Who knew a little fairy dust could be so powerful?
Like its orphan hero, the Broadway underdog Peter and the Starcatcher soared, grabbing nine Tony nominations — the most nods for any play this year. Behind the stellar cast is an equally starry creative team, led by co-Directors Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) & Roger Rees (most recently as an actor in The Addams Family) and writer Rick Elice (Jersey Boys).
As they prepare for Tony night and a recently announced Peter national tour, this “dream team” sat down to answer a few questions about the show, their collaboration and their careers. First up, the playwright (and a Tony nominee this year for Best Score) Rick Elice…
Peter feels like such a collaborative, improvisational work and yet the script is so intricate and detailed. What was the genesis of the script?
In 2007, Roger Rees and Alex Timbers embarked on a series of workshops to adapt Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel, Peter and the Starcatchers – an origin story of Peter Pan – for the stage. During the first “lab,” they worked entirely from the novel. But they needed some sort of introduction that would explain how narrative voices would be used in a potential play. They called a mutual acquaintance, me, and I wrote them a prologue. The first workshop led to a second, for which they needed some scenes, so the actors would know what to say. They called a mutual acquaintance, me, and asked if I would supply some dialogue and some ideas for scenes that weren’t in the novel. Dave and Ridley came to check it out. Dave, not one to beat around any bush, asked “Who wrote that stuff? We really like it.” Tom Schumacher of Disney, who had underwritten the workshops, said, “That guy, sitting over there.” (I raised my hand and grinned sheepishly.) Then, Tom added, “He’s going to write the play.” And sometimes, that’s how you get the gig. So basically, it’s important to know directors who don’t have lots of friends who are writers.
Did you participate actively in rehearsals and did the cast influence the script? Is there still wiggle room for play in the piece even now that it has been “frozen” on Broadway?
I was at rehearsals every day, or close to it – (sometimes I had to do laundry). I wouldn’t have missed them. In La Jolla, I was rewriting whole sections, so I often sat in the room, glued to my keyboard. I just liked being in a room with so much great, creative energy. And I was getting to know the actors, and enjoyed the very particular pleasure of writing to various actors’ specific talents. Between La Jolla and New York Theatre Workshop, I did major rewriting to accommodate a change in cast size, and a conceptual change that dramatically altered the two title roles – something we only learned through La Jolla’s great “Page to Stage” program, of which we were a part. At Theatre Workshop, I was there every day, because I was jealous of the limited rehearsal time, and, by this time, had become great friends with the actors. So to have a free ticket into the room was a treat. Also, like a tailor at the local laundry, it was very efficient to have me there to do rewrites, and develop new sequences “on premises” – based on our finally having a set. For Broadway, we gave the actors a new script on the first day that had some big structural changes, and over the course of rehearsals, I was able to do very specific work. I love being at rehearsals a lot. I have the rest of my life to be somewhere else.
Wiggle room? Well, actors of the caliber in Peter are so alive in their roles that wiggle room isn’t necessary. Also, the physical tasks at hand require that everybody know what everybody is doing moment to moment, or someone could be hurt. So no – the text is the text and the production is the production. There are one or two “cadenza” moments, where the duration of certain things may vary from night to night, at the discretion of one or two of the actors. It’s lovely when audience members say the whole thing has this entirely improvised feel, but believe me, it’s all worked out very carefully by the extraordinary ensemble of actors, the choreographer, the directors, the stage managers. It’s a tribute to them that the play has that improvised feel.