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NanKnighton.com


Summer 2003

Part Three of Five. Back to Part Two...

Nola (left) and Eliza (right) at Eliza's graduation from Columbia University
 
VOICE: What did you do when you left Radio City?

NAN: I co-wrote a screenplay for a movie called MY LITTLE GIRL. It didn't go anywhere, but it had an incredible cast: Geraldine Page, James Earl Jones, Mary Stuart-Masterson, Ann Meara and Peter Gallagher. I was a mother during all of these years so I had to fit my writing in between all the "mom activities." I think that's how I got in the habit of writing late at night. It was the only time I could concentrate. My office was usually the dining room with the kitchen on one side and the living room on the other. There were children always racing back and forth through the dining room, so I got used to writing with constant interruptions. My favorite time to write became after everyone had gone to bed. It was that or nothing!

VOICE: You must truly treasure those years at home with your children.

NAN: Well, that's one wonderful thing about being a writer- you can work at home and you don't have to miss out on their childhoods. I was very involved in my children's lives, yes. Library trips, lots of reading together, school activities, dentist, doctor, shoe buying, you name it. And I loved giving them unusual birthday parties- murder trials, quiz shows, game nights, treasure hunts. I'd make everything up, so I guess I expended a lot of writing energy on those parties. Eliza is now 31 and she's a writer- God protect her! It is not an easy life, but she's very talented and has always been a great writer. She's just written a wonderful children's story, which will hopefully get published. I have my fingers crossed for her. Nola is 24 and in her second year of law school. She wants to be a prosecutor or maybe go into politics, and that's all so vicariously exciting for me.

Eliza (left) and Nola (right) at Nola's graduation from Yale University
 
She worked for the U.S. Attorney's office last summer. They actually let her do a direct examination of a witness after only one year of law school. I went to court and watched her interrogate the ballistics expert. There she was, with the gun in her hand, and, I swear, all these moments of her childhood flashed before me- Nola riding Bucky the Wonder Horse at age 1, playing "Super-Guys" at the playground. I hear from one or both of my daughters almost every day. They're great kids. They stay close to us and we are absolutely blessed.

VOICE: Did you do any writing during those years when your number one job was being a mom to Eliza and Nola?

NAN: I spent several years writing musicals in a total vacuum. I would come up with plot lines, and write all the dialogue and lyrics by myself with no music, no composer. Just dummy tunes in my head. I used to think that this was such a waste of time. But it wasn't. I was practicing my craft, and it totally prepared me for everything that lay ahead. One day, the mother of a student at Spence, the school my daughters attended, asked me if I was involved in the theatre. I explained that I was a writer and my husband was a

Nan rehearsing for
Real Estate Industrials

 
lawyer for the theatre. She said she wanted to do a talent show at Spence and thought I would be the right person to produce it. I thought about it and told her that I would produce it if I could also write it. I wanted it to be a musical about putting on a talent show, a show within a show, with a cast comprised of both parents and teachers. She gave me the go-ahead. I wrote the dialogue and about 15 lyrics set to established show tunes- it was so much fun. I called the show SPENCECAPADES, and it was about all the parents and teachers preparing to "put on a show." It was really a happy, popular event within this tiny community. From that experience I was hired to do two Industrials for the real estate industry. They were also musicals, for which I wrote both book and lyrics, as well as producing them. So I did have a lot of years to practice the craft. And then I met Frank Wildhorn.

VOICE: Were you familiar with Frank Wildhorn's music before you met him?

NAN: No.

VOICE: So how did you become a part of the Wildhorn family?

NAN: Well, my husband is John Breglio. He's an entertainment lawyer who's very active in the theatre industry. That actually was more of a hardship for me than a help. For years, whenever we were at an opening, I would try to desperately squeeze into the conversation that I was a writer, but to all the theatre types, I was just "the lawyer's wife" and I couldn't get through that wall. In fact, I even wrote a song at one point called "I'm His Wife" about what it feels like to be invisible. So- years of frustration, particularly after having done SPENCECAPADES when I felt like I was finally doing what I love. And then I just went back to being the lawyer's wife again.

Nan & John
 

VOICE: That must have been difficult for you.

NAN: It was very hard, but everything changed on our 13th wedding anniversary. John was at a meeting for THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL with Jimmy Nederlander, the producer, and Frank, the composer, and Arthur Kopit who was going to write the book. At that point, John was the lawyer for the show. They were discussing the fact that they didn't have a lyricist. John and I are both anti-nepotism and never wanted to do anything to further each other's careers, so he never suggested me for anything. But this time he took Frank aside afterwards and said, "I know this writer. Her name is Nan Mason." (That's my name from my first marriage and I wrote under that name for a long time.) "I think she's pretty good, so you might want to see her lyrics." Frank said, "Have her call me."

VOICE: What was your reaction when John told you the news?

NAN: I was jumping up and down, screaming and yelling. This would be a real shot! I ran out and bought the book and rented THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL movie. I devoured them both within a period of about four hours because I figured Frank would ask me questions about the story. And then I called Frank. He said, "I don't want to see anything on paper. Just send me things on tape."

VOICE: What did you send him?

Nan & Frank
 
NAN: Well, I didn't have anything to send him. I mean, what was I going to do? Send him the Radio City Christmas song with "I've never danced with a turkey before?" The only other thing I had on tape was my un-produced musical, LULLABY, and I didn't think esoteric songs about pregnancy were going to do it for him either. I knew I'd never get the job from anything I had on tape. So, within a period of about four days, I sat down and wrote two lyrics for THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL just to tunes in my head. One was funny- it was called "Cloak and Dagger," and the other was a love ballad for Percy. I sent Frank the two songs on paper- which is exactly what he said not to do- and told him, you know, that my "taped material was on the way." Right.

VOICE: You must have held your breath waiting for a reply! How long was it before you heard back from Frank?

NAN: He called about a day later and said, "This stuff is great. Let's have lunch." He never again mentioned anything about hearing tapes, thank God. So we had lunch and really hit it off. He immediately started talking about THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL and another show he wanted to do with me called VIENNA. You know Frank. He's always got a million projects. With Frank, it starts like a roman candle. You don't inch your way into something; you're suddenly exploded into it. During our conversations, Frank was always talking about Linda. It was "Linda this" and "Linda that." And I thought to myself, "Obviously I should know who this Linda is." But I didn't have a clue, so I just kept nodding my head when he talked about her.

VOICE: At this point you still didn't know if you had THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL job?

NAN: No. I had to wait five months to find out. In the meantime, we worked on VIENNA. We wrote a lot of songs and they were good- great stuff, and we got along so well. Yeah, I got to know all of Frank's habits. He always wanted snack food around- pretzels, potato chips- and soft drinks, never booze. He doesn't really drink. He'd come to my apartment, and after about an hour he'd ask me if I had any frozen chocolate. I always kept Hershey bars in the freezer just for him and I'd bring them out. You know, we had a lot of fun together. Then he called me one October day- the 21st I think, 1989- and told me I was going to be the lyricist for THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL.

VOICE: You must have been so excited!

NAN: I was beside myself. I had dreamed about it for so many months- well, so many years. Decades. I was going to be the lyricist for a Broadway show. Sheer amazement.

VOICE: Did Frank know you were John Breglio's wife at this point?

NAN: Actually, he did. Shortly after John suggested my name and Frank had seen my lyrics, he asked John to have lunch. During the course of the lunch, John confessed that the lyricist he'd suggested was really his wife. Frank's response was, "I don't care who she is. She can write!" And that was so gratifying because everybody else in the theatre did care who I was- they just defined me as John's wife. Period. Like I couldn't possibly be anything else. It's so sad how often that goes on in life with the spouses or partners of well-known people. You just figure that's all they are- the hanger-on, the appendage. People rarely wonder if there's anything else going on with that appendage. And, you know, I wasn't a hustler. I couldn't push myself at people. Frank would say, "Where have you been?" And I'd tell him I was a "Baltimore Girl" and because I was raised to be polite and nice, I just wasn't aggressive. When something I wrote was rejected, I simply retreated. If it wasn't for Frank giving me a chance, it's possible I could have spent my life in a corner writing in a void. I just couldn't go to people and say, "I'm good. Look at this." It wasn't in my nature, but Frank pulled me out of the corner.

On to Part Four...
 
 

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