Musings on the Making of a Musical

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The Maker of the Magic

A penniless orphan, exhausted and desperately hungry … awakes one morning to find her attic room transformed as if by magic. Where the night before was only bare floor and a cot, now are rugs and pillows and every kind of comfort. A fire burns in the fireplace, there is a hot breakfast waiting on the table, and – best of all – there is a stack of books. The little girl is thrilled with the Magic around her, but is stunned – and overwhelmed – by the inscription inside one of the books: “To the little girl in the attic. From a Friend.”

It isn’t the Magic that amazes; it is the person who makes it.

Just over a year ago, A Little Princess was that starving little girl in the attic. The show had had a promising beginning and an exciting development process where it was praised by some of the icons of musical theater writing. There was even a Broadway producer who talked about his plans for the show over lunch in a clubby Manhattan restaurant. But that had been several years ago. Then, terrorists brought down the twin towers, the economy faltered, and our lives changed. A Little Princess was tucked away on a shelf, not exactly forgotten but no longer nourished, while the practical necessities of life intervened. Finally, in the fall of 2011, Eric and I tiptoed up the attic steps and took a peek inside. We started mentioning little Sara Crewe again, to see if anyone would be interested in our little girl in the attic. And there was Michael.

Michael Laun with Margaret in Sacramento

Michael Laun, Executive Producing Director of the Sacramento Theatre Company. He had produced The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) at STC, so he knew of Eric’s talent and was interested to learn of another Rockwell show. He met with Eric in New York, where Eric told him the story of Sara Crewe and a man named Carrisford. Eric gave him a demo recording of the Act II ballad which Sara sings upon waking up in her transformed attic room, “Someone Made The Magic.” Michael was intrigued. He read the script. He licensed the show from us. And he set about making the magic happen.  

Michael LaunPlaywrights, Lyricists, Musical Theater Composers … we write it all on paper and we see and hear the show in our minds, but theater doesn’t exist until it is up on a stage in front of an audience. For that to happen, someone – Someone – has to produce it. Someone has to put all the pieces together… hire designers to create the look of the show; hire a music director to teach the music to the actors, assemble musicians, and direct the execution of the score; hire a choreographer to stage the musical numbers; hire orchestrators to give instrumental voices to the score; audition, select, and hire actors; assemble a team of stage managers, prop masters, scenic artists, carpenters, electricians, audio technicians. Pay for all the raw materials – the fabric, the wood, the paint. Arrange for press and publicity, for tickets to be sold, and for a house staff to welcome the patrons. In Michael’s case he’s also the Director of this production; planning the staging, guiding the designs, rehearsing the cast. In addition, he’s running an entire theater company, maintaining a full-time staff and facility, reaching out to the community to form partnerships, answering to a Board of Directors, and always – always – keeping an eye on the financial bottom line.

Producing theater is nothing like a guaranteed investment. You invest all of this money into creating an intangible, fleeting moment in time, all the while hoping that enough people will want to experience it to generate enough box office revenue to cover your costs and – hopefully – bring in additional cash to fund your theater operations and future shows. The safest course is to produce tried-and-true standards. You know the public will buy tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music. You suspect they will also buy tickets to the latest show fresh on the market from Broadway. But to produce a new musical by an unknown team of writers … well, you have to be a little bit crazy to take on this risk. Crazy – and passionate about the theater, believing that supporting new writers is an investment in the future of the theater. Michael is just this sort of crazy – and passionate. He produced A Little Princess, and for the past four weeks, the actors he assembled and directed have been performing a stunningly beautiful production. They have touched audiences, elicited rave reviews in the press, prompted cheering standing ovations, brought tears to the eyes of more than a few adults, delighted, entertained, and inspired. For a fleeting moment in time, A Little Princess was realized on the stage in downtown Sacramento, in a beautiful display of theatrical magic.

I have a friend!Magic is not magic at all. Magic is very hard work. Here’s to the producers in this business who have a passion for telling great stories, who have a vision for how to make it happen, and who take on the risks of supporting new writers. Here’s to Michael Laun.


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