This month we caught up with the team from 2016 Festival show Benny & Joon: lyricist Mindi Dickstein, composer Nolan Gasser and librettist Kirsten Guenther. This September Benny & Joon will have its world premiere at NAMT member The Old Globe. We talked with the team about what’s been happening with the show since the Festival and how they’re preparing for this next exciting step.
What was the post Festival response to Benny & Joon like?
The post Festival response to Benny & Joon was wonderful. We could not have been happier or more grateful for the exposure our participation in NAMT’s 28th Festival gave us. There was interest from theaters around the country, which was beyond our wildest expectations. Eric Keen-Louie, Associate Producer at The Old Globe, saw our presentation and loved it, which was a key factor in their offer of a full production to open their 2017-2018 season. We have spent the last few months furiously rewriting in preparation for this very exciting opportunity.
What did you discover about the show after presenting it last October, and what work have you done on the show since then?
We were so very happy with the work we did on our 45-minute presentation (which was a 45-minute cut of our first act). It was a very big challenge figuring out how to make a 45-minute version of our 70-minute first act, but one we really enjoyed meeting. Some of the cuts we made for NAMT are cuts we kept, which was unexpected, but a nice discovery. Our work since last October has been focused on deepening characters and moments in book and in song, which has sometimes meant some rearranging of sequences of scenes and songs and sometimes meant writing new scene and song material or tweaking existing material. The intense amount of work involved is difficult to describe without going into a boring list; suffice to say we have looked at every moment in the show, sometimes leaving the beat as is and sometimes not, and sometimes changing something only to put it back (with a better understanding of why it worked).
What makes The Old Globe a great partner for your upcoming world premiere?
Barry Edelstein, Artistic Director of The Old Globe, shared with our director Jack Cummings III (who shared with us) some exceedingly smart notes, which have been a big part of our revision work. It is hard to believe this musical, which we have staged in readings, in one developmental lab (at Transport Group), and at NAMT, is going to actually be fully staged. The staff at The Old Globe has been so warm and welcoming and helpful. We can’t wait to get there and start rehearsals. We had so many wonderful possibilities after our NAMT presentation, any one of which would have thrilled us, but we are delighted and really looking forward to rolling up our sleeves in San Diego.
What have been some of the joys and challenges of preparing for your world premiere? What do you hope is next for Benny & Joon?
It’s all joy, even when there are challenges. Challenges are wonderful artistic puzzles to solve—solving them (or thinking we have) and solving them again—isn’t that the art? Isn’t that why we are here making a musical? When rewriting for an actual production there is the concrete reality of “Dude, there isn’t going to be an actual car on stage” (for example), so adjusting the work for practical concerns even as we are looking at every moment to make sure we are making the most of it is definitely something new and wonderful. We hope there will be many more productions after this one. We look at The Old Globe as the beginning of a long life for a musical we have loved writing and discovering since the day we started it.
Why should everyone plan a trip to California to see the show?
Jack Cummings III and his design team have conceived a gorgeous set design, we have assembled a (soon to be announced) stellar cast, and while we hope and expect there will be more to come, people should not miss the chance to be there for this first fully realized production. Besides, San Diego in September/October is a no-brainer.
For more information about Benny & Joon, and to get tickets, visit The Old Globe’s website.