We recently had the exciting opportunity to chat with acclaimed composer/lyricist Neil Bartram and writer Brian Hill – the duo behind YPT’s upcoming Canadian premiere of The Adventures of Pinocchio (on the Mainstage Nov. 11, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020)! In this revealing Q&A, we find out where they find inspiration when creating new musicals, what their writing process is like, and how they first got started in music theatre.
NEIL BARTRAM Music & Lyrics
Neil is the composer and lyricist of Broadway’s The Story of My Life (four Drama Desk Award nominations) written with book writer Brian Hill. Regional credits include Something Wicked This Way Comes (Delaware Theatre Company), Shakespeare In Love (Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Asolo Rep) Senza Luce (CMTP), The Theory of Relativity (Goodspeed Musicals, Off-West End London), Spin (Signature Theatre), and The Adventures of Pinocchio (Chicago Shakespeare Theater). Upcoming projects include the stage adaptation of Disney’s Bedknobs & Broomsticks. Neil’s awards include the ASCAP Foundation’s Yellen Award, a Jonathan Larson Foundation Award, and a Dramatists Guild Fellowship. Cast albums include The Story of My Life and The Theory of Relativity (both on PS Classics).
BRIAN HILL Book
Brian was resident director of the Broadway company of Disney’s The Lion King and associate director of The Little Mermaid. With Neil Bartram he has written The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Theory of Relativity, and The Story of My Life, which premiered on Broadway in 2009 earning four Drama Desk Award nominations (Outstanding Musical, Music, Lyrics, and Book). Current projects include Senza Luce and Bethune, commissioned by the CMTP, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and an adaptation of Disney’s Bedknobs & Broomsticks. Brian wrote the book for October Sky for the Old Globe and the new book for the Goodman Theatre’s acclaimed production of Brigadoon, which also played in the Shaw Festival’s 2019 season.
Q. If you were an opening song, what would the title of you be?
Brian: What a great question. If I were an opening song I think the title would be “So… What’s Next?” because I’m always blown away by the surprising developments in life that arise that you never saw coming.
Neil: “Wait Till You See What’s Coming” (And no, we didn’t consult each other on this. It was a total surprise that we both said pretty much the same thing.)
Q. When you are writing a new musical, where are some of the places you find inspiration?
Brian: I find inspiration almost anywhere – in newspaper stories, novels, or just in my own imagination. Most frequently, though, new ideas come out of brainstorming with my awesome collaborator Neil Bartram. You never know when a new idea might pop up.
Neil: I get inspiration from listening to any music other than musical theatre. I also find that I get my best ideas when I’m thinking about something else, so I always keep a device to write or record ideas with me at all times. Inspiration is not a lengthy visitor!
Q. When you are just starting out writing a new musical, what is one of the first things you do?
Brian: The first part of the process for me, once we have the idea, is to start outlining a story of some kind. It’s good to have a map, no matter how sketchy, to follow as the work proceeds. So often we find that the finished piece hews very closely to that original outline.
Neil: Have a nervous breakdown because writing a new musical is HARD. Then I sit on the couch in my office with a blank pad of paper and I just start writing free-form unstructured ideas until something starts to make sense. Then I have another nervous breakdown (I average 8 nervous breakdowns per new musical).
Q. How old were you when you started studying music and what inspired you? As a follow up question: what instrument did you first learn?
Brian: I was six when I first started getting interested in musicals. My grandmother’s scratchy recording of Brigadoon was my introduction and I’ve loved musical theatre ever since. Not coincidentally, it’s exactly the same time that I started taking piano lessons.
Neil: I was 11 years old when I started studying music — which is pretty old. I had a friend who played the piano and I really loved it and wanted badly to play too. Piano was the first instrument I learned and then I played clarinet and sax in band at school.
The YPT Drama School is proud to offer a Music Theatre Summer Drama Camp where students have the chance to work with professional musicians and composers, and create (and perform!) their very own work on our Mainstage. This process-oriented camp for Gr. 8-12 is unique and exciting – and, most importantly – connected to what real artists like Neil and Brian actually do. See details here.