A Conversation with David Thompson
October 17, 2001
Lincoln Center Theater's Platform series presents conversations with artists working at LCT before an audience of interested theatergoers. Admission is free and open to all. Platforms are held in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont Theater. The following is a transcript, edited for clarity, of the October 17, 2001 Platform with David Thompson:
THOMAS COTT: Good evening, I'm Thomas Cott, Director of Special Projects for Lincoln Center Theater. Welcome to the second of three Platforms we're doing this month connected to our production of Thou Shalt Not, currently in previews at the Plymouth. These Platforms are sponsored by the Rose M. Badgeley Residuary Charitable Trust and their generous support makes it possible for us to offer these events free of charge.
And now a few words about tonight's guest. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his work on Steel Pier and the long-running hit revival of Chicago, for which he wrote the script adaptation, received six Tony Awards, including Best Revival. He co-created the highly-acclaimed revue of Kander & Ebb songs entitled And The World Goes Round, and he wrote new libretti for revivals of Kander & Ebb's Flora, the Red Menace and 70, Girls 70. His work for TV includes "Sondheim —A Celebration at Carnegie Hall", the Boston Pops' tribute to Leonard Bernstein, and the Great Performances documentary "Razzle Dazzle". Please welcome that razzle-dazzler, David Thompson! [applause]
Now before we begin, I have to clarify something. Your real name is David Thompson, but people call you Tom or Tommy.
DAVID THOMPSON: The name on my driver's license is David, but my parents never called me that. They've always called me Tom, so nobody ever calls me David. But it looks better on a poster than Tom.
TC: Okay, then I'm going to call you Tom, so don't anyone be confused. Anyway, I didn't mention this in my introduction, but you're a graduate of Northwestern's School of Journalism.
DT: That's right.
TC: And I'm curious: were you ever a working reporter and how did you make that transition from that world to the theater business?
DT: I was! I was a reporter, I worked for several different newspapers. The thing about reporting is that you're responsible for finding the news and telling the truth. And at some point, you find out that writing is not really a part of reporting. Or it shouldn't be. It should be something else. But my love has always been in writing, so I made the jump, and started working in the theater, where you can make up the facts. [laughter]
TC: As a side note, Thou Shalt Not is based on a novel, which was itself inspired by a piece of journalism.
DT: That's right.
TC: So there may be a kernel of reality somewhere in there.
DT: Somewhere in there. But I think maybe Zola left that reality behind as well, as he started down the path of telling his story.
TC: Let's talk about Thou Shalt Not. For those of you who don't know, it's based on a 19th-century French novel by Emile Zola called Thérèse Raquin, and that book has been adapted many times over the years for the theater—notably by Zola himself, and there have been a number of other stage adaptations. And there have been a few versions for TV and the movies. There was a BBC miniseries back in the 1980s. There's a new movie which is supposed to start filming soon with Kate Winslet and there's a new opera, which starts in Dallas next month. So why do you think there's been all this interest in Thérèse Raquin and why were you drawn to it yourself?
DT: Susan Stroman and I had worked together on Steel Pier. We've actually worked on quite a few different projects together, and we were looking for an idea that was different, a piece that had dance as a natural part of it. I think if you're going to look to have dance as a part of the story, you have to find something with large passions, where the narrative can be told through dance.
And Susan's husband, Mike Okrent, who's since passed away, gave us this novel to take a look at, to see if this was something we could adapt. We were struck by it immediately, because it has such large passions and such a simple story. It has so many things going on, and yet the narrative is quite pared down. And so we were immediately struck by the ways it could be turned into a musical, by taking those passions which are part of the story and turning them into dance as well as narrative and music. That it immediately seemed something that could hold that kind of storytelling. And that's what attracted us to the piece.
TC: If I remember this correctly, the original impulse was to make it into a ballet?
DT: Yes, we originally liked the idea of finding a ballet—Susan had been working on Contact at the time and we had seen that you really could take the story and tell it completely through dance. And we were planning on doing just that, telling the story completely through dance. But as we began to get into it a little bit further, we saw perhaps it would hold narrative as well. But it was definitely an idea that was going to be told probably even more so through ballet.
TC: You've been faithful to the book in many ways, but you've also gone in your own direction in other ways. One obvious thing is you've transferred the story from Paris in the 19th century to New Orleans in the 20th century. I'm curious how you settled on New Orleans and 1946?
DT: New Orleans is sort of a natural cousin to Paris, in some ways. Not in all ways, but culturally... We were looking for a way for this piece to have an American sensibility to it, while retaining some of the European flavor, which New Orleans has. And the other thing that was important was to find a reason to have music a part of the story. Zola's original story is quite internal—it's all set in an apartment, in closed-down rooms, and the last thing you want to do is start a musical where most of the action is going to take place in a parlor. [laughter]
So we placed the story in New Orleans, because we wanted to find a city that had a tradition of music in it and its own sound and its own distinct quality about its music, that would then give us a way to bring music into the storytelling. And New Orleans has everything from the Mardi Gras to jazz clubs, there's spiritual music. All sorts of different events in New Orleans are driven by music. You walk down the street, you hear music coming out of the buildings. So it seemed the perfect place, where we'd have a natural body of music to pull from.
And we chose 1946, because we liked the idea of setting it in a time where there was great confusion, as well as great triumph in New Orleans, in America at that time, it being the end of World War II. This a story all about passion that is all of a sudden unleashed. And if you think about it, historically, it was a period of time in a city that's driven by music, and there had been very little music and there had been no men around, so everything was a little bit pent up.
So the idea of bringing this story into that world, where you automatically had music, you had a reason to be using that music in your storytelling, and you also had a dramatic force underneath it, which was 'something was about ready to break.' And all of that, we thought played very well into the story itself.
TC: Once you settled on New Orleans and decided it was going to be a traditional musical theater piece, how did you set upon a composer?
DT: We looked at a lot of different composers. Susan and I have been very fortunate to work with a lot of extraordinary theater composers, whether it was Kander & Ebb or Sondheim or any of the people we've worked with in the past. But that idea of finding somebody who hadn't been working in the American theater really appealed to us, to find someone who had a different perspective on it.
And when we started looking at New Orleans, we realized that authenticity was extraordinarily important, so that it's not treated in the way New Orleans is classically portrayed—you know, a steamboat with men in striped vests playing dixieland. There's something inauthentic about that. And the idea of finding Harry [Connick Jr.] to write the music opened a lot of doors musically, but even more so, we found a guide in that community, who could help us remain truthful to the story. And that was quite important.
TC: The story of how you first met up with Harry is amusing to me.
DT: Well... Susan didn't know Harry, I didn't know Harry, none of us knew Harry. I think any time anybody in the theater world approaches someone in the music world, the people in the music world stop returning phone calls! The idea of working in the theater is just too foreign. So Susan was sending a lot of faxes and letters to his agents and I think we were probably perceived like complete stalkers [laughter] because we were very diligent in how we kept following up with him. Finally, his agent said, yes, he would be happy to meet you. And he came to a performance of Contact, and Stro and I met him and he was not certain he had any interest in working on a musical, but we convinced him to do it. Actually, we had set up a meeting before we finished talking to him in the lobby of the Newhouse Theater and we got to work..
We went down to New Orleans to see him perform in a jazz festival, which was happening a few months later, and after that he just jumped on the bandwagon and got to work. But it was nice, because what we had hoped to find... whenever you work on a project, you have to find people who really understand the concept of collaboration. And working together... you're in a very delicate dance of how things are written, staged or sung, and it comes down to how well you get a long with your collaborator. And Harry was great, because he just totally opened himself up to the process.
TC: Harry was here last week at the Platform and spoke in glowing terms about you and Stro. But I think he was surprised by the nature of theatrical collaboration, because in his world, he's the composer, he's the singer, he's the producer, he's the orchestrator, he does everything himself. Whereas in theater, as you said, it is much more of a joint effort. But it turned out to be a very happy experience for him.
DT: Yeah, because when you do work in this kind of situation, I'll tell Susan if I don't like something that she's working on and she'll tell me very quickly whether or not she doesn't like something I'm working on. With Harry, he had to learn very quickly to be open to that process, and it's different for someone in the music world, because they don't traditionally work in that way. He was very quick to learn, because he is a storyteller in his music and I think that's why it was a very happy match.
TC: People are always looking to make comparisons between shows. One obvious reference point might be A Streetcar Named Desire, which is also set in New Orleans in the 1940s, the same as your show. Is that any kind of touchstone for you?
DT: It would be great if it were, but then the Hubris Gods would come and strike me down. [laughter] No, it's funny. When we started working on the project, we knew that because of the source material, it was never going to be easy. And if we made it easy, we would betray the source material and end up with nothing. When Zola published the novel originally, it was quite disturbing to a lot of people who read it. It was too lurid or too real. And it was quickly dubbed pornographic. Although I don't think that was really the truth, I think -- at the time -- it was a way of shutting it down. Zola was very shrewd in how he talked about how the book was a study of people, and what happens to them when you take away the structures and the morals of society. And how they change their reactions. That's what he was writing about.
When we decided to turn this into musical theater, we knew that if we shied away from that, we would end up with sort of a cleaned-up version of the story. And some of the adaptations which we've read suffered just from that. Either the characters would become too simple or the ending was changed, in order to make it more palatable. In many versions, there's no murder at the end, it's almost like they all live happily ever after next door. There's no sense of the story being upended.
It's a difficult story, and I have to say it's been great working on it at Lincoln Center Theater, because it's not a traditional story. Most producers would probably say 'this is not commercial.' It's not something that you would normally find in a Broadway setting. So it's been great that way. And we knew from the beginning, it would not be easy. The measure of success was how well we were able to retain that grittiness that Zola had in the original. So all those things were in play when we started.
TC: You talk about the idea of Realism. Zola was famous for his devotion to Realism as a method of expressing himself. Theater, of course, is not realistic. It can't be realistic, by its very nature. So is there an extra challenge built into something that was originally created that way?
DT: You have to be careful not to beat your audience to death. If we actually did Zola's novel, I think everybody would be really miserable! [laughter] Oh my gosh, that story just goes on for about 200 pages and it gets worse and worse. Its very dramatic, but you can't put that on stage, because an audience can only take so much of that. We made a choice to tell the story so that the first act had a brightness to it, a little bit more like a David Lynch movie, where there's always something underneath it...it's slightly unsettling, and you don't know why you should never sit back and totally relax in it. However, once you get into the second act and the story starts to unravel, we try to tell the story very quickly, very deftly, so that you can get to the end before the audience does. It is a trick, and we'll see if we've done it.
TC: My reference point to it is... it's sort of like West Side Story, which has a lot of bright numbers, there is a famous comedy number, and it also expresses a lot of its story through dance, even balletic dance which is also a parallel here. And of course, they both end tragically. I'm not necessarily comparing this show to that, but I think that there is perhaps a tradition in musical theater of darker shows like these.
DT: There is that tradition, and it's interesting, having worked with John Kander and Fred Ebb....
TC: ...they've done a lot of dark shows.
DT: And their best work is the darkest work, whether it's Cabaret or almost any of the shows that they've ever done. Having worked so extensively with them, you realize that if you do have a dark story, you have to tell it as truthfully as you can. I was talking to John Kander the other day, and he was talking about the experience of the preview process of Cabaret, and how people were coming up to him afterwards and beating him with their programs [laughter] and screaming and walking out. They were just miserable at the thought of that piece of theater even being allowed to be considered as art. And he said it was a very tricky process to hold onto their original impulse and not to betray it. When they opened, it was quite a shocking piece, and of course the new revival is even more disturbing, but it's important not to retreat from your story, once you choose your piece.
TC: I don't know how many of you are familiar with this, but most musicals take many, many years of gestation before they are produced. Often, there are workshops and workshops and out-of-town tryouts -- it can take up to ten years sometimes for a musical to get to Broadway. And this show was done relatively quickly. It's been two years from start to finish, but there was a long break in there when Stroman did...
DT: ...The Producers...
TC: Oh, yeah, what was the name of that show again? [laughter] And the tour of Contact and The Music Man. So basically, it's been about a year's worth of activity, and that's really quick in the musical theater. Do you think that has that helped you all keep Thou Shalt Not on course?
DT: Yes, I do. There's always that problem with musicals that get fussed to death, or they become a corporate entity, where producers step in and take over the process, making decisions for you. You can discover pretty quickly that your story begins to evaporate, in an effort to make everybody happy. And we haven't had that. And that's been a great thing, because you can stay on it, keep focused it.
Now, in the best of all possible worlds, you'd like to be in rehearsal forever. But there's a certain point at which you have to push the story out there, and let it live by itself. But it has been a quick process and in a lot of ways, I think that's allowed everybody to work in a very focused way. Absolutely.
TC: Before I open up to questions from the floor, I wanted to acknowledge the topic on everyone's minds these days. Everybody is aware of events in the world right now, and I'm wondering how it's been working on a show in the midst of these tragic events.
DT: It was interesting. We were in the midst of technical rehearsals, probably no more than four days into the tech. We had left the rehearsal room and we were downtown at the theater, and we were maybe no more than a third of the way through the first act before September 11th. And it was a very difficult moment to get everybody back together, for the reasons everybody went through in New York City.
I don't know how many of you are familiar with what happens in a tech rehearsal, but you're in the theater probably 12 hours a day, in this dark space, dealing with minutiae. It's not about the art at that point, it's about the mechanics of the piece. It's a very long and very tiring process. What was extraordinary about it, though, was the group of actors that we are working with are a very tight community. And there was something wonderful having that community and working with that community after the events; it helped everybody move through it.
But it was difficult at first, because Times Square... you walked out of our theater and there was the announcement that this show was closing and that show was closing, and you'd run into actors and their closing notice had just gone up. And pretty soon, you were looking around and there was nobody in town and there was nobody at the theaters, and it was confusing what we should be doing. And it was great because Stroman and Bernie [Gersten, LCT's Executive Producer] and André [Bishop, LCT's Artistic Director] and everybody felt the need to stay focused. If you're going to do anything, stay focused on what it is you do and do it the best you can. And it was great.
Now, if our story is successful, it requires a certain amount of tension all the way through it, and I'm not so certain that everybody necessarily feels they want to see it. It's definitely not a show like The Music Man where every character is still alive at 11 o'clock that was there at 8 o'clock! [laughter] On the other hand, because the story is from such a classic source, there was a feeling that we should continue and move forward and tell that story. And let it go. And try not to rejigger the art in order to make it different. Because I think at that point, we would have been nowhere. But it was a wild period. Everybody's had that story... I mean, it's a crazy thing. Everybody's tied to trains now. Audiences are tied to trains now. Shows have to come down at 10:30, because audiences have to be on those trains. Actors have to be on the trains. There's no driving to the theater anymore. So all those logistics became part of the process.
TC: Are there questions now from the audience?
AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: A simple one. I wasn't here last week for Harry Connick's talk. Where did the title come from?
DT: Actually, the title was Zola's title. It was the English translation of his title for the adaptation he did of his own play. There were several titles that it was called other than Thérèse Raquin, but when it was originally done in England, it had this title. And I had seen a bunch of reviews from the 1930 revival of Zola's play and I thought it was particularly appropriate, because it states immediately what this story is about. In this case, it's about breaking the Ten Commandments and what happens when you break the Fifth Commandment and the Seventh Commandment. And what goes down.
TC: Those would be adultery and murder.
DT: And we have a couple more we break in the meantime. [laughter] But that was where the title came from. Because it was Zola's title, it just seemed easier than calling it, I don't know, Terese or something like that.
TC: I think it's very provocative. One of the other things it does is underline the clear, unambigious moral center of the story. But what's interesting to me is that you also find yourself strangely rooting for the "bad" people who are committing adultery...
DT: You do. We do have two beautiful lovers [indicates show poster behind him which depicts actors Craig Bierko and Kate Levering in a sexual clinch] and they're happy and they look like they should get what they want, because they're beautiful lovers. You get to this odd moment where you're rooting for them to succeed. And then there comes a point where you do have to give up on them and let them go. And they have to suffer the consequences of their actions.
The story for me is all about the consequence of actions. And that was something that appealed to us when we started working on it: What happens when you break the rules? What do you have to do in order to pay? There's a moral responsibility, no matter how much you want it to work out, you've got to pay. It's a disturbing message, in light of what happened on September 11th, and it's an oddly appropriate message, in that there is a consequence to your actions, there is retribution. There is a moral structure to the world that has to be followed in our society. And it does give it a greater statement of dignity and purpose. But you have to get to that. Hopefully, that's what people walk away with.
AM #2: Hi. I've seen the show three times...
TC: Three times! Give that man a prize!
AM #2: I went to see the show the first week, the second week, and the third week of previews, and so I've been able to see the changes you've made to the show. I was just wondering if you could talk about the process of how you decided what to change.
DT: It's interesting, when you take a musical out of the rehearsal room, there is one story that you've told, and that story has been determined by what looks good three feet back in the rehearsal room. But that isn't necessarily a story that's going to work when played to the 20th row in the theater. At that point in a show's development, you usually go out of town, because then you have the ability to play with it, without ever feeling like when the audience goes away you have to kill them all, because they've seen more than they should. You don't necessarily make mistakes, but you make choices based on how you think things will play.
When you get in front of an audience, and you're in lights and costumes, you realize that every second of a musical is a victory. It's made by 8,000 people collaborating on certain things at that point and the slightest little change can make something collapse. So when you put it in front of an audience, you have to be careful to remember what your goal is in the process of previews, which is to find a way to tell your story. Because if anything gets in your way of telling the story, whether it's extra dialogue, too much dance, a song that doesn't really work...no matter how favorite your moment is, it has to go.
So we did do a lot of changes, but the changes didn't seem like a lot, although people said we did a lot. They were more driven by what happened when you can look at it with a little bit of perspective. The trick there, and I think this is the hard part of a musical, is when there are so many people involved, it's very hard to know what's the right thing to lose, what's the right thing to keep. You get a lot of opinions, whether it's from your producers, your collaborators, but moreso from the concentric circles of people that work their way out. I think the key here was to listen only to your collaborators about what you had to do in order to tell the story. It's very difficult, but still it was always Stroman, Harry and myself. "What do we have to do to tell the story better?" Anything would go that we didn't like. Harry would say "I don't like that line," and Stro would say, "I don't like that song." And things went. But it never got muddy as to what the vision of it had to be. So as the show so
rt of locked down, what you're looking at is pretty much what we always intended. It's just a matter of getting rid of the things that were in the way. So that's what it was.
But there has been probably... the show's probably lost about a half hour in its running time, a couple numbers have come and gone. But it's always been in the service of telling the story better. So I think if there's anything, it's a hard thing to remember in the middle of it all. Because you do get a lot of input. If you just listen to your collaborators, and you have that really strong relationship with them. Hopefully, you'll get through and most importantly, you won't end up with another story that you never intended to tell by the time you walk away.
TC: Let's talk a little bit about your collaboration with Stroman, because you've never done, what 6 or 7 shows with her? How has it changed working with her since you first started ten years ago? Or actually it was more...
DT: More than that. It was about 15 years ago. Originally, Susan was doing mostly work as a choreographer, but as you know from her work in Contact, she's an incredible storyteller. When she tells a story, when she knows what she wants to say, she can tell it through dance. That's where she started. But she's also an incredible director, because to be a good choreographer you have to think like a director. And a storyteller. And it's been wonderful to see her be able to take things over that way.
The other thing that she's able to do, which is quite remarkable, is the craft of the theater. Which is everything from... the way a number is lit all the way down to the details of the costumes. And it's not something you can overlook the importance of. She has the ability to find that as a director, and make sure that gets onstage. That's her skill, that's her art.
TC: Do you find that there's a kind of a shorthand now between the two of you that didn't exist when you first started working together?
DT: Yeah, because she'll yell at me or I'll yell at her. [audience laughter]
TC: There's no politeness any more!
DT: There's no politeness. There's no words minced here.
AM #3: I haven't seen the show yet. What are the settings of Thou Shalt Not, because in the book, as you said, everything took place inside?
DT: In the original story, it takes place in a sort of a hat shop or a haberdashery or a button shop, sort of a notions store. And it takes place in a sort of a little bit of a working class neighborhood in Paris. And we took the story and we set it in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, which is not the French Quarter, it's outside of the French Quarter. The French Quarter is a little more upscale, you think of it as being the lovely buildings with the ironwork. The 9th Ward is a working-class neighborhood, with these shotgun houses very close together. And they have a tradition of having music in the front part of the house, like in the living room they would have a café, or in the backyard they'd have kind of like a beer garden. So we took the story and put it in that setting, so instead of it being a notions store, it's a jazz club. And the characters of Laurent and Camille... Laurent, in Zola's version, is a painter who comes into this setting and is not a successful painter, but a painter nonetheless.
We have taken that idea of the soul of the artist and turned it into the jazz musician. That's our way into that.
We used New Orleans to find locations comparable to what is in Paris. For instance, the murder takes place in the novel by the river, whereas in our show we're on Lake Pontchatrain. We go into the French Quarter, we also go down to the wharf. It was great going to New Orleans and seeing how you could actually walk where the characters would walk and not find yourself asking the audience to suspend reality when you're saying "okay, now the action takes place 20 miles to the west." It was all within the environs of the French Quarter and the 9th Ward.
AM #4: How do you decide a source material is appropriate for a musical?
DT: That's a good question. It's a very difficult thing to know when something should be a play or when something shouldn't be adapted. With Thou Shalt Not, if you look at the source material, we're not slaves to the ways that that story unfolds, because that was a novel and it was told as literature. It has a different narrative to it. The idea of the musical was to find a way to show the passions or the overwhelming urge to do things that maybe you shouldn't -- music all of sudden gives you that freedom to, because you can dance that. You could speak it, you could say those things, like whether or not you're in love, but you have a greater ability to show it with music and dance. Hopefully, to put it in this setting, and we've used music in the way that we have, we've been able to take those same themes and make them hopefully more powerful by using music. But that is a trick. Whether or not you should be doing it as a straight play, and it has been done as a play -- and it will be done as an oper
TC: Thou Shalt Not, obviously, is an adaptation. And you've done shows based on your original concept, like Steel Pier. Do you have a preference as to which way you prefer to work?
DT: The advantage of working with a source material is you automatically have the story and the characters. You don't have to invent them, before you pass them off to your composer or to your director. I can't tell you the number of times we would turn back to the source material and say, "what was Zola trying to say here?" rather than "let's make it up." You can work with a little bit more clarity and also everybody's on the same page -- literally! -- so it makes a difference, it's easier to work that way.
AM #5: There used to be a tradition of shows trying out of town, but that doesn't happen so much anymore. And with the Internet, the minutiae of a show's progress gets dissected in such great detail, it must make it hard to work on a new show. Can you talk about what effect, if any, these Internet comments have had on you and your show?
DT: First of all, if you look at the way musicals were done historically, they were taken out of town, but finances make it very difficult to do and a lot of times, shows will go out of town and because of the expense not even have the entire show out there with them, which happened with Tom Sawyer this past spring. It is a great luxury, but it's not necessaily economically feasible anymore. So there are new ways people try to work. One is through workshops. The problem with workshops is you can discover that you developed the most perfect show from three feet back -- every show is great when you're sitting back only three feet back -- but it's difficult to make that transfer from a workshop onto a Broadway setting. Because Broadway has its own demands, that have nothing to do with a workshop setting.
But doing a new show in town, I have to say and this is really true, if you dial into the Internet and you look for that input, it has not context. The only input that has context, as I said, is from your collaborators. You can only get confused, because you don't what you're looking at. It's the same thing if you go to the Internet to find out about Ethiopia. You could get 10,000 places to go look for Ethiopia, but there's no filter on it, so it doesn't help you. But it exists and it has its place. I would say, you just have to stay focused on what you're trying to tell. Because it's difficult in New York City, because there's a pressure and you have to be able to work through that pressure. Everything from dealing the schedules of the unions and how much rehearsal time you have, all the way to what an audience's expectations are, especially when a show at the beginning of its run, by its very nature is not going to be what it's going to be by the time it opens. It can't be, because there's too much that has to happen, too much it has to grow into. It's a difficult process -- I don't know if there's any way to resolve it.
I do know that some shows, like The Producers, have to go out of town, because they're comedy-driven. When you're dealing with comedy, you have to engage the audience in the science of laughter. And they had to take it out of town. I don't think they would have met with near the kind of success they had in New York if they hadn't gone out of town. But it's a trade-off. It's hard to figure out which is the best thing to do. We had many conversations about what would be the best development process.
TC: I like to think that one of the benefits of it being a Lincoln Center Theater production is that it has the umbrella of the ongoing institution, that no one expects it to be The Producers here.
DT: That's actually huge, that's a huge element to the way that this was developed. And in theory, if we had had the luxury of going into the Beaumont, we might have gone into the Beaumont. Or if the economics would have worked for it to go into the Newhouse, we would have been happy there as well. It comes down to the real estate, and the expectations that are driven by the real estate. We looked at working at the Lyceum Theatre, which is on the "other" side of Broadway and what does that mean, how does that change perceptions. And then the Lyceum wasn't available and the Plymouth was available, and we decided, well, this is the place we'll go. But it drives the expectations of the people that come into that house. Now, if we were playing at the Newhouse downstairs and we were doing the same show, the audience would have a completely different experience, on one level because they would see a show that had the expectations defined for them by the theater before they went into it. So many of th
ose things come into play, and at some point, you just have to decide where you're going and then stay with it.
AM #6: How much did you feel you had to draw directly from the words of Emile Zola's novel?
DT: Well, to start with, the version I used was an English translation from the original French novel, so you're already dealing with somebody else's interpretation of the words. So in one way, you're not, I don't feel... if you find the essence of what they're saying or if you find the essence of what a character needs to communicate, that's all you can do. I've done an adaptation of The Christmas Carol, and I found you couldn't stay in Dickens' language, because that is a writer writing for a specific narrative moment. Not theater. They're never going to match. Some things you have to stick with it, but I abandoned that pretty quickly, because if you literally were to take all the words out of Zola's novel and would say them out loud, you would discover you would have a very dry script.
AM #7: Can you outline the chronology of how the show got written? Do you write out a complete script first, indicating where the songs go?
DT: I prefer not to say where the songs should go, because oftentimes a composer will say, "I have an idea for a song, based on a word or an idea that you just put out." And the last thing you want to do is say, "here's your song" if they don't feel they can write the song.
TC: In fact, Harry said he arrived at your first meeting—before you had finished the script—with a handful of songs...
DT: He did. He came to the first meeting with nine songs that he had already written, based on nothing more than an outline I had given him. He just went off and wrote music. I find that, if you start with a very clear blueprint of what you're trying to do structurally -- the structure is everything, the lines are nothing, the music is almost nothing, it's the structure of the way the story gets told. If that gets laid out and it's very clear about how the story needs to unfold, now you have your road map. Some things get taken away and turned into dance, some things get turned into music. But it's all in the service of the same story. So it's almost better not to anticipate someone else's idea before they've had it yet.
So no, I would not want to put the... I usually find... Harry would come back with a moment I had no idea that that was the way to do it, but then suddenly that became the right way to do it.
TC: Unfortunately, we have to stop here, because we have Contact about to start in a little bit, but thank you all for coming tonight, and especially thank you, Tom, for speaking with us! [audience applause]