When the popular boy-band from the late-90s ‘N Sync broke up in 2002, Justin Timberlake rose to even greater fame as a solo performer and actor. But what if success had not followed Timberlake after leaving the group?
Evan is just like Timberlake – he found early fame in a pop group but now his best days are behind him. Evan is the central character in Spin, which kicks off the new program for developing new musicals, siglab at Signature Theatre.
Brian Hill, along with composer and lyricist Neil Bartram took a few moments out of their lunch break to discuss Spin. “Spin is about a guy who finds his family,” described book writer Brian Hill. Faded pop star Evan – performed by James Gardiner – discovers he has a daughter and a grandson and must decide between the allure of fame and the idea of a real family.
Looking across the table at Bartram, Hill asked, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but the book feels to me like a really funny romantic comedy. It lives in that world, right?” Bartram agreed.
Evan’s character helped drive the show musically, according to Bartram. “We looked at Evan like Justin Timberlake if he hadn’t become famous. Music is a big part of his world and that felt like a neat jumping off point. It’s definitely a pop show, and that’s new for me, writing in that style.”
The book and music for Spin is so new, in fact, it’s still perking. The show is the inaugural production of siglab which is allowing the co-creators to sharpen the story, score and lyrics during a four week rehearsal process, followed by a three week fully staged production. Signature’s artistic director Eric Schaeffer is directing this inaugural siglab.
“Siglab is cool for us to be a part of,” Bartram enthused. “It’s more full blown than a regular workshop since there are production elements to it.”
“The advantage is being able to use resources Signature offers, such as the set from Company, and the projection system they used, since there is a video element to our show. It’s great to be able to see how those elements might work while still in a workshop.”
If changes are desired – based on artistic decisions or audience feedback – it will be a lot simpler with a basic lighting plot and only four musicians. “There isn’t an 18-piece orchestra that makes re-orchestrating a musical section costly or prohibitive,” said Bartram.
Hill agreed. “That’s why siglab is so genius; we can make those kind of changes smoothly. And hopefully if people came to see the show early in the run and at the end of the run, they’d see a different show, based on how we’ve changed it over the time.”
The audience’s experience, said Bartram, will be as if it were a finished product. “We think the audience will feel like it’s getting a full meal. And for us it’s great to see it on its feet.”
“Also to see it in front of an audience,” Hill continued, “it’s learning those lessons that make this experience invaluable. Only the audience can tell you if it’s funny, or are they understanding the story, and do they get on board with the characters.”
Bartram nodded, “You can feel like a genius in a rehearsal room, but the audience is the true voice.”
Bartram and Hill’s journey with Spin did not begin at Signature, nor will it end at the Arlington theatre. The show found them, Hill explained. “We were commissioned to do it by Chunsoo Shin, who Eric Schaeffer describes as the Cameron Macintosh of Korea.”
Shin runs the OD Musical Company, based in Seoul, and has produced several Broadway productions, including the recent Jekyll and Hyde tour and revival starring Constantine Maroulis. Shin knew Bartram and Hill’s work from being a producer on their Broadway musical The Story of My Life which ran successfully in Korea. He asked them to adapt “Speedy Scandal,” a popular Korean film, as an “American-style musical for both American and Korean audiences,” Bartram said.
Both the book writer and the tunesmith were pleasantly surprised by “Speedy Scandal.” “It was funny and charming and heartwarming; it was everything we look for when we’re looking to adapt something,” according to Hill.
Bartram said there was a natural musical element. “With some musicals that have been made from movies, the music gets applied to it. But we felt like there was already a musical vocabulary that we could tap into, since music was inherent to the story.”
“Some of the songs seem like they could be stand alone pop tunes,” Hill explained, “but they also have something directly to do with the characters. And Neil so rarely just gets to write pop tunes.”
Did the tunes come first or the story?
According to Bartram, “In terms of music, lyrics and book, book comes first, generally. Brian will work ahead on kind of a story and I will work behind, filling in with songs where we both discuss where the songs should be.”
“It seems that I am almost one project ahead,” Hill interjected.
Bartram added, “Yeah, and I consider myself the guy who walks behind the elephant,” as the creative partners dissolved into gales of laughter.
Their partnership extends beyond their professional collaboration which included the Broadway musical The Story of My Life. “We just got married.” Bartram and Hill met as actors and became a couple. It was later when they started writing together. Brian said, “If it were the other way around, I don’t think we’d be sitting here today.”
Part of their routine is to report to separate work spaces in their house. “As we work, we text each other from our separate offices,” according to Neil.
July 9 – 27, 2013
Signature Theatre – MAX Theatre
4200 Campbell Avenue
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Right now Bartram and Hill are out of their home offices and are fully immersed in the siglab experience. Aside from getting the show ready for the next phase and then seeing it translated into Korean, the collaborators look forward to seeing and hearing their words and music before the audience at Signature. “We want them to be entertained by this heartfelt story, Hill explained. “That’s part of the learning curve for us. Their reaction helps us.”
“It’s nice for the audience, too,” Hill added. “For a very reasonable ticket price, they get to see something at a key point in its developmental process and their reaction becomes of part it. And along the way we hope they will hear some catchy tunes and have some laughs.”
Spin . Book by Brian Hill . Music and Lyrics by Neil Bartram . Based on the film Speedy Scandal . Directed by Eric Schaeffer . Featuring James Gardiner, Madeline Botteri, Holden Browne, Austin Colby, Carolyn Cole, Erin Driscoll, Lauren Dupree, Jamie Eacker, Vincent Kempski, Chris Mueller, Stephen Russell Murray, Maria Rizzo, Chris Sizemore, Bobby Smith and Harry A. Winter.
Choreography: Matthew Gardiner . Music director: Gabriel Mangiante . Scenic designer: Daniel Conway; lighting designer: Chris Lee . costume designer: Kathleen Geldard; projections designer Rocco DiSanti. Presented by Signature Theatre in association with OD Company . Interview by Jeffrey Walker.