Adam Quinn and Jared Goldsmith first met at theatre camp in the Catskills 13 years ago. And while the two instantly clicked and have continued to cultivate their friendship, it seems theatre may benefit from the collaborations of these two talents. Quinn currently serves as one of three associate directors on the Tony-winning smash Dear Evan Hansen and Goldsmith is about to embark on the first national tour of the musical by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul; Quinn and Goldsmith will meet in the rehearsal room at the end of this month.
But outside of the world of Evan Hansen, Quinn and Goldsmith have been writing an original musical of their own. MAZKAPAN: A New Magical Musical receives its first public presentation August 19 at New York City’s The Green Room 42.
Featuring Ryan Vasquez (Hamilton) as Ralph, Jared Goldsmith (Dear Evan Hansen) as Harry, Olivia Puckett (Dear Evan Hansen) as Mazy, Nora Schell (Jagged Little Pill, Spamilton) as The Mayor and Ari Axelrod as The Minister, as well as Aaron Michael Ray (Come From Away), Mia Fitzgibbon (Gentleman’s Guide...), Matt Rodin, Nicole Prothro, Cameron Mullin, and Megan Flynn, the story follows two best friends who set out on a road trip and wind up in the fantastical land of Mazkapan, home to a population of singing and dancing puppets. Thinking the pair hold Messianic powers, the town welcomes the pair, but The Minister of Mazkapan has suspicions and is set to prove the two aren’t who they say they are.
Playbill caught up with the writers to learn more about the new musical, why it’s not just another road trip, and what comes next.
How long have you and Jared been writing together, in general?
Adam Quinn: Jared and I first met at Stagedoor Manor in 2005. We became immediate friends and our first “project” began that summer; an animated television show (with a lot of similarities to Family Guy) created in our writing class. Over the years, we wrote songs, medleys and other bits that we would perform at the camper showcase. I don’t think either of us imagined we’d actually ever end up writing a musical together.
Jared Goldsmith: But, we remained best friends for the past 13 years, so, when both of us realized we had dreams of writing, we couldn’t think of a better partner to collaborate with.
How long have you been working on MAZKAPAN?
JG: Adam first spoke to me about an idea he was having for a musical movie about seven years ago. There were some rough ideas about a drought and puppets.
AQ: I was desperate to write a movie musical but the ideas never really came together to create a cohesive story.
JG: We talked about the idea for years. There were countless outlines written that didn’t really pan out.
AQ: We were constantly getting the advice to “write what we know” and we thought: well, we know what it’s like to have a best friend who you love as much as a brother. And that became the seed of the idea that turned into MAZKAPAN.
JG: So, we’ve been writing what is now known as MAZKAPAN: A New Magical Musical for about two years.
Where did the idea first come from?
JG: We began a new journey: one that involved two best friends finding themselves stuck in a magical town for the weekend.
AQ: But then questions started to come up: Why were they stuck? Why did the town need them? What happened over the weekend? With Jared still at Elon University and me having just moved to NYC, our conversations were mostly over FaceTime. We’d get distracted, make each other laugh and slowly but surely the plot of MAZKAPAN began to form.
JG: People are always amused by the fact that we’ve never gotten in a fight. And as every good musical begins with a conflict, we knew that we’d have to have our two characters have a disagreement. Something that sparked an adventure.
So many stories start out with a road trip conceit. What makes a road trip such ripe fodder for storytelling? What sets your road trip story apart from others?
AQ: I think that road trips are a launching point. They are a clear beginning and most have a clear end. I think it allows writers to frame their story within an adventure.
JG: We also knew that Ralph and Harry would have to stumble upon the town of Mazkapan and so we investigated how we could take the duo out of their comfort zone to allow them to find the town.
AQ: The road trip idea allowed us to go on a journey with these two that was new. In the car ride that takes place in the show, a fight ensues and that fight is, in a lot of ways, what causes Ralph and Harry to find Mazkapan.
JG: What sets ours apart from others is that our seemingly normal road trip turns into a hilarious and magical adventure in the city of Mazkapan, populated entirely by dancing and singing puppets.
Were the citizens of Mazkapan always intended to be puppets, or did that evolve?
JG: Absolutely! We both have loved the work of Jim Henson for as long as we can remember. It was something that bonded us way back in 2005.
AQ: I’ve always been passionate about the art of puppetry and have wondered if you could achieve “Sesame Street-style” puppets onstage, where the magic of the characters elevates the spectacular nature of the town.
Are Ralph and Harry modeled after you and Jared?
JG: You could definitely say so.
AQ: We like to think that they are exaggerated versions of ourselves.
JG: And then, how these exaggerated selves would respond to this ridiculous situation.
How do you describe the sound and style of MAZKAPAN?
JG: We like to describe our sound as Earth, Wind & Fire meets the Broadway musical.
AQ: We’ve grown up around the musical comedy but we also have been influenced by a lot of R&B artists. We knew we didn’t want to write contemporary musical theatre so we’ve tried to develop our own sound that lends itself to a contemporary audience but also would delight a fan of musical theatre with its homages to Broadway tropes. We’re very influenced by Henry Krieger, Stevie Wonder, Seth MacFarlane, Chance the Rapper, and Alan Menken.
What was the first song you wrote for the show?
JG: The first song we wrote was “Welcome to Mazkapan.” We knew that we needed to find the voice of the town early on in the writing process.
AQ: That song is the tune that has gone through the most rewrites. For a long time, I’d throw my hands up and say, “I hate this song. It’s terrible.”
JG: But, about a month ago, we cracked the song and we’re feeling really confident about how it introduces us to the town.
What is the song you most look forward to — and would be the most heart-wrenching to cut if you had to?
AQ: We both love “You’re the Biggest Fool.” It's a number between The Mayor and The Minister that pays a lot of homage to Kander and Ebb and every classic confrontation.
JG: I would really hate to cut any of the songs from our current score but, over the past two years, we’ve learned that rewrites happen and the show is always better for it. Cutting “When I See Rainbows” would be heart-wrenching, since it’s always such an uplifting and positive moment for our characters.
Aside from Ralph and Harry, which character in the show do you each identify most with? Who is the most difficult for you to relate to, and how did that manifest as a challenge in your writing?
JG: We definitely identify with The Minister and The Mayor.
AQ: In a lot of ways, they are the old married couple in us.
JG: I think our biggest challenge has been writing Mazy. We knew she needed to be a strong female voice in the musical and we wanted to make sure we honored that.
AQ: A lot of our rewrite process has been about strengthening her material so that the show doesn’t just rely on Ralph and Harry.
What is your advice for other aspiring theatre writers like yourselves?
JG: Write what you know and never force inspiration!
AQ: Write with people you love being around and creativity is bound to flow.