James Lapine is collaborating with Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Michael Korie (Grey Gardens) on a new musical titled Flying Over Sunset, about experiments with the drug LSD in the Hollywood of the late 1950s.
Discovered in 1938 Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), also known as “acid,” was used to treat mental illness and to expand consciousness before it was adopted by the counterculture for its psychedelic effects and outlawed in 1968.
All three of the creative team are Tony Award winners; Lapine and Kitt are also Pulitzer Prize winners. Lapine, who wrote librettos for the Stephen Sondheim musicals Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park With George and Passion, is writing the libretto and directing. Kitt is composing the score, with Korie handling lyrics.
“It was a very different attitude towards LSD in the ‘50s and the ‘60s,” Lapine told Playbill.com.
“It went to being a recreational drug [but] really in the ‘50s it was looked at more as a psychological tool…. It was taken seriously, in a way, and people did it to some degree with serious intent to explore their subconscious and find out who they were.”
Lapine said the show has “four central characters. It’s Aldous Huxley [The Doors of Perception]; it’s Clare Boothe Luce, very conservative Republican congresswoman and ambassador [and author of The Women]; Cary Grant, the actor; and then a writer named Gerald Heard [The World's Religions], who a lot of people probably won’t be familiar with.”
Flying Over Sunset had a reading in summer 2015 as part of the Vineyard Arts Project with Christine Ebersole as Luce and a cast that included Boyd Gaines, Julia Murney, Tam Mutu and David Turner. Lapine said there are plans for a full workshop this coming summer. “I’m enjoying this a lot, and I’m very anxious to get it out, because visually, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun.”
However, he said there is not yet a commitment for a full production. “We need really exceptional actors to pull this one together.”
Asked if he had a long line of actors who wanted to play the handsome and charismatic Cary Grant, he said, “That’s a short line,” but did not share names. This project is not connected with another musical about Cary Grant being planned.
As for his collaborators, Lapine said, “It was kind of also fun putting them [Kitt and Korie] together. They’d never worked together, so it seems like a really fun collaboration. [Kitt] is so talented and so versatile. This is a very different kind of writing than you’ll have heard from him. You know, he has a real pop sensibility but…he’s classically trained and this is a very different kind of writing style for him, which I think will be cool.”
Early in the process, Lapine said, they had planned to have the characters sing only when they were under the influence of the drug, but they abandoned that idea as too constricting. “That was my idea. It’s a nice concept, but you know, conceits are very dangerous in the theatre…. You get too conceptual about things, it can really limit your work.”
He said, “I would say the music changes dramatically when they are under the influence.”
What made him pick this subject? “I just do what interests me, and this interests me.”
Lapine also wrote the screenplay for the 2014 film of Into the Woods. His latest movie, Custody, premieres April 17 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. This week was supposed to be the first preview of Barbara Cook’s one-woman Off-Broadway concert show, for which Lapine wrote the script. The project fell through when Cook, who had just recently finished her autobiography, was unable to meet the planned production timetable.