PLAYBILL.COM's BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jeff Whitty

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM's BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jeff Whitty
 
Six years ago, few theatregoers had ever heard of playwright Jeff Whitty.
Jeff Whitty
Jeff Whitty

Or composers Jeff Marx and Bobby Lopez, for that matter. Or director Jason Moore, and actors Stephanie D'Abruzzo and John Tartaglia. Now, the show that put all those artists on the Broadway map, and won them Tony Award nominations, Avenue Q, is closing. It will end a lengthy stay no theatre prognosticator would have predicted — more than six years — on Sept. 13. Whitty, who, along with Marx and Lopez, won the 2004 Tony he was nominated for, talked to Playbill.com about his musical past and musical future.

Playbill.com: What was your honest response when you heard Avenue Q was finally closing?
Jeff Whitty: It's hard to complain about something that's run for six years. It's a little wistful, sure, but it's run so much longer than any of us would have imagined.

Playbill.com: When it first opened on Broadway, how long did you imagine it would run.
JW: Well, I had no experience having a Broadway show. About one year, I thought.

Playbill.com: And when the show won the Tony Award for Best Musical, did you adjust that estimate?
JW: Maybe two years. (Laughs)

Playbill.com: Do you think you'll change that final line — "George Bush is only for now!" — for the last show?
JW: There might be one last adjustment of that line. Playbill.com: It's kind of funny. The producers went through all that bother to hold a contest for a new last line, to be installed after Bush left office. And then, in the end, you ended up leaving the line in.
JW: One thing you find out is, the people in the audience don't lie. We tried all sorts of ways. But the audience doesn't lie. And the lines are ultimately there to serve the audience.

Playbill.com: And nothing's as funny as George W. Bush, I guess.
JW: Apparently, yeah.

Playbill.com: Since Avenue Q debuted, we haven't seen any new shows by your composing partners, Jeff Marx and Bobby Lopez, or heard of any new shows coming up. My impression is, we shouldn't expect a new work from them anytime soon. Is that your impression?
JW: I know Bobby has some projects coming down. I don't know what will happen with the Marx-Lopez partnership. I'm not sure.

Playbill.com: But they haven't reached out to you about any project they'd like to work on with you.
JW: No, but I'd love to work with either one of one in the future. We had our problems when creating the show, but, oh my God, that was eight years ago.

Playbill.com: You recently had a workshop of your new musical Tales of the City at the O'Neill Center.
JW: It went wonderfully. It was so great. I compare writing a musical to sculpting in the dark. You do the best you can while working in the dark, and doing any kind of workshop lets you turn on the light and see where you are. We've been working on it for three years and never had any real rehearsed reading. It was a terrific chance for us to finally get the thing out there and see it in its entirety. It changed pretty radically over the course of the two weeks, and there's still a lot of work to do. I feel, by the last performance, we got a really strong foundation and a structure to build on.

Playbill.com: Is there a production on the horizon?
JW: There is. It's so hard. I was asking my agent what I can talk about. There's nothing to formally announce. We haven't crossed the t's and dotted the i's. Gosh, how do I put it? In the upcoming year, it's found its home and it's the right place for it to begin its journey.

Playbill.com: Given the setting of the material, that would seem to sound like San Francisco to me.
JW: (Laughs) We're all excited.

Playbill.com: Are you working on any other projects?
JW: I'm working on a couple musicals, and a couple screen projects.

Playbill.com: Can you say what the musicals are?
JW: One is a version of "Bring It On," that series of movies. For me, doing a musical about cheerleaders has always been a no-brainer. I've got a really terrific creative team that I can't announce yet, but they're really talented.

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