Ahrens & Flaherty Talk About Their Ragtime Experience

News   Ahrens & Flaherty Talk About Their Ragtime Experience
In New York Jan. 28 for the announcement of the 1998 Broadway opening date of their new musical, Ragtime, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens spoke to Playbill On-Line about their current and future projects.
Ragtime composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens
Ragtime composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens

Lyricist Lynn Ahrens

* She and Flaherty initially wrote four songs: "Ragtime" (the show opener), "'Till We Reach That Day" (the Act I finale), "Gliding", and a song for Evelyn Nesbit after bedding Mother's Younger Brother. Because the story line was changed (according to composer Flaherty, Nesbit has undergone the most change of all the characters), that last song was dropped. The entire show has taken two years to write.

* Upcoming projects: Anastasia, the animated musical, will be released in November 1997. (That time will be a busy one, with Ragtime, and the annual New York revival of A Christmas Carol, the musical she wrote with Alan Menken.) She is developing a new show with Flaherty along with several other projects, but wouldn't elaborate.

* About the hoopla over the show: "It's amazing. . . It's been quite a journey"

* The show's writers haven't worked on the show since the December 1996 opening. Rewrites are scheduled in February, and changes - just some "tweaks" - will be implemented in March. * The creative team was assembled after "auditions" wherein candidates discussed their ideas and approaches to the material. Part of the purpose for the careful selection process was that novelist E.L. Doctorow, who had been dissatisfied with the movie version, had approval over the stage adaptation.

* Asked about reports that changes in the show were made based on movie industry-style market research, Ahrens stated the reports "got blown out of proportion". No surveys were taken during the first two readings, for instance. Feedback was solicited during the workshop and even during previews, but the information gathered was meant more for marketing purposes, and very little of the show was changed in response to audience surveys.

Composer Stephen Flaherty

* He's online (AOL). While working in Toronto, he would send parts of the Ragtime score to his assistant in New York via his computer.

* Asked whether more rewrites (beyond what he and Ahrens would be doing in February) are planned prior to the June 15 U.S. premiere in Los Angeles, he said, "You never know." With so large a musical and so many characters,the show can go in so many directions. In Toronto, they ran out of time to make changes before the opening. The great thing about live theater, however, is that "you have the opportunity to try new things" to further shape a show.

* Asked about his experience using different musical genres in the show, he declared, "I loved it," explaining that for years he had been looking for a project incorporating American themes and musical idioms.

* While a graduate student at New York University, he spent time working in the Shubert archives in the attic of Broadway's Lyceum Theatre, sorting through the wealth of material stored there, including music from Show Boat composer Jerome Kern's "ragtime period".

* He said the second recording of Ragtime -- the complete original cast album as opposed to the "songs from" album now in release -- "will be very different." The concept recording "was put together so quickly," after the final workshop that there wasn't time to make the recorded score sound just like the upcoming stage incarnation. For for concept album, they wanted to present the songs in their simplest settings, like showing a "rock out of its setting". Some songs were altered significantly for the concept recording, with new endings written, for example.

* Flaherty expressed highest praise and admiration for record producer Jay David Saks, with whom the songwriting team had worked with on the recordings of Once On This Island and My Favorite Year. Although the concept recording was put together very quickly, Saks kept things running smoothly, providing the team with everything they needed.

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