About the author:
While toiling in the top ranks of New York City's book publishing industry, Jonathan Karp managed to write a musical in his spare time. It took seven years, but How to Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes, the story of how an office romance provokes a global crisis, has arrived off-Broadway at New World Stages. Karp wrote the book and lyrics; veteran music director Seth Weinstein wrote the music. Before turning his attention to the theater, Karp was editor-in-chief of Random House, where he acquired and edited a string of bestsellers, including Seabiscuit, The Orchid Thief, What Should I Do With My Life, Shadow Divers, The Dante Club and two novels by Tony Award winner Rupert Holmes, Swing and Where the Truth Lies. He hasn't completely given up his day job: As publisher and editor-in-chief of TWELVE, Karp is launching a new imprint for Hachette Book Group USA that will publish only one title per month. His authors include Robert Altman, Christopher Buckley and John McCain. Broadway.com asked this man of letters to describe his path from publishing to the stage.
Your life can change with a passing comment on the street.
Seven years ago, I met a lanky young actor named Michael McEachran. He was cast in a one-night-only performance of a 10-minute musical I'd written with my collaborator, Seth Weinstein. We didn't know anything about him except what the casting director had told us: wildly talented and totally unpredictable. It was an incidental part, so we didn't give the casting much thought. By the time our work was performed, however, Michael's character, a magician, had become central, purely through the force of his talent and his improvisations with magic tricks he'd bought at his own expense. He got the biggest laughs of the night. Afterward, Michael casually suggested that Seth and I should write something else for him.
Later, Michael would tell me he had no recollection of ever having made that suggestion, but for me, his fleeting invitation, perhaps uttered out of politeness, provoked an entire musical, How to Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes, one I have been writing since 1999. I wrote it for a virtual stranger, someone with whom I had spent about five hours of rehearsal time. All I could have told you about him is what I'd read in his brief program bio (Little Me on Broadway; How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, national tour) and what I saw the night he performed our work. Only a truly committed actor would buy and learn magic tricks for a one-time performance (for which he wasn't being paid). And with his red hair, facility for funny accents and dazzling gift for physical comedy, Michael reminded me of a young Danny Kaye.
When I was growing up, I loved Kaye's movies, especially The Kid from Brooklyn, The Court Jester and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Kaye could sing and dance with flair, and he always found the comic grace in the moment. As an actor, he allowed us to see his vulnerability and his sweetness, and he was brave enough to play cowards who had to overcome their fear. That basic idea—of the struggle to choose love over fear—became the central theme of our musical.
Nicole Ruth Snelson & Michael McEachran
in How to Save the World...
In the seven years between Michael's comment on the street and our off-Broadway premiere at New World Stages, I have quit the same job twice, become a father and revised my script dozens of times—for a workshop, three readings, a fringe production and this new incarnation. I have watched our leading actors occasionally support themselves by babysitting and bartending. I have seen our story, involving the world's most fastidious terrorist, become painfully unfunny in the wake of 9/11, only to seem remarkably timely two years later. When the actors recently gathered in my apartment for a reading of the latest draft, my 18-month old daughter was toddling around the room. Michael looked at her and astutely commented, "She turned out to be a much easier creation, didn't she?"
I never thought the musical would take seven years, but as a professional book editor, I have often waited that long for my authors to finish their work, so it shouldn't really surprise me. It turns out there are many parallels between the worlds of publishing and theater:
Both are quixotic endeavors: Publishing is legalized gambling and theater is temporary insanity.
Both fields are full of colorful personalities longing to express themselves, though authors tend to be more repressed and rarely are willing to take off their clothes in front of an audience. When I'm reading pages by my authors, I can often see their superegos at work. When I'm with actors, I am surrounded by id.
In both worlds, authors have to keep rewriting. The difference with this musical is that I was the one being told rather than the one doing the telling. As an editor, I've often written the phrase "Make it funnier" in the margins of my authors' manuscripts. It wasn't until I got that same note from our superb director and choreographer, Christopher Gattelli, that I realized just how hard that advice is to implement. A good director is effective in the same ways an editor is. Christopher convinced me to cut entire scenes and songs in a gentle, constructive way.
Another similarity between these two worlds: Nothing is more exciting or fulfilling than discovering new talent. Being the first reader of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit is a thrill I'll always cherish. I hope audiences will feel the same way when they discover the actors in this musical. Anika Larsen has been honing her character for six years, and with each incarnation, she finds new layers of meaning, which inspires me to write even more for her, just as I initially did for Michael McEachran all those years ago. Nicole Ruth (Nikki) Snelson is a relative newcomer to our cast, having played her role for a mere three years, but once again, I was compelled to rethink her character after seeing how well she could balance repression and raw sex appeal.
The last similarity between publishing and theater: It's really hard to find the right title. In publishing, we always try to make the reader an irresistible promise. So that's how we decided to call our musical How to Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes. We're hoping to attract globally curious romantics. And if there aren't enough of them, then perhaps we'll appeal to people who prefer shows without an intermission. Either way, it will be a satisfying conclusion to what began with a fleeting remark.
Answered By: Josh P - 3/16/2008