Following an elaborate student production of their musical, Dracula — The Game of Love, at the prestigious College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati in February, writers Michael Lazar and Richard Oberacker digested their notes from the staging and began what all good playwrights must: rewrites.
The notes from the world premiere undergrad mainstage production (they called it the most elaborate workshop possible) resulted into significant changes for the show, and now regional producers are asking about the property, according to composer and co-lyricist Richard Oberacker.
"We did some substantial rewrites, and completely re-did the opening to Act Two," Oberacker told Playbill On-Line, who added they did "some combining and tightening in Act Two."
Including the 11-performance Ohio staging at Lazar and Oberacker's alma mater, Count Dracula has been announced to sing in no less than three different musical versions of the 1897 gothic novel by Bram Stoker in 2002-03: Frank Wildhorn's Dracula, the Musical is aiming for Broadway in this season (though specifics have not been announced) and North Shore Music Theatre in Massachusetts will stage a Canadian penned Dracula, a Chamber Musical, in October.
Lazar and Oberacker have said they would be thrilled if the show had a rich regional, stock, amateur, touring and European life, along the lines of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's popular Phantom, a version of "The Phantom of the Opera." The collaborators, who share lyric and book credit, are the kind of writers who juggle multiple projects at once in the hope that one will land. The theory is that if one project gets produced, producers will inquire about what else they have; if is flops, they always have other shows to focus on.
Among their projects are The Gospel According to Fishman, a musical about a white Jewish kid who writes gospel music during the Civil Rights era, which was commissioned by Clear Channel, premiered by Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, in January and continues to be under the wing of Clear Channel. They are now working on a definitive draft of Fishman, which includes a couple song rewrites and an added song. Beth Williams, who shepherds Clear Channel's new works program, declined a request to be interviewed, opting to let new work grow privately.
The Gospel According to Fishman, tells the story of Alan Fishman, a young Jewish composer from Brooklyn writing spiritual music for a black gospel choir led in voice and spirit by Nehi Taylor. "Searching for his own voice while struggling with an interracial love affair during the height of the civil rights movement, Fishman follows the choir to Birmingham, AL, to protest the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church," according to the Signature production notes. "Standing at one of the most explosive turning points in history, Fishman is forced to decide what he believes and where he belongs." Eric Schaeffer directed.
Also on the writers' plate is a new musical, Ace, another commission by Clear Channel, about an 11-year-old boy who dreams of World War I and World War II flying aces. Set in 1952, it's "Stephen Spielberg meets Harry Potter."
"It's about those things in you that are passed down from generation to generation," Lazar told Playbill On-Line earlier this year. "What are the things that you decide to hold onto?"
Oberacker added: "Do you choose your own destiny or do you choose what is passed down to you? It deals with the concept of flying and the concept of being bound to be what your parents expect. It is a very sophisticated life-lesson presented in a beautiful and magical and fun, fantastic way, that is wholly American and wholly musical theatre."
Unlike Dracula, which they began writing as early as 1993, fresh out of college, all of the projects the writers work on are original, although Little Italy is inspired by Hamlet, and is re-set in the world of the Italian American mob.
"I hate to pigeonhole us, but we do write musical dramas," Lazar said. "While they are uplifting, they hopefully have a very cathartic message at the end, like most musicals do. We're book writers. We start with the book first. Finding a dramatic story is always much more important to us. I don't see us writing a revue of 1950s swing numbers."
What they are working on at the moment includes Southern Cross, a gothic country-music-flavored show about weird, terrifying happenings when a young couple converts a former Mississippi church into their home; and Monte Carlo, a musical riff on glamorous caper movies from the 1950s, the sort that starred Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. For the latter, Oberacker told Playbill On-Line writer Lazar cooked up a plot of Mamet-esque intricacies about con artists, a heist and a shocking identity-switch.
"Nobody's musicalized this genre," Oberacker said. "The sound is swing, '50s, ultra-hip, retro...high style.
— By Kenneth Jones