There are many places where Andrew Lippa, the Tony and Grammy Award-nominated composer behind shows such as “The Addams Family,” “The Wild Party,” “John & Jen” and “Big Fish,” can go to workshop – or develop – a new musical.
For “Love Somebody Now,” his latest endeavor, he chose Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre.
For two weeks recently, at the invitation of RMT Executive Director Keith Cromwell,, Matt Webster and Nathan Brewer, who created the concept of the show, came to Birmingham to work with Lippa to make it a more fully formed musical. They worked with musical director Anthony Smith and actors Aiden Alford, Kelli Dodd, Thad Turner Wilson, Jalen Kirkman, Rosie Webber and Amy E. Johnson to refine the musical – even adding a new song – culminating in a performance in front of potential donors who could help “Love Somebody Now” get to the next level.
The collaboration with Lippa and Steve Spiegel and his Theatrical Rights Worldwide is the first of what Cromwell hopes will be many workshops of new, possibly Broadway-bound, work at RMT, and after it was over, Lippa reflected on the experience in Birmingham.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Tell me how you ended up bringing “Love Somebody Now” to Red Mountain. You had performed there, correct?
Yes. I don’t remember what year, but it’s going on 15, probably, where Keith invited me to come down and do the cabaret series. I did my 90-minute thing at the piano and sang my songs and talked to folks about my shows. I met Keith through that. This summer, I went to NYU to see Matt Webster and Nathan Brewer put together with my permission “Love Somebody Now.” I describe it as a new musical using Andrew Lippa’s existing songs, plus I wrote a new one that’s at the end of the show. It’s new characters, new situations.
I went to see a very simply staged version of it at NYU in June, and I gave them some notes and thoughts about how it could get better. I thought we should bring a couple of partners together and develop it further. Musicals are large-scale art forms. They’re very expensive and involve lots of people and lots of change all the time. You need support, you need development, you need a place to do it, you need a place to fail, you need a place to make mistakes, and also you need to find financial support to continue the process.
I don’t know what possessed me. Something popped into my head and I thought, “You know where we should go? We should do this at Red Mountain Theatre.” I emailed Keith out of the blue and said, “Do you want to do this thing? I want to co-produce it with you and TRW and Steve Spiegel.” Keith called me and said, “We want you to come here; what do you need?” We wanted to do a two-week workshop. He said, “Can you do it with local actors?” I said, “The question is, can your local actors do this?” And he said yes. The truth is great art is made in all sorts of ways in all sorts of places. Theater at its core is a script and a score and its people. All the rest of it is magic and smoke and all that stuff. I thought well, I’m just going to trust the universe. Before you knew it, Matt and Nathan and I were in Alabama.
And what were your thoughts about Red Mountain?
I’ve rarely had this kind of experience in the theater. That campus, first of all. It’s absolutely just jaw-dropping. It’s jaw-dropping no matter where it would be, but the fact that it’s in Birmingham, Alabama. I don’t mean that in a pejorative way. I mean that as let’s be realistic about the demographics, the number of people in Birmingham. … I live in Columbus, Ohio, a portion of the time as well as NYC. Columbus is the 15th-largest city in the U.S., and we have nothing like Red Mountain Theatre. It says to theater artists, “We care about you, we care about the art form, and this is a home for you. Come work here.” I didn’t know that when I called Keith, but I trusted my gut. Now he’s in trouble, because I’m never leaving.
What process did you go through in Birmingham?
It was the second workshop but a larger iteration – additions and changes in the script and score. The show has a new title. It was fully staged in Birmingham with rehearsal props and sets, and I wrote a new song, “And I’m Here,” because we knew we had a supportive audience that would find this compelling … I played and sang this new song, and the cast gathered around me – they had just learned it the night before. … The question I always want to know with a show is can you find someone to connect to and be invested in what happens and can you follow that journey? The answer we got back in Birmingham was a resounding yes. You never know the answer to that question until you have an audience.
“Love Somebody Now” is something rarely, if ever, seen before – a musical with previously used songs from a number of shows, but with new characters and a plot involving a number of relationships. How do you describe it?
Why I’m so compelled by our show is that it’s a completely new musical. There are six characters who are clearly defined in the show. It spins out in a unique way. I’ve never seen a show like this. It feels like a new musical. We are determined to continue to assert that we’ve made a new musical, and that’s a reasonable thing to say.
What were your thoughts on the show you saw in Birmingham?
I think it’s pretty terrific. I think it adds up to something quite moving. I think it adds up to something about loss and about life and about rebirth and about building families and about how life is complicated, happy and sad at the same time. The measure of being an adult, in part, is learning to accept that conflict is a part of life, as is change. The show touches on that, and it makes me very happy that was translated.
What happens with the show now?
It’s easy to say we’re going to Broadway and Hugh Jackman is going to star in it, but that’s highly unlikely, and that’s not a strategy. That’s a dream that usually doesn’t come through. That’s the process that Steve Spiegel and Keith and I will go through. We’ll send materials to a targeted group of people who might be interested in getting us to the next step, which would be a full production.
Could the plans involve Birmingham?
There could possibly be a full production in Birmingham. Keith is pondering that with his team. Red Mountain Theatre has to consider a ton of things when they’re putting a show on their stage for an audience that runs for a number of weeks. We may not be the right fit for Red Mountain Theatre – a new musical that doesn’t have a star. But I do believe that’s still a conversation to be had. We’re always going to have Red Mountain’s name attached to the show from now on because they were the first to help us develop the show. Everyone in the business will know that’s where it started.