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The Scarlet Pimpernel

Saturday Night Fever

Camille Claudel

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From Bob Isaacs in Long Island, NY:
I was hoping to get your answer to this question as my collaborator asked it of me and I was not sure what the answer was. The question is:
When you start writing the story of a musical do you write it like a book or do you automatically start in script format?

Thursday, 18 September 2003

Dear Bob,

I automatically start in script format. But it's an interesting question. It certainly might be a good exercise to begin with a short prose version of the show- sort of a glorified outline- but I'd suggest nothing longer than 2-4 pages. Some writers like to just start and see where their characters lead them- this is typically what I do. Others have it all plotted out first, and I do sometimes wish I worked this way. An outline helps you work out the snags and find the problem spots before you even begin, and it is always a good idea to know your ending before you begin- helps enormously with the trajectory. With me, I like to just immediately plunge in and see what happens- it probably means more re-writing later, but I love the spontaneity, and I'm too impatient to deal with lengthy outlines first. I just want to get into it right away, and that means jumping into dialogue and script format. I do usually have a general idea of where I'm going to go, and I always have some scattered notes and thoughts I've written down beforehand, which I refer to. In the case of Camille, I had tons of research done ahead of time, and Pimpernel and Saturday Night Fever already had a lot of built-in plot elements, so there is always some preparation beforehand.

You might also be curious as to how the songs fit into all this. Again, I'm sure there are writers who plot all that out ahead of time as well- outlining exactly where songs will fall. When I've worked with other composers (such as Howard Marren), I usually just write the script and, as I go along, notate in the script what type of songs will fall in which spots. Occasionally I'll just interrupt the script and leap into the lyric because I can't wait to do it, or because I know I'll need the finished lyric in front of me in order to get the transition right into the next scene. - With Frank Wildhorn, it's a very different process. Frank typically provides me with anywhere from 10-20 melodies on tape before I even begin writing. He leaves it up to me as to what each melody will become, although he will often make a suggestion as to whether he sees it as "a song for Percy and the guys" or "a love song for Camille," etc. And very often, I will write those lyrics before I even start the script. This is absolutely verboten, but I do it anyway because the melodies I love most are simply irresistible and I have to write them immediately. I'll have a pretty good idea of how and where I'll use them in the show, and then I place them in the script as I go along. What the other melodies will become grows clear as I script the show. I also will often tell Frank I need new or different melodies if I hit a spot in the script where I know a song should fall and none of the music provided is right for that song. Frank is then very accommodating and will send me additional melodies according to what I need.

I hope this is somewhat helpful. Basically, one should experiment with what method works best for him or her. I should add one addendum: when I write murder mysteries, I do fully plot out the show before I begin. This is crucial with a mystery, as one has to meticulously set up all the clues and twists from beginning to end before writing word one. - Thanks for your question, Bob, and good luck to you and your collaborator. - Best, Nan

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