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Q & A WITH TONY WINNER ROBERT L. FREEDMAN

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Portrait of the Musical Writer As A Young Man: Q& A with Tony-Winner Robert L. Freedman

The new Broadway musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, written by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, was nominated for ten 2014 Tony Awards winning 4 of them including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Costume Design. Robert L. Freedman, writer of the musical’s book and co-lyricist, answered a few questions about early childhood influences on writing for musicals.

Q) What was the first musical you saw as a child? Were there any movie musicals that influenced you?

A) The first live musical I saw as a child was How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I remember being mesmerized by the character of Hedy La Rue, a vamp who swayed her hips in a comically seductive way. Years later, my wife played the same role in summer stock and I was thrilled all over again. Mary Poppins, certainly. I saw it four and half times at the local movie theatre when I was 7.  Funny Girl probably had the most profound influence on me. When I was 10 or 11,I thought it was the greatest thing in the entire world. Cabaret, which came out when I was 14, is certainly the greatest musical film ever made, in my opinion, and I saw it 9 times in its first year of release. As a teenager, I made it my mission to see every movie musical ever made, and I haunted vintage movie houses and the late, late show on television. I couldn’t get enough. Fred and Ginger, the great MGM musicals, you name it.

Q) Why do you think musicals still matter in our culture? What do musicals give us that no other art form does?

A) It’s been said that the Broadway musical is a uniquely American art form. A musical in which the story and songs are fully integrated brings a kind of excitement, satisfaction and joy that I’ve never felt anywhere else.

Q) As co-lyricist, can you share some of your strategies for lyric writing? Do you have a background in poetry? How old were you when you first started writing lyrics?

A) The only poetry I ever wrote was in the 4th grade when we were studying Japan, and I wrote some Haiku. I started writing musical comedy lyrics in earnest when I was in my teens. I used to write shows using the melodies of well-known Broadway show tunes but with my own lyrics, telling my own story.  In hindsight, it was quite illegal, so don’t try this at home, kids. I believe in lyrics that really and truly rhyme, and so does my Gentleman’s Guide co-lyricist Steven Lutvak, and we are very strict with ourselves about that. We both also believe in writing lyrics specific to the character, and in that character’s voice, in the character’s own manner of speaking. We never sacrifice character or content for the rhyme…though it can be tempting.

Q) Broadway is the archetypal pinnacle in American theater. What does it feel like to have your show there?

A) It’s literally a dream come true for me.  Having this show reach Broadway feels like a miracle. The other day I stood in the back of the theatre and the roar of the crowd at the end filled my eyes with tears. Aside from my wife and son, and at the risk of hyperbole, I thought, “This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.” And I’m not talking about the Tony Award nominations or any kind of career success, I’m talking solely as a shared experience in the theatre that I helped create.

Laura Shamas is a writer and mythologist who often writes about the arts; she currently blogs about film for Huffington Post. www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-shamas-phd www.laurashamas.com

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