22 December 1999
Part Three of Four. Back to Part Two...
NR: As for the future, they're going to do the national tour, which Douglas told me
will last for two years.
NK: It's a two year tour.
NR: It's confirmed only till August but I assume other dates are coming up. So, the
people in other states will hopefully get a chance to see it.
NK: If they want the show, and it's not scheduled for their town yet, they have to get
in touch with the theaters in their towns. Start writing letters and saying, "We want
NR: And Douglas is only doing through L.A., correct?
NK: As far as I know. He's doing New Haven through L.A. I don't really know any
casting beyond that.
NR: Is there a chance that Pimpernel will do a European tour?
NK: Yeah. There's interest in Australia, Japan, England, and Germany. And I may be
leaving something out, but I know of those.
NR: When do you think the rights will be available for smaller groups like community
groups or schools?
NK: I think you're better off asking somebody else than me. I know there are some kind
of strictures and I'm really not sure.
NR: On to Saturday Night Fever - how do you go about adapting a movie?
NK: In this case, there was no question because the producer, who was Robert Stigwood,
simply said, "I want the movie up there." Those were the parameters - always. There were some
times early on when Arlene Phillips, the director, and I sort of dipped our toes into the water
of reconceiving it for the musical stage.
NR: Well, you changed Monty by creating him from two characters.
NK: Yeah, things like that we had to do. There's an enormous number of changes but
they're done in such a way that most people don't recognize them. I had to take information that
fell in three or four different scenes and put them in one scene. Over and over again I had to
put in new dialogue because of the transitions and those sort of things, but I don't think
people know that either. But Robert really wanted the movie up there. There was a character of a
grandmother in the movie and also in London. Arlene and I both felt that the second act was too
gloomy, and also that the family was just left hanging. We really felt that we wanted to have a
scene going back to the family, and to develop the grandmother more as a comic character. One of
my drafts does that but Robert didn't want anything new or different from the content of the
movie. In this case, it was really just take the content of the movie and try to make it as
seamless as possible. For me, the most important thing was pulse, that you flew from one scene
to the next, and that music be there all the time. If it wasn't there, it was there within the
dialogue, and that there was never a feeling of stopping and going stale.
NR: You don't have camera angles like you have in a movie to transition
NK: Exactly. Essentially the show tries to capture that feeling of cross-cutting, and
I think we do it pretty successfully. I think that when movies are adapted for the stage like
Footloose or Big...every time you turn around, somebody's bought up another movie
because producers today are really wary and they want to do a property that they feel has some
sort of built-in guarantee. I think the mistake they make sometimes is thinking that just
because something is a successful movie, it will be a successful show. That's just not always
NR: Big is an example of that, but Footloose is hanging in
NK: Uh, huh. It is hanging in there, and Saturday Night Fever is doing
NR: I know. There's always a line at the box office.
NK: It's really heartening because "my friends" the critics, were again...
NR: You got good reviews in London, didn't you? So, what was the difference?
NK: Yeah, we got good to mixed. Nothing bad.
NR: What was the difference between London and New York?
NK: I think a more unforgiving group of critics.
NR: Was it because it's a New York story and they're more familiar with it?
NK: In London, the critical system is different to begin with. Most critics come on
Opening Night, the way that it used to be on Broadway, and they don't view their reviews as
pieces of literature. They just view them as something that they're running home and dashing out
and printing. They tend to be shorter and they tend to be more relaxed. A typical review that we
got for Saturday Night Fever in London was, "Well, you know, you could quibble with this
or quibble with that, but it's fun. It's great dancing. Go and you'll enjoy yourself." That's
actually the kind of review we got from Time Magazine. I remember when I read the review that
Time Magazine gave Saturday Night Fever, I thought this is what all the reviews here
should have been, because actually Saturday Night Fever in New York is a better show in
almost every way than it is in London.
NR: And it's not great literature. It is what it is.
NK: It is what it is. What I love about Saturday Night Fever is the dancing. I
always stuck around for dance rehearsals. That was my favorite part. To watch these kids do
these dances is so exciting. I never get tired of watching it - ever. They're just so dynamic
and so good. I love Arlene's choreography. It's very sexy, it's very sexual, earthy choreography
and I love it. I hope she gets recognized for that come Tony nomination time - God only knows if
she will. I think her work is fabulous. I don't know. I feel a little bit cynical about the
reviews for Saturday Night Fever. I feel most of the critics had decided what they were
going to write before they walked in the theater and it's disturbing. I was just at the theater
the other night. I go over about once every week to ten days, take a look, see what's going on,
give some notes and stuff. I was sitting with Perry Cline, the Stage Manager, and at the end of
the first act, I turned to him and said, "I totally do not understand how this show got such bad
reviews." I really meant it. I hadn't seen the show for about three weeks at that point, and I
looked at it and I thought, "This is entertaining. This is fun and it moves and it pulses. The
dancing's great. Why rip this thing to shreds?"
NR: Personally, I don't think that you were going to win. I read one review that said
your adaptation just took pieces of the movie and strung them together. Well, isn't that exactly
what an adaptation is?
NR: Then you were criticized for being too close to the movie, and in another one, you
were criticized for not being close enough. You couldn't have won.
NK: No. I also think that there was a bit of an agenda going on in terms of critics
thinking, "We have to fight this whole movement of bringing in these rock schlock musicals. This
kind of show is a threat to what the Broadway musical is supposed to be, and we want to boot it
out of town as fast as we can." I don't know. It's sort of the "intellectually elite" point of
view. I didn't feel the kind of pain that I did with Pimpernel, for a lot of different
reasons. It really did make me feel disillusioned, because even though I know now that things
are not always fair, I still believe that they should be fair. I don't believe that this show
got a fair rap. I think the reviews should have been like the Time Magazine review, or the
London reviews. I think the reviews should have been "It ain't art, and it's the movie
transferred to the stage - it's not reconceived, but you know, these are really attractive, fun,
talented kids and they're dancing and they're singing. You'll enjoy it and at the end you get to
stand up and dance along and it's a fun evening. Go and have fun." The thing that's interesting
to me is that I have people in my building, "conservative investment banker-type" people, who
will pull me aside and tell me, "I loved it." My whole feeling about the critics is that
it's all Emperor's New Clothes and the critics tell the people what they should think.
Then, even before the critics tell people what they should think, there's word of mouth on the
street during previews that gets through to the critics telling them what they should think. And
it's all Emperor's New Clothes. It goes both ways too. It will often be that way about a
show that's supposed to be "the second coming" that isn't really that good. People will hear,
"Oh, it's incredible. It is a masterpiece. It is brilliant." Then other people are afraid to
say, "I didn't like it very much." When word is that a show is lousy, people are afraid to say,
"I like it." So you're always dealing with that phenomenon, and I'm determined at some point to
write a show or a play that's based on The Emperor's New Clothes because to me it's so
much a part of life, people being unable or unwilling to stand up and say, "Hello. The emperor
is naked." No one will do that and I feel that Saturday Night Fever is fun. It's
entertainment. Want to have some fun? Go see it and have some fun. That's the way it should have
been reviewed and it wasn't going to happen.
On to Part Four...