The Musical Stage Company and Yonge Street Theatricals, in association with The Globe and Mail, present REPRINT, the inaugural production of three original musicals generated in LAUNCH PAD, a ground-breaking musical development residency developed by the two companies.
REPRINT, an imaginative triptych of short new musicals will be presented on the 17th floor of The Globe and Mail Centre, overlooking Toronto’s breathtaking cityscape.
The inaugural LAUNCH PAD cohort includes Nick Green (book), Tracey Flye (director), Adam Sakiyama (music director & supervisor), Anika Johnson & Barbara Johnston ( Music & Lyrics ) creators of FANGIRL, among others.
The Musical Stage Company Artistic Director, Mitchell Marcus along with Johnson & Johnston answered a few questions about FANGIRL and LAUNCH PAD.
Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston
HM: The two of you have collaborated on other musical projects before. Could you discuss your collaboration style when writing music and lyrics for an upcoming production?
AJ / BJ: We are long-time best friends who both write music and lyrics (and sometimes book), so our collaboration is super fluid. Before writing, we spend a lot of time hanging out in the world of the show – watching movies, listening to music, researching and brainstorming. Once we feel ready, we pick a moment in the show and work on it together, trading off improvising on piano/singing/acting until we’ve landed on a central hook that’s feels right in the emotional pocket. Then we build the song out from there. It’s been amazing to collaborate for the first time with our brilliant book writer Nick Green. We instantly found a shorthand that allowed the book and score to grow together as one organism, with each department constantly responding to the other. It takes a lot of patience and trust. The best music arrives when we least expect it.
HM: What does it mean for you to be part of REPRINT (LAUNCH PAD) and have your work in FANGIRL premiering here?
AJ / BJ: REPRINT is the culmination of the inaugural LAUNCH PAD, which is a new program from Musical Stage Company that pairs teams of writers with directors and music supervisors. Over the course of this year, we were not only developing a show, but also learning HOW to develop a show, and building the collaborative relationships that help make a creative process effective. It was great to work with so much structure and support – we’ve been guided by Tracey Flye (our director) and Adam Sakiyama (our music supervisor/music director) since day one; we had two workshops with the actors, and incredible help throughout from Jonathan Corkal (our music copyist). When the team works well together, it sets the writers free to dream big and really hone the work.
REPRINT (LAUNCH PAD) is testament to the value of investing in process, teamwork, and collaboration, and we’re so proud of what we were able to create together. I hope it will be a model for future music theatre development in Toronto.
HM: Please share what were some of your key musical or lyrical influences when working on FANGIRL?
AJ / BJ: FANGIRL is a story about teen YouTube fan culture, so the music is super pop-y and contemporary. We watched hours of YouTube vloggers to get the lingo and rhythm down and tried to mimic some of the specific musical stings and underscoring that show up on vlog channels. There’s lots of top 40 influences– Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Bruno Mars, Drake, Robyn etc. A challenge of this project was the fact that we are limited to piano accompaniment for the performance, so we had to find a way to represent beat-driven music on the keyboard.
When we leave the online world and the characters express more private feelings, we found ourselves pulling in sounds from previous generations of female songwriters. We spent a lot of time with Joni Mitchell’s songs and interviews and poetry. As with most of our shows, we start with specific pop references and then abandon them as the show finds its own voice. We’re excited to see what people hear!
HM: You are the Artistic & Managing Director at The Musical Stage Company. In this role, could you discuss how you’re able to build on the company’s mandate to “develop and produce thought-provoking musical theatre with contemporary relevance, and to build and enrich communities through musical storytelling.”
MM: I believe that musical theatre can change the world. Music has a unique power to let us not only ‘hear’ what a character is feeling, but ‘feel’ what a character is feeling, making it a potent tool to build empathy. As such, we focus on musicals that convey thought provoking and relevant stories, in order to ensure maximize impact. We produce multiple musical productions a year and work closely with many writers to develop original Canadian musicals — all of which showcase stories that matter.
We also believe that the work we do offstage is just as important as the work onstage and so we have a robust community and education program which works on getting people to share their stories through song, and to build self-confidence and self-expression through the tools of singing, acting and dancing.
HM: As part of producing thought-provoking musical theatre, the company is launching REPRINT — a co-production with Yonge Street Theatricals Production, in association with The Globe and Mail. REPRINT is the inaugural production of Launch Pad, a musical development residency from between these two companies. Could you talk about Launch Pad, what it’s all about and how it came to be?
MM: LAUNCH PAD is a new year-long program for Canadian musical theatre writers. Because musical theatre is in its infancy in Canada, some of our most innovative and interesting writers may not have had many (or any) chances to bring a musical to full production. This is problematic as creating a script or score is only the first phase of being a great writer — musicals are a highly collaborative form and so much of the work happens not just in the writers head, but through ‘in the room’ experience, working with directors, music directors, orchestrators, arrangers, actors, etc. where pieces are rewritten and honed over and over again in a collaborative setting. In the same way that it would be difficult to know who a great choreographer is without seeing them work collaboratively with dancers, the same is true for musical theatre writers.
So, LAUNCH PAD was intended to bridge this gap and to offer exciting voices the chance to take their work through a full developmental process. Writers are given a common prompt (in this case, the archives at The Globe and Mail Centre) and they look for inspiration for a 30-minute musical. That musical goes through a full developmental process over the course of a year and culminates in a presentation which this year is REPRINT.
HM: Lastly, are you able to share a bit more about the cohort whose work will premiere in the next few days?
MM: I am blown away by this cohort of writers and their creative teams. They are all working with brand new collaborators and have found tremendous synergy over the last year. The process has been extremely rigorous, and each has risen to that rigor with hard work and curiosity and they have really dug in to create beautiful, original pieces. I’m excited for the world to meet these new short musicals!