"He's incredibly generous as a collaborator," librettist and lyricist Greg Pierce says. "There's obviously a vast difference in our ages, our resumés and experiences, and I never, ever feel that working with him. The idea's in the room, and he gets so excited about the idea, he gets so excited about writing, that any trace of ego just disappears."
Pierce is talking about legendary composer John Kander, with whom he has written a new musical, Kid Victory, premiering at Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, as part of Signature's 25th anniversary season. The co-producer is Manhattan's Vineyard Theatre, where it will appear next season. Liesl Tommy (Appropriate) directs.
Pierce, 36, is known for The Landing, a musical he co-wrote with Kander that played the Vineyard in 2013, and Slowgirl, a drama that opened Lincoln Center's Claire Tow Theatre in 2012. Kander, 88 this year, is known for, among others, Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Scottsboro Boys, all written with lyricist Fred Ebb (1928-2004). Kander and Ebb's The Visit, starring Chita Rivera, opens on Broadway in April.
Pierce says Kander "loves to be sitting at the piano, or the keyboard, when we're writing, because ideas occur to him, and when they do, he comes out with something that actually seems like a fully formed song, which is astounding. We've been working together for about six years, and I'm not used to this yet. You can't believe that his fingers just did it. It's almost like it goes to some level of beyond thinking about it, and a song is there. And then he rewrites and rewrites and improves on things. "The writing of the tune is there all along. John talks about music constantly running through his head, and he just has to tap into it."
In Kid Victory — an original musical, not based on a movie, play, book or TV show — 17-year-old Luke "walks into his home in a small town in Kansas — which is sort of close to where John grew up, though it's not John's community. Luke walks in through his front door, and he's been missing 11 months."
People "have heard little things about what he's been through, but everyone's afraid to ask him, and he seems a very different person." The show "is about how does this kid find his way again. Everybody wants him to jump back into the life he had. But that's impossible."
The idea for the musical came about because "John and I got really interested in stories of people who have gone missing mysteriously. We're interested in what happened to them when they were gone, if they were abducted, but we're actually more interested in what happens when they come back and their whole family, their friends, their community knows something horrible has happened and knows that they're not going to know the truth, they're only going to know a certain amount. How does that person fit back into society?"
Pierce traces the musical's evolution to their previous collaboration. "I think the idea of mystery interests us both. The Landing was a triptych, made of three-one act musicals. The last piece is called 'The Landing,' and something in there has always intrigued us. There's a much younger boy, and nobody knows exactly what's going on with him. He starts saying strange stuff and seems to have strange kinds of powers.
"I think we're really intrigued by the idea of friends and family members having to be investigators and trying to figure each other out."