As far back as I can remember, I've been a writer and a composer. I penned my first song at the age of six, a classic “I Want” tune, with a lyric expressing a powerful yearning to escape the boundaries of an existence I found overly confining. “Good-bye first grade,” it began. “We’re going now/ Hello second grade/ Next year we’ll be seeing you.” My class at the Dalton School performed it at the school’s end-of-year graduation ceremony, and I got a taste of what it means to be a composer. In hindsight, the words were probably too on-the-nose, but the melody was pretty catchy – you can hear it in the new song, “Racehorse Mass,” from a musical I’m writing with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (book) and Mindi Dickstein (lyrics) based on Pete Hamill’s wonderful novel, Snow in August.
In college, my ambitions expanded to include the idea of writing fiction and non-fiction. College didn’t last (I left Harvard after my junior year, in favor of Berklee College of Music), but writing has remained a part of my identity to this day: I am a composer, and I am a writer. On a good day, sometimes I am both.
In the end, it’s all story-telling. When I was starting out in film and TV, I paid all sorts of dues, mostly in the service of helping other people tell their stories. I worked on some significant clunkers, projects with titles like Vampire Knights and No One Could Protect Her (original title: She Catches Her Own Rapist) that I would have paid friends and family not to watch. I also worked on some wonderful films, like LA Story and The Only Thrill. My first Off-Broadway musical, Adrift in Macao, was driven by Christopher Durang’s hysterical take on film noir, and after that came The Last Smoker in America, the product of Bill Russell’s farcically dyspeptic imagination.
The projects I’m working on right now are much closer to home. The musical, Snow in August, is about standing up to racism and hatred, about doing the right thing, about believing. The May-June issue of The Dramatist includes an article I wrote about Richard Rodgers (who was my grandfather), from a deeply personal perspective. It’s part of a larger non-fiction book about my parents and their families. Love, loss… the trauma that runs through families, and the possibility of healing from all that damage, are all topics that speak to me these days. Also death and dying. I’m tremendous fun at parties…
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