"It was 1999 and we thought we could create this millennial piece," said Best Book of a Musical nominee Sater. "Duncan wanted to write music that was relevant to kid's lives today, and we wanted to honor this great classic play and tell a story about our century."
Sater — who also shares the Best Score nomination with his composer — attributed the long journey to the stage to the need to see the piece performed. "If people weren't in the room with [the cast/characters], they didn't understand it; they saw a German script and a rock CD, [and] they didn't know what to make of it"
"Does not compute," quipped Sheik — also nominated for Best Orchestrations — in agreement. "But when people did actually see it, with all the innovative work that [director and fellow Tony nominee] Michael Mayer did in staging it, then it really clicked."
The highly unorthodox, or non-traditional, concept — where the the actors break out of the story into music-video/youTube/MySpace-like performance with hand-held microphones — was solidified early on. "We had the idea, this conception, from the beginning. When Michael came on, we really galvanized the concept together."
The blend seems fitting, coming from popular music composer Sheik, yet the move to musical theatre was not fluid. "It was kind of a difficult transition, in some respects, because it's so much more collaborative. My tendency is to make music that kind of floats in this beautiful harmonic cloud of melancholy and sadness," laughed Sheik. "But if you're doing a show, you've got to have some things that kick in at a certain point, otherwise people start falling asleep. "It's great having a creative team around you to say, 'Look, at this point in the show, we need something to really have a lot of energy,' and that pushes me into places I might not ordinarily go, and that's a good thing."
Along the way, the show lost or cut many songs. "It's probably 20, 21," suggested Sater. "I'm the repository of the songs, I'm the one who saves them all." Sheik, with a grin, offered, "Some of them are better than others in my estimation. . . . There are some good ones."
The duo are already at work on a number of new projects, including The Nightingale, which undergoes a New York workshop with director James Lapine in September. Sater reveals, "It's adapted from the fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderson. But we've changed it a lot, you know, as you may have come to expect. We've turned it into a fable for our time." Sheik added, "On the music side of things, The Nightingale will be more of a chamber pop piece."