David Krane and Stephen Cole are a bit like America's version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. David writes the music, and Stephen the book and lyrics. They've worked with Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep, and been involved with some of the biggest musicals over the years, including Kiss of the Spider Woman and the film adaptation of Chicago. Back in 2005 they both received emails from the Emir of Qatar asking them to write the first ever musical - which they called Aspire - to open in the Middle East. Sounds unbelievable, but it's all true... We talk to David and Stephen about their careers to date, and their latest production of, The Road to Qatar!
So So Gay: How did you both start out in your careers and become involved in the thespian world?
David: I'm a classically trained musician, protégé of Leonard Bernstein, but always loved musicals having been brought up in New York City. After graduating from the prestigious all scholarship Curtis Institute of Music and after jobs accompanying the ballet, I was hired as rehearsal pianist for my first Broadway show at the age of 23. I soon moved into MD (musical directing) and then arranging, orchestrating, working with choreographers and composing dance and incidental music for many shows.
Stephen: I began as a performer at 14, but was always making up shows in my head. I sang, acted, did summer stock, films, regional theatre, children's theatre. At 15 I wrote my first musical and was lucky enough to get it produced at Brooklyn College, where I directed, choreographed and had a nice featured role...and I sold drinks in the lobby and cleaned the loo as well! You might say, I've done it all.
Your new collaboration The Road to Qatar! is currently playing at the Edinburgh Fringe– tell us about the musical.
D: It is the irresistible and unbelievable story about two New York gay Jews who were commissioned to write a musical as part of a three day opening ceremony of the world's largest glass-enclosed football stadium in only six weeks. We achieved it in just five weeks and had so much inherent comedy that we knew we had to, in turn, write a show about that whole experience.
S: The Road to Qatar! happened because two guys who didn't know each other were thrown together and commissioned to write the first American musical to premiere in the Middle East. The genesis, journey and messily hilarious birth of that show that took place in front of the Emir of Qatar and 1000 of his closest friends, was so fraught with comedic drama that we had no other choice but to write a musical about that event. There are songs and dances and wild theatrical Arabs and New Yorks and flamboyant Italians...it's a fabulous ride that has consistently had audiences laughing from Dallas, Off-Broadway to London and now to Scotland.
What has it been like working together again? Nostalgic bliss, one hopes?
D: We did have to cut down our original running length of 90 minutes to meet the Festival's requirement of just 60 minutes. As a result of these two shows, the original Aspire which was the name of the show in Qatar, and the subsequent Road To Qatar! bonded us as what we feel will be life long collaborators. We are currently in the throes writing of an exciting new musical.
S: Whenever David Krane and Stephen Cole are in a room together, you can bet there are laughs, sentences that begin with one and end with another, and musical comedy reigns. Working with Krane is never nostalgic, because we do it all the time. And it IS bliss unending.
You both have a credits list spanning as long as Judi Dench’s career – what has been your favourite individual project that you have worked on?
D: There have been so many, it's difficult to choose, but outside of our own, I would have to say the musical, Kiss Of The Spider Woman, which brought me to London for the first time working on a West End musical which then won the Tony Award. Also the film Chicago, which won the Oscar for best film.
S: Every show I write is my favorite baby in some way. I have a special fondness for the wonderful time I spent writing a show for Chita Rivera (Casper-the Musical). Working with her is always a blast - as David can attest - and she is the consummate pro from whom you can learn and learn. I also have to harken back to my first musical produced, Dodsworth, as you never forget your first. Hal Linden and Dee Hoty starred and it had its share of birth pains but the sheer joy of seeing and hearing my work on a big stage with sets, costumes, band, lighting and stars was not to be repeated. You can never do it for the first time again.
Stephen, you’ve written for Bernadette Peters, Christine Boranski and Matthew Broderick (to name a few) – what has it been like working with such big names? Have you worked with any divas?
S: Working with big stars is fun sometimes and sometimes very stressful. I have had stars in my shows such as Chita Rivera and when you are working a big musical together with a pro like her, it is fun and informative and great. Sometimes you write a piece of material or song for a star to do for one night and that might not be as much fun. But for the most part all of these big names and stars only want to do the best job they can, and if they trust you and trust your material they are thrilled to be helped to be better than they are or were. There certainly have been divas along the way and those people go on my little list of divas I will never work with again...until I need them.
David, you’re working with Meryl Streep on the new movie adaptation of Into the Woods – tell us more about your involvement – and is Meryl anything like Miranda Priestly? Or even Margaret Thatcher, perhaps?
D: Working with Meryl represents a joyous reunion as we worked together on a Broadway revival of Kurt Weill's Happy End just before she left for Hollywood to make her first film. She's the most remarkable person I have ever worked with in that she is the sweetest, most down-to-earth, giving, bright and hardest working person in the room. It's her clear, emotional commitment together with her brilliant craft that has made her the great star that she is. She's essentially not like any of the women she's portrayed.
D: It's lamentable that there has been a dumbing-down of popular culture. I firmly believe that if quality material can be available to everyone as it was in the so-called 'golden era' of entertainment, there would be more new great shows generated. That said, I think there will always be those like us who will seek it out.
S: Yes! Words! Words! Words! As Shakespeare said, and said often, 'what I do without them?' Actors say that as well. I understand, but don't love, that the general public thinks that when they see a musical those actors are making it all up as they go - my mother seeing one of my shows thought that! But it would be lovely for writers, who put all those funny things in the mouths of those funny people would be recognised more. Ah well...
What plans do you both have for the future? Any exciting projects in the pipeline?
D: In addition to the exciting new musical we are working on, in the fall we will be creating a lovely tribute to one of Broadway's great first ladies, Mary Martin, to premiere in New York early next year.
S: David and I are in the middle of the first draft of a very exciting new original musical entitled By The Book. We are as excited as any new parents to be shaping a new baby that we hope will be a delightful, funny, melodic throwback to the kind of musicals we love. I am also nurturing my other new musicals including Merman's Apprentice, which as we speak is being presented in Seattle WA as part of a New Musicals Festival. This fantasia is about Ethel Merman, who was a good friend of mine for the last two years of her life, and a little girl who runs away from home to become a star and winds up becoming Merman's Apprentice and starring in Broadway's first All-child cast of Hello, Dolly!
And finally, on a scale of one to Elaine Page, how stagey are you?
D: If you mean by 'stagey' - camp, I'd say a two, but if you mean 'theatrical', in nature, meaning 'personable and energetic' I'd raise it up to a solid seven.
S: I passed Elaine years ago. Elaine to the nth degree!
The Road to Qatar! is currently playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 26 August.