STAGE TO SCREENS: Songwriters Scott Frankel and Michael Korie Conjure the Passion of "Far From Heaven"

By Christopher Wallenberg
20 Jul 2012

Steven Pasquale stars in the musical at Williamstown
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

How did you approach writing the music in the show? What does the score sound like?
SF: Part of the reason we also stopped looking at the film is because the movie has this magnificent Elmer Bernstein soundtrack. The score is superb. He was nominated for an Oscar for it, and it was one of the very last pieces that he scored before he died. He should have won the Oscar for it. And it really harkened back to work that he did early in his career in Hollywood. But it's very sweeping and crashing, and there are cymbal rolls, and it's very big and dramatic. I loved it. But I knew that I had to get that out of my ear. However, I did want to keep the bigness of it. I wasn't afraid to be big and to go there. I thought, you know, that's the emotional terrain and topography that those characters are feeling, particularly since so much of [their feelings] are not expressed verbally, so a lot of that passion and the anger and pain is in that music.

But also, I thought, you know, it's 1957. [So] there's one number where I have a kind of Dave Brubeck-Take 5 feeling. There's another thing that sounds a little bit in a West Side Story vein, which was also 1957. There's another song that almost references a Latin-Dean Martin-crooner kind of vibe of that period. There's something that wouldn't sound totally out-of-place in The Pajama Game. It's really eclectic. Then there's very soaring, lyrical stuff, particularly for Kelli and Raymond Deagan, the African-American gardener.

What's your songwriting approach like? Do you start with music or lyrics first?
MK: It's interesting because the lyrics came after the music in this show. Usually we do a back-and-forth thing, or lyrics set an idea and Scott comes up with music, and it goes back-and-forth. But I was sick for the writing of most of this show. I had prostate cancer. And Scott couldn't wait — or we would've been put behind. So he started writing the music. And I responded to the music and wrote words after. I didn't have to jump through hoops. I just really sort of had to take his emotional impulse and follow that. And I think the music really leads us through this show. I think Richard Greenberg respected that, too.

SF: There is a lot of contrast, and it does turn on a dime. When he comes home from the police station, the music is angry and jagged. Then there's lyrical stuff. There's funny stuff. There's big ballads. There's a song at the end of the first act called "The Only One," when he takes her to the bar, and she's the only white person there, it's almost like a rockabilly waltz. I didn't set out to do it this way, but everything that I loved about American popular music from the 1950s to the present kind of went into the Cuisinart of my head and kind of just came out [the other side]. There's a lot of contrast. I like pieces that have big highs and big lows, that aren't all one color. The show has a wide emotional bandwidth.

MK: Scott is very smart about telling a story through music. Every show has to have a certain amount of eclecticism. Operas are written like steadily going up a roller coaster, and the curtain comes down when it hits the top. But musicals, I think, are like an electro-cardiogram — coming down and going up.

Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore in the film
photo by Focus Features

What aspects of the narrative or the characters did you want to flesh out a little bit more from the film as you transferred the story to the stage?
SF: The screenplay is so well-structured, we didn't have to invent a lot of things. That said, you know, as the film goes on, as her relationship with Raymond Deagan, there are these kind of social commentary moments of [about] racism in Hartford and in Miami and the thematic social racism and her relationship with him. Then they kind of intersect, and then they explode together. And she can no longer separate her feelings for this black man with everyone else's feelings about black people.

So for instance, in the film, there's a scene where they're in Miami, and a little black kid, the son of a waiter, dips his foot into the pool. And then [the hotel management] has to drain the pool. He just put his foot in for a second, but then they cut back later, and they show them draining, cleaning, and scrubbing the pool. But we can't have a giant swimming pool on stage. So Richard has come up with equivalent moments that show how the racism [in society] and her relationship with Raymond inexorably collide.

Because of her relationship with him, she's forced to not look at racism in the abstract, but in the context of her relationship with Raymond.

MF: I would also say that the character of Raymond Deagan has changed a bit. In the movie, he was kind of a "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"-Sidney Poitier noble character. Not perhaps that sexy. More of a father dealing with his own daughter, and they related to each other maybe through parental issues and respect. Now he's younger, and I think there's more chemistry between them, which I like.

SF: Yes, Dennis Haysbert, who's fantastic in the film, is the noblest, most perfect gentleman. He's strong and kind of a little stoic and is there for her. For the musical adaptation, there's a little more frisson between them. They're soul-mates, but there's also a sexual chemistry there. It's not just this "you understand me" connection.