The year is 2010, and singer-songwriter Ross Golan is playing his one-man acoustic show The Wrong Man in a friend’s Hollywood Hills living room.
The music, which Golan had been working on sporadically since 2004, tells the story of a man wrongfully accused of murder who is convicted and sentenced to death.
“I've always thought it was weird that people tend not to believe someone who says they’re innocent, and I wanted to tell a story from the perspective of somebody who has to convince the listener that he’s not the one who did it,” Golan tells Playbill.
Long before the Serial podcast and Netflix’s Making a Murder brought the conversation around wrongful convictions into the cultural zeitgeist, Golan played the show in his friend’s living rooms, everywhere from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia.
Now, 15 years since Golan wrote the show’s title track, the underground musical has captured the attention of a much wider audience thanks to first a concept album produced by Grammy-nominated Ricky Reed and now an Off-Broadway staging at MCC Theater.
Hamilton alum Tommy Kail came on board to direct the staging, after bumping into a music industry exec in the subway who was familiar with The Wrong Man.
“When I heard the music I responded to my instinct, which was to go with the music. You have to listen to those things because they don’t happen often,” Kail says.
“It felt like essential storytelling, and used contemporary music, which I really respond to.”
To round out the creative team, Kail called Travis Wall, a two-time Emmy winning choreographer, and fellow Hamilton Tony winner Alex Lacamoire, marking a reunion for the pair.
“Tommy had given me a demo of the score, I listened to the whole thing through and I was on board. I loved the way the story unfolded, I couldn’t wait to hear the next track,” Lacamoire says.
“We have such a long history together, we read each other and it’s a constant faith. If Tommy calls you, you say yes because it's going to be a high quality project no matter what … I get to work with one of my greatest friends in the world.”
The Wrong Man is a sung-through musical, packed with catchy pop ballads, high energy hip-hop numbers and folksy tracks, a reflection of Golan’s songwriting résumé, which features chart-topping collaborations with the likes of Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, and Selena Gomez.
It is also a dance-heavy show, with the seven ensemble members onstage for most of the 90-minute run time, using movement to communicate pivotal plot points
Wall, of So You Think You Can Dance fame, says he knew he was the right person for the job within five minutes of listening to the score.
“This story is heartbreaking and passionate and a lot of it needed to be told through movement to help the audience along the journey,” he tells Playbill.
“[The music] is new, it's fresh, I haven't heard it before. It's something that I felt like I would have a home in, and not feel like I was coming out to New York and just getting plugged into a musical theatre piece.”
Ryan Vasquez, who also participated in the reading, left the company of Hamilton (he is the first and only actor to portray the roles of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, and Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson) to join the project.
“I heard the music about a year ago when Josh and I did a reading of it. Afterwards I was so in love with the score I emailed the whole creative team and said, 'Even if there's a way to sing some oohs on this, anything you need I'll be there,’” Vasquez says.
“Then out of the blue I got the call that we were doing it at MCC. It's cool to create something that's your own, and that's uniquely yours.”
Henry says he was looking for a new musical sound when he came across The Wrong Man.
“I was looking for something new, I didn't want to do another revival,” he says.
“I remember hearing this music for the first time … the melodies are incredible, the emotional journey of the story is so well constructed. It's a very current sound,” he continued.
“The process of working on this show was so incredible, hopefully there's a next time … I mean, [Broadway] is just a couple of streets away.”