ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty Go "Back to Before"

By Seth Rudetsky
02 Apr 2013

Stephen Flaherty
Photo by Matthew Blank
Lynn spent most of the ‘70’s in an advertising firm and used to bring her guitar to work (!) and would sing and play in her office during her lunch hour. One of the account execs asked her if she wanted to work on one of their new projects called "Schoolhouse Rock." She said yes and thus became a permanent part of my childhood and many others! She wrote music and lyrics to “Interjections,” “Nouns” and wrote AND sang such classics as “Interplanet Janet” and “The Preamble!” Remember? “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…” Watch! She’s slightly mortified/proud of rhyming the word “the” with the last syllable of “America” in the Preamble (For the…United States of America). Stephen pointed out she did the same thing in Ragtime: “Bringing the nation a new syncopation the people called it ragtime.” Brava recycling!

Stephen remembers the specific date he moved to New York (Sept. 15, 1982) and, years later, he discovered that was the exact same date that Marin Mazzie arrived in the city. To this day, they always call each other on that day and wish each other a happy New York anniversary! Lynn and Stephen met at the Lehman Engel BMI Musical Theater Workshop in 1983, and their first big New York show was the Off-Broadway Lucky Stiff, which gave us the stalwart audition song “Times Like This,” which most people call “The Dog Song” (It’s times like this, a girl could use…a dog). Adorable! Most people don’t know, but the original singer of that song was…Julie White! People know her as a comedienne, but she’s also a sassy singer. Julie also told me one of my favorite first-date lines she said to the guy she married when she first met him. They were at a BBQ and began talking. She was older than him, and he looked at her and said, “What are you…like 30?” She told him that she said yes because “at the time I was 35, which is ‘like 30’.” Brava!

Anyhoo, Lynn discovered the story that their musical Once On This Island is based on. They approached the author for the rights and had to present the material to her for final approval. Lynn’s description of that experience is hilarious because first they had to disguise how they were going to end the show. Lynn says the book concludes with something like “And then a large storm engulfs the island and Ti Moune’s dead body is put on the side of the road for the garbage collectors.” Stephen then added, “The End.” What a fun musical! Lynn wrote an outline for approval and mysteriously ended it with “And at the end of the play, the Gods bless Ti Moune.” AKA, she kept it vague. Then they presented four songs to the author. Lynn remembers that after the songs were sung there was an extremely long silence. Finally, after the tortuous nothingness filled the air, the author intoned, incredibly slowly, “Well…..that….was……wonderful.” Why make it so terrifying? And, back to the ending of the piece (spoiler alert), if you don’t know, after Ti Moune’s love marries another girl, she dies and one of the gods transforms her into a tree. I bought my sister Nancy tickets to see the show (20 years ago), and she was traumatized by the ending. PS, she is still mad at me that I didn’t “warn her.” To this day, whenever I take her to a show she’ll glare and ask, “Does anyone turn into a tree?”