Creators of NYMF Zombie Kid Musical Talk About Raising Their Children

NY Musical Theatre Fest   Creators of NYMF Zombie Kid Musical Talk About Raising Their Children In the new musical The Children, based directly on the low-budget, 1980 horror film of the same title, a low-hanging cloud of radioactive waste turns a school bus full of children into second-rate zombies, who proceed to track down and zap their negligent parents one by one. (There is even a scene where an unfortunate pair of parents are cooked in a microwave.)

So, what could have possibly made 28-year-old composer Hal Goldberg and 29-year-old lyricist and book-writer Stan Richardson want to convert the film into a musical? Playbill.com asked.

PLAYBILL.COM: Of all possible films, why adapt “The Children” into a musical?
Richardson: I had seen it a couple of times on USA’s “Friday Night Nightmares,” which was strictly reserved for the lowest budget early ‘80s horror films. I found the movie genuinely scary when I was five or six. There was a scene with children microwaving their parents and the corpses appeared to me like pizza faces. It really stuck with me. Growing up, I was obsessed with horror films.

PLAYBILL.COM: How was the musical first developed?
Goldberg: It started when we were at NYU. We were in Chicago looking to rent a movie and Stan found “The Children,” which he loved when he was a kid. At this point, we were looking for something to write together. We thought of people in our classes at NYU that we could put into the parts and places where songs would be appropriate.
Richardson: Then there was a Tisch theatre festival where you could write a theatre piece. We had about a month to do it. Basically, two weeks to write it and two weeks to rehearse it before a weekend of performances. We performed in a television studio area. It was perfect for a mundane household set.

PLAYBILL.COM: Has the piece changed considerably since then?
Goldberg: We were customizing the music to people we knew. We’ve made changes along the way since then. We’ve done it two times, two productions: Tisch and HERE Arts Center. Along the way we’ve cut things, added things, complicated things, simplified things, and all at the same time.

PLAYBILL.COM: Do you think there’s a political or social relevance in these kinds of horror films?
Richardson: Films of that time are the closest things we have to morality plays. There’s so much black and white on how people should behave. I think I was also very much drawn to that. There were these neglectful, drug-addicted, co-dependant parents who simply did not take care of their children and their being punished was definitely something that interested me. Since then, I’ve also been drawn to the earnestness with which it was written. How it’s not dripping with irony, how its not trying to comment on horror films of the time, but genuinely trying to scare people and trying to relate to all these underlying fears of the time.

PLAYBILL.COM: How will you preserve the film’s low-budget horror style?
Richardson: One of the other interesting things about those horror films is how innovative they had to be with special effects. They didn’t have the technical skill then that they have now, which really deadens the film. I watch “Lord of the Rings” and they have thousands of people and you know it’s all digitally animated. It kind of loses effect. It’s really exciting to see the creativity that went into each scene in a horror film. It’s what we like to do. We’ve had very low budgets on The Children. And though it has gotten bigger each time, it’s still a very low-budget show. It makes us have to work harder in terms of finding things.

PLAYBILL.COM: Does the score have a particular style?
Goldberg: It spans quite a few different styles. When we originally wrote it, we were paying homage and parodying some horror films but also doing musical theatre. There are some show references people may recognize. It spans quite a bit of territory in terms of being very cliché and musical theatre in a lot of ways to gospel. Still, we’re trying to capture the world these people live in. The music is very character driven in how they relate and what genre they use.
Richardson: Hal has found musical equivalents for even the different acting styles that the actors in the original film had. Each character kind of speaks to the unevenness of the film. In the way, the film is a dramaturgical nightmare. There are so many inconsistencies in the filmmaking. So we’ve tried to embrace a rococo sense of different styles. The score and book clearly come from us, but we’ve tried to go as far as possible into the inner worlds of these characters and what their world might sound like. Could be a Bonnie Raitt kind of karaoke song. Another could sound like a car commercial.

PLAYBILL.COM: What made both of you want to write musicals?
Goldberg: I was a child actor growing up. Then I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue. I was much more into writing music. I met up with Stan, who was a playwright, who was looking for someone to work with.
Richardson: Hal was in Cap 21 doing Musical Theatre and I was in the Experimental Theatre Wing. We both know a great many actors from there. We had obviously a strong understanding of what actors need in a script and in a musical.

PLAYBILL.COM: If you were both Tisch undergrads, then you must have been trained primarily as actors.
Richardson: While acting, I was finding such a dearth of exciting contemporary plays to do. I really wanted to write shows that would give people interesting challenges. Stylistically, The Children is one of those shows. Even the rehearsal process has been fascinating, watching the actors, director and everybody formulate the style.
Golbberg: At Cap 21, I was trained in singing. For me, as a composer, it’s more important for me to be happy and satisfied with what they have to sing than what the audience thinks. If the actor can connect to the song and enjoy singing it and it forwards the action, then I’ve done what I should do. If I don’t enjoy seeing it, I wouldn’t write it.

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