Fat Men in Skirts, Free Will & Wanton Lust, Raised in Captivity, My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine. What would Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart say if they discovered that the author of these plays, Nicky Silver, had written the new book for their classic musical comedy, The Boys from Syracuse? Well, we know, at least, that the revamping of the old George Abbott book received a stamp of approval from the estate of the two songwriters. Silver, the man behind some of the most neurotic and sharp-tongued urban comedies of the past decade, began his involvement with the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Syracuse back in 1999. In July, the show finally began previews at the American Airlines Theatre and musical audiences got a taste of Silver's bawdy, acerbic, self-referential humor. A few days before the show's official opening the motor-mouthed playwright talked to Playbill On-Line's Robert Simonson about the experience, his first job in the musical theatre.
Playbill On-Line: At any point in the last couple years, did you ever stop and ask yourself, "What is Nicky Silver doing working on a Rodgers and Hart musical?"
Nicky Silver: Nope! [Laughs] Having never worked on a musical, when I was asked I thought, that will be fun. I didn't think of it in terms of, oh, Rodgers and Hart are history and I'm inappropriate. I just thought, this will be a fun project.
PBOL: Who asked you exactly?
NS: The Roundabout Theatre Company and [director] Scott Ellis. The Rodgers and Hart [people] have been to the show a few times and they were pleased, and also Joy Abbott. So, I didn't have to question if I was the right choice. I'm sure I will be told if I was the right or wrong choice by the press.
PBOL: So what is your impression of life in the musical theatre on your first try? How does it differ from your usual theatrical experiences?
NS: For the most part, it's a tremendous amount of fun. Some of it was a little frustrating. In the musical theatre, you work on teching a song for three days and look at the scene for five minutes. [Laughs] But I really enjoyed it, frankly. During press week, of course, you're obsessed with what's landing and what's not landing, whether it's a good performance or a bad one. But, that's a very tiny part of the experience. The main experience is putting it together. I would do it again. No one will ever ask me I'm sure, but if they did, I would do it again.
PBOL: No other musical offers at this point?
NS: I've had many musical offers, but mostly they involve coming out of cakes at Rotarian banquets. PBOL: How much of George Abbott is still in the book and how much of you?
NS: Actual text, there are four lines of George Abbott. The structure is ostensibly unchanged, because the structure was from The Comedy of Errors. I basically reduced his book to outline, saw what was keepable and didn't look back.
PBOL: There are a lot of contemporary jokes which are very identifiable as Nicky Silver lines. Were there any that were difficult to get by the Rodgers and Hart estate?
PBOL: Even the one near the end about the Latin teacher "interfering" with Antipholus of Ephesus?
NS: No. And honestly, that wasn't the one I was nervous about. I was nervous about the line: "Not another stinking revival." I never had any questions, complaints or requests from them. There were things that we kept changing all along. But they seemed happy with what we were doing from day one. And the Latin teacher line, that was there three and a half years ago and was not particularly controversial at the time, because we hadn't had the Catholic Church scandals. Then we went back and thought, oh, this line has taken on a whole new meaning. [Laughs]
PBOL: We haven't seen a play from you in a couple years.
NS: I have one coming up. I don't know when and where I'll be doing it. I thought Syracuse would be enough for this season. You saw a lot of plays from me very quickly for a very long time. I thought it was a good idea for me to take a rest for a while. But I do have a play called Past Perfect that will be in next season. I just not sure where. I've talked to the Vineyard Theatre and a couple other theatres.
PBOL: Any other projects you're working on?
NS: My retirement fund. And my will. And my obituary. I finished my obituary last night.
PBOL: When will that appear?
NS: That will appear the day after tomorrow!
PBOL: I thought newspapers generally wrote obituaries themselves.
NS: Oh, no, no! You can actually e-mail your own obituary and they'll run it at the appropriate juncture.
—By Robert Simonson