Q&A With Henry Krieger: After a Year of Freaks and Chickens, Everything's Ducky

Q&A With Henry Krieger: After a Year of Freaks and Chickens, Everything's Ducky It's been an interesting year for composer Henry Krieger. Side Show, his Broadway musical about Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, inspired fierce advocacy from fans and some critics, but anemic box office. After failing to draw a large enough audience, the show closed after three months. It did not, however, die. No sooner had Side Show gone dark but there were reports that it would reopen, then reports those reports were false. By the time the musical received four Tony nominations, it had grown into the season's most celebrated martyr.
Side Show composer Henry Krieger
Side Show composer Henry Krieger

It's been an interesting year for composer Henry Krieger. Side Show, his Broadway musical about Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, inspired fierce advocacy from fans and some critics, but anemic box office. After failing to draw a large enough audience, the show closed after three months. It did not, however, die. No sooner had Side Show gone dark but there were reports that it would reopen, then reports those reports were false. By the time the musical received four Tony nominations, it had grown into the season's most celebrated martyr.

Krieger resurfaced in June 1998 in the New York Theatre Workshop's production of Love's Fowl, written by him in collaboration with puppeteer and librettist Susan J. Vitucci. The project could hardly stand in greater contrast to Side Show. The low-key, minimalist "puppet opera" relates, in 60 minutes, the little-known loves and adventures of Chicken Little. The show is sung in Italian with supertitles and enacted by a series of clothes-pin puppets whose images are magnified on two screens. Vitucci and Krieger sing all the roles.

Playbill On-Line asked Krieger about his year of chickens and freaks, as well as the ducklings and dreamgirls that lie ahead.

Playbill On-Line: Why did you choose Love's Fowl for your first project after Side Show?

Henry Krieger: Well, it wasn't like I said `Oh, I'll do this now.' You're always working on many projects concurrently. Right now I'm writing a new piece with my writing partner from Side Show, Bill Russell. It's based on the story of the Ugly Duckling, so right now I'm immersed in fairy tales. It will be like a big family cartoon show. PBOL: Will it be on a similar scale to Love's Fowl?

HK: It will be much bigger. Everything's Ducky, it's called. It will be a small Off-Broadway house show. It's about the adventures of someone who's shunned as ugly, and it will address universal questions such as `What is true beauty?,' `What is love?,' `What is life for?'.

PBOL: What was the inspiration behind Love's Fowl?

HK: I had gone to see Susan Vitucci at the West Bank Cafe four or five years ago. And I was charmed and intrigued by what she was doing. I asked her about making [her puppets] sing. The next thing we knew we were writing songs and she was thinking up new scenes for the chicken. We call it "Our Chicken Show," which is what it is.

PBOL: Do you enjoy performing?

HK: I love to perform. I'm a real ham, as you must have noticed. I've been performing off and on since high school. I may do it again soon. This has whet my appetite. New York Theatre Workshop's Artistic Director Jim Nicola asked me if I'd do an evening of songs from my collection. It was a very nice offer. We'll see.

PBOL: Side Show will soon be done this October in California. Do you plan to do any revisions for the production?

HK: No. That's strictly a licensing situation where they take what we did and do it. The next revisions we do will be for the London production. That may happen a year from this fall. We're now deep in consultation with various English producers.

PBOL: What sort of revisions would you make?

HK: Possibly work on the top of Act Two; make it a little smoother.

PBOL: Is there any possibility of a Side Show tour?

HK: I think what we'd like to do is have a successful British experience, then maybe have a national tour, and finally bring the show back to Broadway. It may take three years to finally realize that goal. Perhaps Broadway audiences were just not ready for Side Show this time around, what with the nature of the subject matter.

PBOL: The drama this spring about whether Side Show would return or not was remarkable. What was really happening behind the scenes?

HK: One thing I won't discuss is what happened behind the scenes.

PBOL: Was there really a chance of a remounting?

HK: Absolutely.

PBOL: What is happening with the planned revival of Dreamgirls?

HK: We're going to recast it and we're taking that to London also. That could happen as soon as the end of this year. I think as an art enterprise, the fact that it's never been to London will be good the show and for the British public. So we'll be hitting the London scene on two fronts.

PBOL: A lot of time passed before you presented Side Show. Does it take you a long time to conceive a musical?

HK: Sure it does. You hit and miss a million, trillion times. What you end up with is probably five times as much product as you need for the show. There are a lot of out-takes. Also, you must live with the characters and develop them. I don't mean to say what everybody else says, but that's really the way it is. It's such an organic process.

PBOL: Will it be a long time before we see Everything's Ducky?

HK: No. That's going along lickety-split. I'm going to do some work on it today. We've enlisted Gip Hoppe from Jackie as director and David Gallo, that show's set designer.

-- By Robert Simonson