Review Fix chats with Emily Clare Thompson & Richard D. Russell discuss their latest production, It Takes A Rainbow.
About the Production:
Seven little lizards, all the same, venture forth from their safe home in search of the colorful world.
The experience is so exciting that each little lizard transforms into one of the colors of the rainbow. But when they return home their parents hardly recognize them… very quickly, though, they all agree that it’s what’s inside that counts. After all, “it takes a rainbow to make a lizard’s world complete.”
This delightful children’s musical giving today’s audience a perfect parable of equality and acceptance is brought to you by one of the leading teams of writers of theatre for young audiences. Emily Clare Thompson & Richard D. Russell have written more than a half dozen musicals with a message. They won the 2011 citation from the Character Education Partnership, they founded Musicals with Character to better brand what they do. The Character Education Partnership cited the team’s work for the way they “…present a moral and promote character education … students view characters correcting wrong choices and taking healthy steps to create a supportive community.”
About the MITF:
The Midtown International Theatre Festival returns for another summer of quality stage works. New York’s oldest continuing theater festival will present 100 plays in 23 days.
One of the leading reasons to visit New York in the summer is the theater – from Shakespeare in the Park to the best of Broadway. New York is also known for its amazing theater festivals. This year, the venerable Midtown International Theatre Festival takes its place as the oldest continuing summer arts festival in New York. To usher in this honor, producer John Chatterton presents nearly 100 new and fascinating live stage works – plays, musicals, variety acts, short plays, solo projects, and so much more. Visit www.midtownfestival.org for further info.
Review Fix: WHAT’S YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS LIKE?
Richard D. Russell: Emily comes to her creative process in a very organic manner. Emily is a school teacher and she finds inspiration in her daily interactions with children. She has stated in the past that sometimes, when writing dialogue or shaping a character, she has a particular child in mind that she knows she can cast for the part. Richard, on the other hand, is more of a practical sort, making an appointment time for creativity. He sets aside a certain sacred few hours of the day where he is to be creative whether he feels like it or not. Some days are more creative than others, but the important thing is to get something down on paper. When Emily emails a lyric, that alone sparks his creativity. Emily has done all the legwork, setting a tone, a pulse, a rhythm. Sometimes it’s good to work within these parameters that Emily has set, but other times Richard will work against it just to see if it works. We’ve had some surprising things happen in our shows because of this flexibility. There are certainly times, though, when either one of us might say, “Nope, this isn’t right, this isn’t what we’re going for.!” We both have to be comfortable going back to the drawing board in such instances. One part of the creative process that we agree on completely is the concept of flow. We both have described experiences to each other where we sat down to start working and hours passed before we even noticed it. We forget to each lunch. We start work at 9am and look at the clock and suddenly it is 4pm. Where did that time go? Once we get into a creative zone and are pleased with what we are doing, it is difficult to pry us away from our work.
Review Fix: WHAT MAKES THIS DIFFERENT OR SPECIAL?
Russell: What makes “It Takes A Rainbow” special? The short answer is that audiences have told us so. But, Richard also offers a more personal answer — which we’ll get to in a moment. But first, the audiences have told us how distinctive this show is. We have written 7 shows together, varying in their subject matter and intended audiences. Some shows are just a short, hour-long musical. Others are full length, two-act musicals complete with intermission. Audiences tend to respond very positively to all of our material. But only “It Takes A Rainbow” has people coming up to us afterwards, asking, “why hasn’t Disney purchased this show already?” or, “when this show will be on TV?” or on a movie screen — or on Broadway, for that matter. People genuinely respond to this show and immediately envision it going places. What else? It is a score that kids cannot stop singing. “It Takes A Rainbow” is presented at Emily’s school every May, performed by a bunch of 2nd graders. (The principal at Emily’s school loves that Emily’s curriculum includes the presentation of this particular show.) The students love watching this musical so much as 1st graders that they enter the 2nd grade already knowing all of the songs. They sing these songs on the school bus on the way to school and back home. There’s no reason Emily and I would know this, except that the school bus drivers have come to see the show to find out what all the fuss is about. So, there is something special about this show. It attracts people. It makes people want to share it and have everyone else see it. What are audiences responding to? There’s a truly timeless message in the show—without being preachy—that teaches that we should love one another no matter what’s on the outside. It’s what inside that counts. And this sounds like such a cliche—cliches being the exact opposite of “special”— but this is where Richard’s personal answer comes in.
Emily Clare Thompson: Richard has seen the show numerous times, knows the script backwards and forwards. He wrote the music, so he is intimately aware of the show’s harmonic shifts and lyrical surprises. Being fully informed of each and every thing that is to happen during the hour it takes to present this show, Richard is still choked up by the end of every performance. How so? There is a moment in the last song where all inside knowledge no longer matters; there is a sudden revelation of meaning that only theater can present. We’ve heard audiences gasp with delight at this moment. It is difficult to describe in words, but so is any astonishment one experiences in a moment of theatrical magic. The rainbow truly comes alive, and we find it in ourselves. And Richard, fully knowledgeable of all “the secrets to the trick” is still captivated each and every time. When you can put aside your intellect and experience a genuinely theatrical moment, something special is happening. It’s a moment toward the end of the show, but we don’t want to give it away! We’re certain audiences will know it when they see it.
Review Fix: WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF THROUGH THIS PROCESS?
Thompson: We’ve written 7 shows together. This was our 6th. And the primary thing we learned is our true spirit of collaboration. We’ve always been successful collaborators through our earlier musicals. But in “It Takes A Rainbow,” our collaborative flow reached such a peak that we ended up feeling like we’ve written our best show. There were several times in the writing of this show where a genuine collaborative spirit emerged. For instance, for the song “The World of Green” I told Richard the music should sound Irish. Richard got the image of bagpipes on Fifth Avenue, playing something slow and stately, with a tweedy melody floating atop. Richard sent me a musical draft. Very quickly I said, “No, not that kind of Irish.” Richard went back to the drawing board and came up with something we both think is perfect. Another example: We tried about 6 or 7 drafts of our “Citrus Conga” song, and the effort paid off as it became one of the highlights of the show. On the other hand, many of the other songs were “just right” after the first draft. We learned how sometimes you have to throw something out and start all over again—in the service of the show. Intellectually, we always knew that to be true. In this show, we really acted upon it.
Review Fix: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE APART OF SOMETHING LIKE THIS?
Russell: Being a part of MITF is terrific. As noted above, we’ve written 7 shows together. There comes a point where you want to see some forward momentum in your career. You want to have people appreciate your work and give you some validation. And so it feels fantastic to be able to say we’re taking the next step. Emily has used the word “surreal” a few times. But we must confess it also feels like a lot of pressure, of course! MITF provides so much for us, but as far as casting, rehearsing, “putting on a show”—that is up to us. We are excited and sure of ourselves, but we also want to be sure we get it all right. This show has proven itself to us, that it is special, and we want to do right by it.
Review Fix: WHAT ARE YOUR ULTIMATE GOALS FOR THIS PRODUCTION AND FOR THE FUTURE?
Thompson: We believe in this show, and our goal is to get this show in front of as many eyes and ears as possible. We believe this show has the ability to change young lives and to reaffirm those who are a bit older—to include adults! The message of this musical is essential and timely: only when we are open to what is new and different can we see the beauty of variety. “It Takes a Rainbow” affirms there is a universality that binds us together, yet still celebrates our differences.
Review Fix: WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR AUDIENCES WILL ENJOY THE MOST?
Thompson: As the book writer and lyricist, I would like to say they will be moved by the story and enchanted with the lyrics. But, you don’t leave a theater humming the book. They are going to fall in love with the music and the energy of the show. There is something so very special about this story. It’s completely original, but it is written in the style of a traditional origin tale. So, it seems like it comes from somewhere—legend, maybe, or a folk tale—but it is completely original. It has a familiarity and predictability that is comforting, yet it continues to delight and surprise. Richard’s music is a big part of what makes this show so special and delightful.
Review Fix: WHAT’S NEXT?
Thompson: Being selected by MITF and receiving Deborah Grimberg’s encouraging words have definitely given us the boost we needed to feel like it is the time to move forward and seek out new opportunities, venues, and mediums for this show. We are going to take some advice from the lyric our little lizard characters sing in our show: “We must be brave/Now is the time/to take a look and leap!” We also have some preliminary ideas for our next shows. We come up with ideas all the time, noting them for the future. A few of these ideas are taking root, but at the moment, producing a show for MITF is taking up just about all of our time! So, for now, we’re simply on this journey wherever it takes us.