There they were on Saturday, May 15th laughing so loud that I thought they were two sloshed guys who wandered into the DCAC, but they were Randy Blair and Timothy Michael Drucker, who co-wrote the book (Randy also wrote the lyrics) to Landless Theatre’s latest outrageous musical Perez Hilton Saves The Universe! (or at least the greater Los Angeles area) and they were seeing their show for the first time.
When director/choreographer Karissa Swanigan introduced me to Randy and Tim, and we got to schmooze, I knew I had to interview them. Today, my dream for an entertaining interview came true. These guys are as funny as their show.
Joel: So tell us about Perez Hilton Saves The Universe! (or at least the greater Los Angeles area).
Randy: It’s set in the near future on the day of Britney Spears’ untimely funeral. The who’s who of LA are all invited, but Perez is secretly more concerned with finding love on the Internet. Just as he thinks he’s met the man of his dreams on Manhunt, we discover that the man in question is actually a terrorist on a mission to take control of the blog and reveal the site of Britney’s wake, thereby luring all of LA to one spot and blowing up the celebrity obsessed infidels with a nuclear bomb. Real plausible stuff.
Tim: It’s basically an Adult Swim cartoon set in the pages of Us Weekly.
Joel: The show was a smash hit at the NYC Fringe Festival in 2008. Did you have any idea it would get that kind of reception?
Randy: We went into rehearsal thinking we really had something fun, but by the time tech rolled around, we weren’t so positive. There were a lot of hilarious but nightmarish costumes and technical elements that gave me angina, plus it was the first big musical that we’d produced and were flying by the seat of our pants. But after that first performance, the word of mouth took off and we sold out the entire run. There was a block long cancellation line at every show and NYU students asked for our autographs. We actually had groupies, which is bizarre – some random kid saw it 6 times. We were written up in magazines like In Touch and The Advocate, and even made it into the German tabloids. The show then got extended for more performances, the top bi-coastal talent agencies were competing to represent us, we were taking meetings at MTV, and the Weinsteins came… Basically, we got really big heads really really fast and started to think we were much, much, MUCH cooler than we actually are. It’s absolutely hilarious in retrospect, and it was the most fun a summer could be.
Tim: Ha-ha, it was such a blast! That’s so true, I thought that I was going to be able to quit my job and like develop television shows all day…I learned a lot about how the other side of the industry works. It was like a grad school crash course in producing.
Joel: Take us through the journey of writing this show.
Randy: Tim and I went to acting school and started a sketch comedy group with our friend Melinda. One day Melinda didn’t come to rehearsal and the two of us decided to write a musical! So, we sat on Tim’s couch, wrote the whole thing, put it in an envelope, and mailed it to the Festival the same day. When they told us we got in, we flipped out because 1) we didn’t actually think it would make it, and 2) we didn’t actually write any music! So I called Zach (Redler), who I had written a short musical with in college, and the rest is history!
Tim: We were totally sober when we wrote this. I think.
Joel: When did you and Zach decide that Perez Hilton was going to be the subject of your wacky musical?
Randy: If I can claim to have one super power, it’s that I have a weird prophetic sense of what people will want to come and see. It was at a time when celebrity gossip was huge, and I just had a feeling that if we wrote a zany musical about it we’d have a hit. (And also that we’d become famous overnight. Hmm, looks like I don’t have THAT super power, huh? Wah wah.)
Joel: How would you describe Zach’s score? Which song is your favorite?
Randy: Zach’s score is pop musical theatre pastiche in the most entertaining of ways. I’m very partial to “Shoot Him in the Face”, which is a terrible dirty power ballad tour-de-force. You’ve gotta come see it for the full effect.
Tim: His music is so catchy and really funny in that sense, cause it sticks in your head and drives you crazy. I love the Kathy Griffin song, “Mistress of Disguise” because it is so ridiculous and evil.
Joel: You both co-wrote the book. What was that like trying to write this crazy book together?
Randy: We are improvisers, so we just switched characters back and forth. The show very loosely follows the structure of a Harold, which is a longform improv form, and it was basically a lot of, “What could happen next?” with very little questioning or negating. The sky was the limit here.
Tim: I still am kind of floored by how this show came out so quickly and easily.
Joel: What was the hardest scene to write?
Randy: The hardest scene to write was probably the last one. I remember having a debate about blowing up LA and having everyone go to Hell vs. letting everyone live. There was really nowhere to go once the bomb exploded, so setting it in the future where humans and robots co-mingle in a dystopian society was the most logical answer for us.
Tim: For me, it was the scene where Alyssa thinks the terrorists are going to rape her. That whole rape gag was a last minute fix, before that I don’t really remember, but it wasn’t funny.
Joel: Tell us about scenes that didn’t make the final cut.
Randy: We had an Evita-esque song called “Santa Britney”, where a choir of children of celebrities marched with candles outside of the Church of Scientology. It was cut after the first Fringe run. Also, in the original production, the three supporting celebrity characters were Paris Hilton, Amy Winehouse, and R. Kelly. But pop culture being in constant flux, those characters are currently Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, and Tiger Woods.
Tim: Well, also in the first draft of the show that we wrote that first day, Perez spent most of his time in a cage. Not a good idea to have your main character imprisoned for half the show.
Joel: Randy – Did you write the lyrics first or did Zach write the music first? What was the most difficult song and lyrics to write? What are the lyrics you wrote that makes you the proudest and still brings a smile to your face?
Randy: For this show, I did lyrics first. I switch it up depending on the project, but since this show is so joke heavy, lyrics first won. None of the songs were particularly difficult to write, although the finale was challenging in that we had to sum up the evening with a sentiment that is essentially wrong (yet ironically hilarious.) Bitching is terrible and celebrity obsession does take our minds off the important matters, but what the hell – it’s really fun to do so let’s all clap and belt!
I am a rhyme-nerd, and some of my favorite rhyming I’ve ever done occurs in the deus ex machina number, “Eat It, Lick It, Snort It, F*ck It.” It makes me proud that I stuffed the words “Kilimanjaro,” “glock,” “Nantucket,” and “cameltoe” into one song, and that I was able to rhyme “artist” with “fartest.” Fred Ebb would roll over in his grave, I tell you.
Joel: When did Landless Theatre contact you about producing the show?
Randy: I had never considered that other people might want to perform this one day, because we were so focused on going to the next level with it in New York. When Landless called our agent, I was pleasantly surprised, but even more so once I checked out their website and saw that they had done many of my favorite weirdo musicals!
Tim: It’s so crazy that the show is finally happening. They licensed it almost a year and a half ago. So it’s been a bit of a running joke, when people asked about the show, we would say, “Well, there’s a production in DC, in Spring 2010”. And now it finally is Spring 2010!
Randy: As Landless is the first company outside of ours to perform the show, and we haven’t really prepared a “licensed” version of the script and score, it’s been a fun learning curve in seeing their production and what we needed to provide that’s sort of “unwritten.” But Landless was amazing, read our minds in the places where we were vague, and came up with an extremely fun production.
Joel: We all saw the show on Saturday night, May 15th. Did Landless know you were coming? What did you like, and what surprised you most about the Landless production?
Randy: Oh God, I felt like I might be laughing a little too loud at my own jokes, but the delivery was seriously funny and surprising! I’d never seen the show, so it was like discovering it for the first time.
Tim: It was so surreal to watch the show that we had been performing in, but it was exactly how I had hoped it would be.
Randy: Landless did know that we were coming as our agent set up the trip. It was really great to be invited. They’re sweet, talented people that know where to find jello shots – so who couldn’t love them? In terms of the physical production, we really loved the brilliant light-up Christmas village version of LA and the fun theatre tricks they were able to pull off in that small space! My favorite type of theatre is done for $100 on a stage the size of a postage stamp, so this was right up my alley.
Joel: Talk about Karissa Swanigan’s direction and choreography, and the cast.
Randy: Karissa did a great job in keeping it all in the right tone and moving along. The choreography was big and fun, with borrowed nods from all my favorite music videos and some choice visual gags (“blow by blow” – genius!) The cast was uniformly game for this wacky world – it’s like children’s theatre for gay people, so the commitment to the craziness was A++!
Tim: Absolutely. Karissa is young and hip and totally gets the show and has the energy down pat. I mean, she is so cute and trendy, just like the musical!
Joel: You both starred in the Fringe production. Who did you play?
Randy: I played Perez Hilton. My M.O. in writing is to create work for myself and my friends to act in. There aren’t a ton of roles in musical theatre that are 100% right for me, so I just make them for myself!
Tim: I played Kebab. The whole terrorist plot came out of the fact that at the time the only auditions I could get seen for were Middle Eastern people. My family is from all over Europe, but for some reason I look like I hail from one of possibly 16 countries.
Randy: When Tim has a beard he looks like a totally different person, so no one really acknowledges that he was the original Kebab. But he has major terrorist cred – I saw him get racially profiled in an airport, people!
Joel: Has Perez Hilton seen the show, and did he like it?
Randy: In our extended run of the show, we had a few awesome late night performances. One in particular was supposed to start at midnight, but didn’t go up until 1AM. The producer gave away free beer and turned on the disco ball. It felt like Rocky Horror. Then during “Shoot Him in the Face,” I looked out and there he was! It was crazy. He came back afterwards and we went out partying with him until 5. He had us on the blog several times and raved about the show afterwards. People think he’s a bitch, but he’s actually a really fun, nice guy.
Tim: He was so supportive of the show, raved on the blog about it, and was really generous with all of us when it came to being good humored. The show would never have been the success it was without his official approval that he gave us from day one. He is a pretty awesome guy.
Joel: Is there any Perez Hilton in you? How do you relate to the famous columnist?
Randy: I, like most Americans, love to hear about messy celebrities. But outside of the context of the show, the thing I most admire about Perez is that he’s a guy that has made a name for himself through his own ingenuity. I mean, he started a website that changed the way we process pop culture globally. Love him or hate him, I’d love to be able to accomplish something as significant with my life!
Joel: I hear there’s a reunion with the original cast of Perez Hilton… in the near future.
Randy: We’re doing the show over Memorial Day weekend at Joe’s Pub in the Public Theatre. It was great to see the Landless production, as it really got my mind back in the show and excited to do it again. We have some new cast members including Matt Doyle of Spring Awakening and Bye Bye Birdie, and tons of updated jokes. It’s going to be as good, if not better, than the original!
Tim: Oh man, I’m so excited for the concert! The original cast is such a close knit group of people and it is going to be so much fun to just hang out and do the show. It feels like a party every time. And our two new cast members are AMAZING!
Joel: Tell us about Fat Camp , which won several awards at last year’s NYMF, including 2009 Best of Fest Award, Outstanding Choreography (Connor Gallagher), Outstanding Director/Honorable Mention (Alex Timbers), and Outstanding Individual Performance (Cale Krise).
Randy: Fat Camp is very different from Perez… in that it’s a big, traditional Broadway style musical. It’s very much a John Hughes/teen movie homage, putting the childhood obesity situation onstage and looking at it in the point of view of the kids themselves. We got great attention at the NYMF, recently did an industry presentation starring Nikki Blonsky of the Hairspray movie, and the Dodgers (Jersey Boys, amongst others) joined our producing team shortly after. We’re extremely excited… it gives a lot of excellent actors a chance to shine, and combines the biting satirical sense we brought to Perez… with a lot of heart.
Tim: Fat Camp is such a gigantic show in terms of the amount of ground there is to cover. It’s been such an unbelievable, kind of out of body experience. The moment we got into NYMF, the Rock of Ages producers signed on board, so we’ve been shepherded by really incredible artists and theater professionals from Day One. Perez… had just ended a few months before when we started Fat Camp, so it was such a useful experience to have. Fat Camp would never be where it is right now had we not had the learning curve of Perez...
Joel: Why should DC theatergoers come and experience Landless Theatre’s splashing production of Perez Hilton Saves the Universe!?
Randy: A review (Bob Anthony’s) came up on our Google alert that we’re pull-quoting to all of our friends lately, and which I’m determined to title a future show: “Beware of Spontaneous Arousal!”
Tim: Haha. It is totally a show for everyone. All people love to hate on celebrities…. so come and do it!
Randy: Kidding aside, it’s a really fun production and you should go out and support these guys. They’ve done a lot of hard work and deserve to be seen! I’d recommend a few drinks at “Madam’s Organ” beforehand to loosen up your laughing mechanisms, followed by the aforementioned rainbow jello shots to wash it all down. Dress up fabulously, bring your gayest entourage, and make a night of it. You won’t regret it!
Perez Hilton Saves The Universe! (or at least the greater Los Angeles area) plays through June 3rd at Landless Theatre Company at The DC Arts Center (DCAC). For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.