stephen Sondheim and bringing the sophistication of opera to the most distinctive, misunderstood and maligned of American theatre forms. 

While it is always risky to generalize about the work of a developing artist, Adam Guettel’s plays are distinguished in part by his subtle and knowing manipulation of the conventions of musical theatre. This is coupled with an almost uncanny ability to penetrate characters psychologically and dramatize both their intensely personal struggles and the social circumstances swirling about them. Floyd Collins, for example, based on a true story from 1925, focuses both on the plight of the title character, a “caver” trapped in a cave that 15 days later becomes his grave, and on the media circus that his confinement unleashes. But even more important is Guettel’s ability to turn a form that has always depended on wish fulfillment into an examination of what happens when you are granted what you wish for. Floyd Collins is, above all, a tragedy of American entrepreneurship. Floyd finds what he’s looking for—the perfect cave, media attention, fame and fortune—yet he is destroyed by it. The very myth of success, which the musical theatre has so often extolled, is revealed to be a hollow, self-defeating promise. Moving back and forth between the cave and the world beyond, between fantasy and reality, between hope and despair, Guettel’s music and lyrics render Floyd’s aspirations and dreams—as well as his terrifying predicament—with a hushed yet exhilarating intensity. 

I talked with Adam Guettel in his New York City loft on Oct. 21, 2003.

DAVID SAVRAN: What got you interested in theatre?

ADAM GUETTEL: I saw Oklahoma! when I was two and I still remember some glints of light from that production. I think it was a Lincoln Center revival. It was incredible—I kept asking my mother, “When is it going to be over?” And finally she hauled me off and said, “You don’t like this?” “No,” I said, “I love it, I don’t want it to be over.” I had a visceral reaction to the experience of live musical theatre. 

But my household growing up was not by any means alive with music—unless my mother was writing, in which case there was not to be any noise except her piano. We didn’t listen to my grandfather’s music or to Steve [Sondheim]’s music. We didn’t listen to music because it was too distracting for Mom. But we went to see a lot of theatre, and I remember going to the first productions of Follies, Company and A Little Night Music and really loving them, even when I was five, six, seven years old. I think you know what good music is when you’re really young. 

But then as I entered my teen years I really didn’t want to have anything to do with this field, for obvious reasons. The last thing I wanted was, a) to try to follow my grandfather’s footsteps or, b) to be a part of what was—as was increasingly apparent—marginalized culturally. The more theatre I saw, the less “good” theatre was becoming. And so my ego kind of took over and I thought, “Well, I’m going to make my own world here, and I’m not going to have anything to do with that lame, fairy-tale, unsophisticated, boring, clunky old art form.” And that’s how I felt for a long time—pretty much until my late twenties. 

What theatre did you see—so-called straight theatre?
Not much, actually. Read a bunch of plays in high school. But I didn’t see many. So that wasn’t a big part of my education. I came to straight theatre through the written word, really.

What about at Yale?
Then I started to read more and see more—Caryl Churchill’s work, for instance. But I was also new to Miller and Albee and Ionesco and all that stuff. I don’t know—I don’t feel my dramatic impulses come from that world but from a more compressed, less prosaic form: musical theatre.

Compressed?
A song usually occurs at the dramatic apex of a scene. Or the song takes care of that which is most dramatically compressible and most readily made into metaphor. That discipline seems to be more a part of the practical implementation of musical theatre. When you’re dealing with songs, which are by nature compressed, you have to find lyrics that are equally compressed and carry metaphor and have—as Johnny Mercer used to say—a bicycle. That is, you have an idea that generates the song, usually a metaphor, something that has compressed energy that can spring outwards. That’s something I want to continue to learn how to do. In a way, it’s unnatural—and, in a way, it’s part of everyday living. We extrapolate from mundane details outwards to the metaphoric and the universal. 

How did you get back into musical theatre?
At Yale I wrote some songs and I did a one-act opera based on a Dr. Seuss book, called The Butter Battle Book, which I never got the rights to, so it sits over there in a drawer. Orchestrated. But I still wasn’t sure. I was playing upright bass a lot. I was singing. 

What’s your primary instrument?
I suppose my voice. I’m not really much of an instrumentalist, but I play a lot of things not very well—guitar and piano.

I read that you played rock-and-roll for a while.
I was in a bunch of bands throughout my teens and early twenties. I went through a phase of thinking I could somehow cross from the life with which I am blessed into an art form based on defiance. But those were not the cards I was dealt. I was dealt lovely, luxurious, moneyed, educated, elitist cards and I felt insincere in trying to put on airs. I’d rather fantasize and make things up from my experience. Which is not to say I plan to write Brideshead Revisited: The Musical or anything. Also, I didn’t pursue rock because I felt I wanted to say more than, “I wanna get laid,” “I get laid a lot,” “I’m not getting laid right now,” “I wanna get laid with you.”

Although there are other conventions in rock.
Absolutely. But the form itself didn’t feel right for me. Theatre songs, for the most part, need to go from one emotional state to another. And pop songs need to be a really engaging, catchy examination of one state. But I’m wired to want to morph within the form.

This brings up something I find distinctive about your song structures. They are always focused on what’s called the release. As you know, this contrasting section is sometimes labeled the bridge. But to describe your work, the word release seems particularly apt. Virtually all of your songs are structured around a release, sometimes several releases. Many do not use traditional A-A-B-A form. The release makes the song into a dramatic structure.
Tension and release—that’s the basic dynamic of listening to music. I suppose the core guide for me in writing is to make sure I pay people back for all the loans they’ve made me over the course of the song. They say that you get 10 minutes for free at the top of a show in terms of audience engagement. I think that’s true of a song. They’re willing to listen as you start to establish your vocabulary. But if you don’t begin to use those words syntactically to make sentences they can identify, you’re asking too much. 

You’re taking them on a journey. That’s what song structure does.
And A-A-B-A is just a slight twist on sonata form, and we all have these basic physical needs as listeners. If you don’t establish your enharmonic home—this is how I put things together—then you don’t create a value system and the subliminal emotional communication between you and your audience. How can you establish tension if there is no return to comfort and consonance? As you work with an “A” section and you screw down all the bolts and make sure it hangs together right, there’s internal pressure that builds and you really do need out of there. That’s a musical experience. I’m not sure what a lyricist goes through when he or she puts pen to paper, because I always write lyrics second. But it seems that there isn’t the same build of visceral pressure. There’s a necessity to create a different feeling in this “B” section. I’m not sure. I know that my worst lyrics have been written first.

I hear both your individual songs and your plays as being more harmonically driven than melodically or rhythmically. Or lyrically, for that matter.
I think that’s fair.

You write great tunes—any good songwriter has to. But you have a very distinctive harmonic signature. And your vocabulary is simply more chromatic than those of your contemporaries—or Sondheim’s, for that matter. 
I start to find the language for a song, the harmonic ambience, the words that are going to become sentences—because chords feel like words to me, like parts of a thesis statement. And chords have syntax, and there’s a developing process wherein (to mix metaphors) chromaticism is the ligament. It ensures that things stay cohesive. If you use harmonies that are heard a lot, you’re not making your own emotional/harmonic syntax or stirring emotional heat—you’re provoking associations and recollections and nostalgia. And because people tend not to know chromatic harmonies, I end up heading in that direction.

What’s your process of writing?
I usually start with music, a few notes of a melody or a vamp. For instance, in the song “Fable” [in Piazza] there’s a kind of 6/8 vamp that establishes the emotional context, the ambience of the song. And the melody came out of that ambience. It wasn’t that the harmony dictated the melody. It said: This is the world this song is going to live in. And then you apply simple music-writing principles, like contrary motion. I was a terrible student in music theory, but I adhere pretty closely to those principles because I think there are certain physical needs to keep things together and strong.

What you’re describing I hear as a productive, live tension in your work between melody and harmony, which, I think, makes for unusually complex and contrapuntal theatre, both musically and dramatically. 
I think that’s one of the reasons why my stuff tends to be difficult on first hearing. But it’s the kind of thing you go back to because you know that the counterpoint and the melody are referencing each other. I think it’s also something that increases the velocity of the experience, even though the tempo may be slow. There’s a kind of accrued momentum that you get from the material, elegantly dovetailing and proceeding forward in a contrapuntal way. It’s about deepening the engagement of the listener. That’s what momentum is. It’s not about increasing the tempo. It’s about going further in.

At what point do the words come?
When my collaborator says, “If you don’t finish that fucking lyric, I’m never going to talk to you again.” That’s when they come in. Lyric writing is really rewarding and really, really grueling to do. There are a few exceptions. A couple of songs in each score just kind of come to you, and you feel like you were just given a pass. The language of music is infinite, and you can say, “I love you” or “I want you” in music in a zillion ways. But in any spoken language, most of the really good ways have already been done. So it’s about finding a broader language in which you place a phrase like “I love you” that inflects it in a way that makes it feel fresh. Avoiding saying “I love you” can be very time-consuming and sometimes impossible. 

What classical music has been important to you?
Do you see that multicolored record set? That’s the complete Stravinsky. That was my high school graduation present. It’s absolutely worn out. I adore him. I think Rake’s Progress is one of the three best operas of the past century. He redefined recitative and orchestration for opera. And Britten. Those are my contemporary faves. And Barber would probably come in there somewhere. Then we’re getting into a kind of mushy Elgar, Korngold territory. I’m a sucker for that, for sure. Ravel was a steady diet for a couple of years. Then I got into a really intense early music period: Gesualdo and Josquin Des Pres and Adam de la Halle. I listened mostly for monody and a sense of line and the exquisite message coded in a single line. 

In preparing Floyd Collins, some of the greatest material I listened to were Folkways recordings of toothless old ladies from the Civil War. You know, [sings] “Came to this country in 1864….” It’s like you can tell they have exactly one tooth. And in that one line is this beautiful melody—such a world. Just to go to the fourth degree, by harmonic implication, is to have a sea-change emotionally. And all that is encoded in the single line. The more notes you put on the keyboard, the more you tend to water that stuff down. I think counterpoint helps one move away from vertical construction toward horizontal construction. Because vertical tends to make us think, “It has to be more moving, so I’ll just add more notes to this big pile I have on the first beat of the measure.” But it’s getting to that note that makes the note valuable, not just plunking it down.

What about Aaron Copland? That classic American sound?
He was one of the best theatre writers in the classical music business. Even in his non-dance scores, he—like John Adams—understands dramatic frames. He’s so lucid and transparent dramatically. And he doesn’t feed you too much at once. I haven’t listened to nearly as much Copland as Stravinsky because I realized that every movie score I’d heard in 30 years had been copying his thing, even though his was the best version. And I wanted to be around stuff I hadn’t heard. Not that Stravinsky hasn’t had an incredible influence. But in terms of pop culture—Copland you can get in a Wal-Mart commercial. Yet he’s very painterly and powerful. 

Unlike earlier generations of musical theatre composers—and I include Sondheim among them—your generation of writers is choosing to work with innovative and risk-taking collaborators like Tina Landau and Craig Lucas. Colleagues of yours are working with George Wolfe, Tony Kushner and other major playwrights. Have you thought about this change?
I would not want to be in this field if I had to do it all myself. I would love to open my life up even more to collaborators. It seemed that in the so-called Golden Age of the theatre, everybody collaborated and there was a healthy, self-perpetuating group of people working in the theatre because it was the dominant popular art form. Now they all go to Hollywood, because that’s the dominant thing, and I don’t blame them. So there are not too many people to work with. If I was thriving in pop culture, I don’t know that I would want to devote myself to writing for the theatre. There is a real dearth of book writers, lyricists especially, and a lamentable surplus of composers [laughs].

My boyfriend described the work you and your contemporaries make as boutique musicals, for a very different kind of audience.
That is at once the most lethal and accurate criticism that gets leveled at me. And I have no rebuttal. I think it’s true that there is not currently a nexus between a mass audience and the way I approach what I think to be universal ideas and experiences. But I don’t think that’s likely always to be the case. It just may be a question of having missed the bus and needing to wait for the next one. You know, it would be really great if I was able to do something that was both new and appealing on a massive scale.

To some extent, isn’t that what you’re trying to do with Piazza?
That’s not the goal. I would say it’s more appealing to a broader audience. But you heard the score. There’s plenty in there that people will say is, well, elitist. For classical music nerds. Solipsistic. Not easily metabolized.

But these are the same charges that have been leveled against Sondheim and virtually all of your contemporaries.
Right. And one of the great sources of inspiration for me in Steve’s work is that it continues to be done all over, all the time, people going back to it, plumbing it for more, and getting more, and seeing more, and hearing more in it—because there is so much in it. That’s why you don’t get it right away. I don’t want to bore your readers, but I want to make the point that I do not ever—and never would—assign blame or responsibility for the cultural obscurity of what I do to anyone but myself. 

For the past few decades, most theatre in America has been marginalized to the extreme.
I hope I can figure out how to do something really original and genuine and legitimate that’s also wildly successful. I haven’t done that yet. I wouldn’t ask any close friends to put money on that happening with Piazza, although I’m very proud of it. 

Although until the 1960s musicals were a part of popular culture.
If you do some quick math and you add the movie of Chicago to Moulin Rouge and you add in Rufus Wainwright—whose work has a certain theatrical quality—and you subtract Umbrellas of Cherbourg from the equation because most people have forgotten about that, and you put it over the quadratic formula, which is The Sound of Music, The King and I and all those movie musicals, and then you divide the whole thing by Rent—you might get a quantity that is workable. 

How did you work with Craig on Piazza?
When I got together with Craig the first time, I played him six or seven songs from the score. At the time I think there were only lyrics for one. Then I explained where I thought the songs would belong—or for what situation those songs had been written—and for the most part that stayed the case, although some of the songs have moved around. Beyond that, we would sit in a room and figure out what each song needed to say, and who was likely to be involved, and how long it should be, and what the feeling might be, and all that normal stuff. And then I would take 19 years to write it. When you’re in this field and you want to work with collaborators, finding one who’s really good is the equivalent of getting a kidney transplant. If you don’t have working kidneys, it makes life very, very difficult. And if you don’t have a good collaborator, it’s just impossible to imagine life—if this is what you want to do. So I just feel that Craig is that much of a treasure to me.

So the two of you finish the architectural work before you compose a new song.
Yes, and I do a lot of that anyway in terms of tone and feeling. Just as a song has its own emotional ambience, established by harmony, the score has its own broader harmonic palette. That gets established usually in the first three or four songs. And then I’m able sometimes to stray as a way of foiling expectations. As long as I have that beachhead.

I want to get back to the question of song form, because I’ve noticed that your work is so consistently about release, transcendence. In Myths and Hymns, “Saturn Returns” is all about flight. In one of the pivotal moments in Floyd Collins, “The Riddle Song” that ends the first act, Floyd and Homer sing about their swing tree—all that upward movement. Then there’s the obverse fantasy of falling into the pit, the grave. Your work is so much about vertical movement. Of course there are many different ways of thinking about that. One word you use is spirituality. I prefer to think of those moments as utopian figurations.

On a practical musical level, some of this may come from the fact that I always have had a high voice. So before I knew more complicated ways, more sophisticated ways, I knew I could achieve certain musical or dramatic goals simply by having a singer sing higher. So that aspiration has been a constant and a source of problems, because not all singers have the range I have. It makes it very difficult to transpose a song when the range is greater than an octave and a third or an octave and a fifth. And I regularly did that. But on Piazza, some of the songs are only an octave in range, and that’s been a kind of personal goal for me. My first attempts at creating drama in music were just to go up. 

Also, on a personal level, there’s just this thing for me of not being particularly comfortable here on earth—and I don’t say that ruefully. I think it’s given me the energy to do the work that I’ve needed to do. But this is not, like, home for me. I love my life, I really like it here. I don’t think that my work will always go in that escapist direction. Then again, how much art is about scrubbing potatoes? I don’t feel particularly original or unique in this. It just happens to be true of me. 

It’s like one time I was outside late at night with my brother, out in the countryside. And I saw colored lights getting larger and coming toward us. I started jumping up and down, saying, “We’re here, come get us! Take us away!” I’ve always had this great desire to be abducted. I’d be abducted right now if I could be. “Take us away! We’re here!” There was a long pause and then my brother said, “Leave me.” Because he likes it here. He’s cool with that. I feel very comfortable with the idea of somewhere else. That’s why I like drugs and alcohol, which is a kind of weakness. The reality is that I’m here. I do the best I can with this. I’m not particularly proud of this. 

This figuration—which I read as utopian—is one reason why I respond so to your work. But I was also thinking about the fact that historically, musical theatre has functioned to provide a way of imagining the unimaginable. It goes all the way back to Show Boat, and before. 
And that’s where effective harmony is essential. If you can’t create the musical and emotional legitimacy of that other place that you go to when you’re watching a show—if that landscape is not actually created, so that you can really live there for two hours—then there is no escape. There might be an escape through a satire of musical theatre itself, or through ego-bolstering, in the sense of, “Oh, I’m not like that.” And that’s perfectly okay—it’s just a different kind of escape. But making another world where you can live for two hours is what I aspire to do with my life. 

How does that work with Piazza?
The world of Piazza is that real—but totally invented—world that is summoned by true romantic love. That first bloom of romantic love is a kind of overwhelmingly real reality that’s unlike anything you get when you’re actually living. And I’m trying to invoke, if not evoke, that with the sound of the score. The other point I try to make with the score is that the sound of having that and the sound of losing that are the same. The feeling within one’s stomach and heart of having it and the feeling—the actual physical feeling of losing it—are the same. It’s just contextualized differently. 

So the moment of discovery is always shadowed by loss, or the fear of loss. I hate to get Freudian about it, but Freud writes that finding something means in fact re-finding it.
It’s the sweetness of remembering something that you’ve always known, and that’s what it is to meet someone you’ve always hoped to meet. And to lose them, as you always knew you would, somehow. That’s the sound I’m going for in the score.

What draws you to a story? What attracted you to Light in the Piazza?
I think it’s that I suspect, or I know, there’s a chance that I’ll never find romantic love in the way that I hope to, and I knew that I had the sounds available to represent that desire. And that equals a tremendous amount of energy, which is necessary for me because I’m a lazy, trust-fund dilettante and unless I feel that level of personal energy, unless I have that investment…it’s usually rooted in a kind of sadness.

In Myths and Hymns, “Icarus” is about the anxiety of influence, the challenge of having to answer to celebrated forebears. The path you’ve made for yourself is very different from that of your grandfather or your mother.

This may sound cavalier, but the easy part has been being my own person musically. To carve out, to etch one’s own profile, musically, lyrically, dramatically is the only way to go, and if you can’t do that, just give it up. That’s the easy part. I think I do know who I am in these respects, but it is difficult to feel legitimate in society when you’re not actually creating jobs and generating lots and lots of dough. It’s hard not to feel those pressures and not to feel sort of pathetic. It’s bad for the work to have these pressures if you happen to have carved out a profile that is not particularly commercial. 

The other anguishing thing is to know—to feel and know—how much is inside, and how much you could be putting into the world that would give people some small amount of happiness, but that you can’t let out for spiritual arrogance, for fear, and the worry of not meeting expectations. I’m over-porous to all that stuff….Three or four times, after a period of high exposure and accolade, I have had a period of anguishing paralysis and fear. And only by feeling forgotten do I find myself again and start to really focus and work. I have to feel the underdog to get anything done. It’s that coming through the back door.

It needs to be a struggle.
Yes. And one doesn’t think of art as something produced by the House of Windsor, which is what, in the musical theatre, this family is thought of as being. I think it’s lessening as Rodgers and Hammerstein recede into history and kind of start to get the status of Gilbert and Sullivan. The fact is, I struggle with that every day.

Dare I ask, what are your favorite Richard Rodgers songs? Could you answer?
I don’t think I can. I often say “Glad to Be Unhappy,” and that’s become kind of a pat answer for me. But I do love that song. It’s difficult, because I appreciate Richard Rodgers’s work in its totality rather than for its individual parts. 

What about other composers and lyricists of the Golden Age?
In terms of encoding a certain line of music, making highly sophisticated melody, a very condensed message: Jule Styne and Frank Loesser. Bernstein, not a tunesmith, for my money, but a fabulous theatre composer. You said the Golden Age?

For me the Golden Age begins in the ’20s.
Right. Kern. And Gershwin. Arlen was like a lush decorator. His music makes you want to have a drink and hors d’oeuvres. It’s a lifestyle. But silver in your pocket? I’ll go with Gershwin any day. “Don’t be a naughty baby/ Come to papa—come to papa—do!” The world is inside that. Yeah, the harmonies are implied, but that guy really knew how to parse it out slow and lead you through it. He was heartbreakingly good. 

What about Porter?
I think his songs are like wonderful machines, with an emotional wetness I don’t really get too well. But they’re so beautifully constructed. They’re like Longines watches. Repeater mechanisms. Chimes and cuckoos. I love Porter, and one of the reasons Porter sometimes replaces my grandfather on the short list is because he so much more fully embodies that time and that place, politically, socially. He’s like a Carr’s water cracker, whereas I think my grandfather’s social aspirations were greater, and the music reflects that. Gershwin was, by the way, the only person my grandfather was ever really jealous of. My mother has spoken about that. 

You’re co-orchestrating Piazza, using a small ensemble?
Yeah. That’s been fun. Piano, cello, violin, harp and upright bass. We were thinking about adding percussion for Chicago, but we decided to keep it the way it is, and if we are lucky enough to take it somewhere else, we might expand it. We’ll see. There should be one version of the score that’s producible cheaply. Eight people on stage, five people in the pit, no conductor, thank you very much. Because of the material, it’s probably not going to be some type of mainstream thing. Who knows? So we better make damn sure it’s producible in small places. 

As has been the case with Floyd Collins.
Right. And that taught me the lesson. Your work can have a life. It doesn’t need to be at the Winter Garden. When I go see shows by my contemporaries like Urinetown or Avenue Q—and they’re not even my contemporaries, they’re younger—I just pray that I can have a show in a Broadway house someday.

David Savran is a specialist in American theatre, popular culture and social theory. His seven books include two volumes of interviews with playwrights, In Their Own Words and The Playwright’s Voice, both published by TCG, and, most recently, A Queer Sort of Materialism: Recontextualizing American Theatre. He is professor of theatre at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and editor of the Journal of American Drama and Theatre.

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