What sort of preparation and research did you do to prepare for writing The Scarlet Pimpernel?
A lot of research- I'd say between books I bought myself and books I took out of the library that I probably went through 10 volumes. Also, I think I read about 4 of the Baroness' novels which gave me a really good feeling for the period, especially the Reign of Terror. The Reign of Terror was all about paranoia and I try to emphasize this in the show- that everyone suspects his or her neighbor. It was frightening, out of control!
You talk about paranoia. A big part of The Scarlet Pimpernel deals with trust...
Yes, that's huge. Disguises and camouflages, and not knowing who you can be sure of- it's an enormous part of the story. I think there's little in life scarier than finding out that you can't trust someone you thought you could trust. And I also felt I had to make use of the fact that Marguerite is an actress! It's rather an amazing thing- to be an actress in 1794- that was pretty revolutionary in itself. And so, by necessity, this was someone who was also good at disguises and camouflages and taking on different personae, just as The Pimpernel does.
Marguerite really is a risk taker, a hero in herself.
Yes, a really gutsy woman. Her character fascinated me from the beginning. She's got these wonderful reckless characteristics that make her a very complex heroine.
How do a lyricist and a composer work together to create the songs for a musical?
I get asked this a lot- is it lyrics first or music first? For something like a comic song it's always easier to do the lyrics first and then have the music set to it because then you can just have fun with the rhymes and let the song go in whatever crazy direction it wants to go. For a ballad it's often better to have the music first and let the emotion of the melody dictate the content of the lyric. With Frank, he only works one way, he does not work lyric first- so that's the way I've always worked with him. Frank will get inspired and just sit down and compose one song after another. And he writes such fabulous melodies. For a large part of our relationship we've been on two different coasts, so an awful lot of our work has been done simply by sending tapes back and forth. Often he'll write a melody and be so excited about getting it to me that he mail it off without having made a copy of it- so I'll write the lyric and then call him up and he'll say, "Yeah, but I've forgotten how it goes!" so I have to sing it to him over the phone.
If a young person is interested in becoming a lyricist, what advice would you give them?
Well, I started out as a poet, and I think that's a wonderful way to begin if you're interested in becoming a lyricist because it gives you such an appreciation for the importance of every word. I didn't even do rhyming poetry back then, I just wrote free verse. I studied with the poet Anne Sexton for a couple of years and I learned so much from her about sharpening language and original, fresh use of imagery. And I always adored music and musicals. There was a point where the two just came together. The advice I would give to someone who wanted to be a lyricist would be to study great poetry, both rhyming and non-rhyming, and to try to write poetry so that you can learn the value of every single word. Every word has to pull its weight. Every word has to be fresh.
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