You’ve heard of a musical being tested via an out of town tryout — but what about an after school tryout? Laurence O’Keefe & Nell Benjamin, acclaimed composers of the Tony-nominated and Olivier-winning Legally Blonde, are doing exactly that in an extraordinary collaboration with New York’s LaGaurdia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Opening this Thursday night and running through the weekend, the students will be presenting the world premiere of Life of the Party, a new show about movie musicals in the Soviet Union, directed by Paul Lincoln. Featuring a talented (and enormous cast) and a 45 piece orchestra, this ain’t your Mama’s high school musical.
I had a chance to play “he said/she said” with the husband & wife writing team as they made final preparations for the big debut — and they had a lot to say about their cast, their inspirations and their own high school dreams.
Let’s get the basic facts out of the way first: how did you end up working with LaGuardia High School on a new piece?
Larry: We ended up working there because we were floored by the production Paul Lincoln directed there last year. It was Kismet, with a cast of about 70, an orchestra of about 45, all singing these amazing, operatic tunes. And everyone was so young, but so committed and so well trained; and the production itself looked like it cost millions. It was an amazing evening, and everything I like to see in theater but seldom get to: huge commitment, passionate execution and huge scale. And for only 20 bucks!
So when our old friends (Paul and Mary Ann Swerdfeger, the head of LaGuardia’s opera workshop) came to us after and said “would you like to create a show for the 2012 school year?”, we were very tempted. Yet at first we were doubtful we could think of anything. At first we went “uh oh, what show could we possibly do that would be 1) big enough, 2) appropriate for legit voices instead of our usual pop belting songs, 3) appropriate for students?” But then we remembered an idea for a show that we had been turning over in our heads for more than a decade.