Tales from The O'Neill: Composer-in-Residence Samuel Willmott Talks Musicals, Glenn Close and Disney

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01 Jul 2013

Sam Willmott
Sam Willmott
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Samuel Willmott, composer-in-residence at the Eugene O'Neill Music Theater Conference talks with Playbill about his recent work and a new project that will be shared soon.

Willmott has Disney and Dahl on his mind. The 26-year-old works in an empty room on the campus, creating new music for an upcoming project that he has yet to unveil.

A New York-based composer, lyricist and librettist, Willmott resembles a Quentin Blake illustration. He's tall, blonde and full of a nervous energy that also crackles through his work, which includes Standardized Testing - The Musical!!!!, Yo, Vikings! and the mini-musicals Scarlet Takes a Tumble and Shotgun Wedding.

Sam sat down with Playbill.com to talk about what makes him tick, his love for Glenn Close and how he walked out of "Oliver & Company" when he was a toddler.

Question: How did you end up at the O'Neill?



Samuel Willmott: I applied and was asked to join.

Question: You've been here before.

Willmott: I have, I was here in 2009 as a music theatre fellow, which is a very polite way of saying intern or not even polite, but looks much better on your resume. I was here to work on two projects in 2009: Picnics and Hanging Rock.

Question: What was the last book that you read?

Willmott:The last book that I read was, "The Lost City of Z."

Question: Who is it by? What is it about?

Willmott: It is about people who go into the Amazon to look for El Dorado to no avail, and most of them died these horrific deaths. There was one last guy named Percy Fawcett who ventured into the Amazon with his son and his son's best friend and he never came out again. He was one of the last great explorers and searching for him became the new El Dorado. Technology invalidated the hunt for El Dorado. The book tracks the search for Percy Fawcett.

Question: What is your professional final frontier?

Willmott: If I could write a musical that had the heart of "Slings and Arrows" and starred Glenn Close and had music that was one-eighth as genius as Carousel, then we would be on track.

Question: At a dinner party, who would be your three dream guests?

Willmott: Roald Dahl, Glenn Close and Howard Ashman! Jim Lassiter!

Question: You only had three people.

Willmott: I don't do small parties because then I think of all the people I could be inviting, and I get excited. So tell Jim Lassiter he can also come!

Question: If you were not writing musicals, what would you do?

Willmott: I would be a Walt Disney Imagineer. I would design Disney parks and I would still do that…I have many lives to lead.

Question: What was the first musical you ever watched?

Willmott: Guys and Dolls, with Nathan Lane and Faith Prince, and there is no other way to watch it.  I was seven and a half and had gone with my grandfather.

Question: The first Disney movie you ever watched?

Willmott: It was "Oliver & Company" and it was the first movie I ever walked out of as well. I was two and a half years old and I just turned to my mother after about half and hour in, and I was like, “Let's go!”

Question: What are the highlights of your adventure?

Willmott: It started at the O'Neill. When I was still in college I got an award from the Kennedy Center and part of the award was that I got to come here. I met Anne [G. Morgan], who is now the literary manager, as well as my music director/orchestrator Matt, and a host of other people I cherish very deeply. It was the first chance I got to feel that I was really doing this.

Question: What is your upcoming project?

Willmott: I have been developing a musical that I have been lucky enough to be in development through a residency I had at Goodspeed (the Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Colony) and through the ASCAP workshop and now at the O'Neill. I am very excited about sharing it publicly soon.

Single tickets to the Music Theatre Conference performances are now on sale to the general public. They can be purchased by calling (860) 443-1238 or visiting theoneill.org.

The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center was founded in 1964 and is based in Waterford, CT. Programs at the Center include the Puppetry Conference, Playwrights Conference, Critics Institute, Music Theater Conference and the National Theater Institute. The Monte Cristo Cottage, O'Neill's childhood home, is also owned and operated by the group.