Andrea Martin, Marin Mazzie, Brian Stokes Mitchell and More Pay Tribute to Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's 30 Years of Collaboration
By Adam Hetrick
Tony Award winners Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who created such works as Ragtime, Once On This Island and the upcoming Broadway musical Rocky, are celebrating 30 years of musical collaboration with a six-performance concert engagement beginning Sept. 26 at 54 Below.
Billed as Nice Fighting You: A 30th Anniversary Celebration, the concerts are populated by special guests from Ahrens and Flaherty's three decades of collaboration. Lyricist Ahrens and composer Flaherty will be joined by actors who appeared in their productions of Lucky Stiff, Ragtime, Once On This Island, A Man of No Importance, Seussical and their animated film "Anastasia."
To mark the special event, which continues through Sept. 28, Playbill.com reached out to veterans of their shows, who shared words and special memories from their experiences working with the Tony-winning duo.
Click through to read them all.
Liz Callaway ("Anastasia" 1997)
I remember the first time I heard "Journey to the Past." We had just finished a 12-hour recording session for "Anastasia," and Steve and Lynn said, "Do you want to hear your new song?" Stephen sat down at the piano and played it for me. I got incredibly excited when I heard it. It felt like they had written it just for me. I was pretty tired, but I sight-read it on the spot and we made a demo of it right then and there for the producers. Was a pretty special day (and night!).
Kevin Chamberlin (My Favorite Year 1992/Seussical 2000)
I am profoundly and eternally grateful to Steve and Lynn. They're responsible for many significant firsts in my career. They cast me in my first Broadway show – in the chorus of My Favorite Year - which, subsequently, was my first Broadway original cast album. Five years later, they gave me my first starring role in a Broadway musical - Horton the Elephant in Seussical. Last year, I made my Carnegie Hall debut, singing "Alone in the Universe" from Seussical with the NY Pops. I wouldn't be where I am without them. Their music is a gift to actors. It comes from their hearts, which in turn - touches ours.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Seussical 2000)
Ahrens and Flaherty's music was the soundtrack of my childhood. A moment I remember in particular was when we were rehearsing for the backer's audition of Seussical. There was a song they'd written called "Alone in the Universe." I had learned a verse and Kevin Chamberlin (Horton) had learned another verse. I remember Lynn and Steve bringing us into the lobby of the Richard Rodgers Theatre and telling us that they'd written a little scene and duet portion for the end of the song. They quickly taught it to Kevin and me, and I'll never forget the first time we read the lines "When you think, do you think you could fly to the stars?/Little friend, no one else could have thinks such as ours!" The music swelled and these two lonely characters began to sing together, now in harmony. It was one of the most tingly moments I've ever experienced, and to this day it remains my favorite Ahrens and Flaherty song.
Janine LaManna (Ragtime 1998, Seussical 2000)
Kevin Chamberlin [Horton] plays piano, so during Seussical rehearsals they gave us the music for "Notice Me Horton" and we went to a rehearsal room just to have an early crack at it. They hadn't solidified the bridge to the song yet, and I have a kind of sensibility that leans toward Celine Dion, so when we got to the bridge that goes, "I was just a no one only yesterday," I felt like, "Oh yeah, there's a nice slow R&B groove here." Then Steve and Lynn came in, and we started to sing it, and Steve said, "No you're singing it in half time, it's a lot faster than that." But we ended up talking them into doing it the way we accidentally rehearsed it with that big beautiful bridge that kinds of slows down. So, kind of in our mucking it up, we stumbled into something really cool. [Laughs.]
I also want to say that Seussical may have had a troubled Broadway life, but it's now the most-produced kids show in the U.S. Kids gravitate to that material. It's so right for them. It's mature, but yet it's fantastical. The characters are relatable. They just did it with kids from the Newtown, CT-area, and the healing power of that show is incredible. And it's not just that situation, that energy happens everywhere Seussical is produced. You can only imagine what those of us who helped create it got out of it, but children get so much more. I go to see productions when I can, and it has really taken on a life of its own. I think that is a true testament to Lynn and Steve's magic. It's just innate in their personalities. They're such loving human beings and they're so giving, and that comes out in their writing. Who wouldn't love to sing their songs and play their characters? It makes your job easy as an actor.
Andrea Martin (My Favorite Year 1992)
I will forever be indebted to Lynn and Stephen for launching my Broadway career in My Favorite Year in 1991. I again had an opportunity to work with them, sit in a room, laugh with them, and sing their inspired songs in the workshop of Seussical in Toronto. I adore them. I have performed in two of their animated movies and would follow them anywhere. They are a wise, klnd, funny, glorious, brilliant musical duo. They are a character actress' dream. They tell stories better than anyone, and they do it with abundant heart. They can't help be great because they are two of the most soulful creators Broadway has ever known. Legends in my book. My life is richer for working with them.
Marin Mazzie (Ragtime 1998)
When I first read the script to Ragtime, I was immediately taken with the piece and knew I had to be a part of it. When I heard "Back To Before," which I had to sing for the audition, I knew it even more. Thankfully I got the role of Mother, and embarked on an amazing journey of over two years with the show. To this day Ragtime remains close to my heart for many reasons, one of the main ones being the extraordinary score that Lynn and Stephen wrote. To me, a perfect song is one that continues to grow, change and inspire every time you sing it. I have performed "Back to Before" literally hundreds of times and it still astonishes me that when I sing it in concert or for a benefit, it takes on new meaning every time and touches me so very deeply. It is truly transcendent. I am so lucky to have Lynn and Stephen in my life, and here's to at least 30 more years of collaborative genius!
Brian Stokes Mitchell (Ragtime 1998)
To this day, Ragtime is the most magical experience I ever had in the theatre. It felt as if all of us who dreamt of being actors, writers, and creators somehow were destined to get together and do something special - and we ended up in the same room. The first song I sang was "Wheels of a Dream," before I was formally cast.
I remember the first workshop. We all sat down around a gigantic table, and when the reading started, the first thing you heard was Stephen's Ragtime theme, and the Little Boy talking – it never changed from day one. The second that music started, something huge and wonderful, magical descended on the room and it never left for the entire time the production was on. That's the power of Lynn and Steve and their music.
Christiane Noll (Ragtime 2009)
First of all, I would like to say how incredibly supportive Lynn and Stephen have been to me over the years! They have attended other shows I have been a part of, including my own evening at 54 Below. If they have not been able to come, they write and tell me where they are. Kind, courteous, respectful. They are truly generous of their gifts and there support! Working with them on Ragtime still remains my best theatrical memory to date!
The biggest giggle I still get, when I think of it, was how patient they both were when I was learning their gorgeously passionate score! I tend to have the unfortunate bad habit of back phrasing from time to time, something that I have since realized does not help in that particular show. They repeatedly handled my "re-training" with humor and a wry wit! They bring a light and joy to every room they are a part of and every success they gain is earned and deserved! My favorite show of all time is Once On this Island. It still make me cry the ugly cry just as badly now as it did when I first saw the show on Broadway. The most excited fan-girl behavior I've ever displayed was when they asked me to sing back up in "Mama Will Provide" for a 92Y performance. I couldn't stop jumping around. I thank them for the opportunities they have offered me, the beautiful music they have entrusted to me and the joyous spirit that they have shared with me.
Michelle Pawk (Seussical 2000)
I was pregnant with my son, Jack, as we were workshopping Seussical, and gave birth conveniently so that I could do the play. Being a new and exhausted mother, Lynn and Steve were kind enough to invite us both to rehearsals. So there I was carrying my son in his baby sling while joyously romping around stage. I will always be indebted to them for that. Well, that, and their genius. Their generosity of spirit is infectious and resonates in everything they create. I love them dearly.
Bobby Steggert (Ragtime 2009)
I will never forget performing the opening number of Ragtime at our closing performance in January 2010. There was, literally, a two-minute ovation that grew and grew and seemed to be, not only a salute to a show that was closing too early, but a knowing celebration of Lynn and Steve's genius work. To me, it is the best opening number in musical theatre history, and it was never less than a thrill to start the show with it.
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