It’s been a good couple of years for Chad Beguelin & Matthew Sklar. Their last two collaborative efforts with Tony®-winning writer Bob Martin have come to fruition. First, it was the East Coast premiere of HALF TIME at the acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse. The new musical about professional basketball’s first-ever aged 60-and-older dance team opened last June with Tony®-winning director & choreographer Jerry Mitchell at the helm. Then in November, THE PROM opened on Broadway, marking their third musical collaboration to hit the Great White Way. The musical racked up rave reviews, seven Tony® nominations and five Drama Desk nominations, taking home the Drama Desk for Best Musical. While its run at the Longacre Theater ended August 11th, THE PROM is living on with a YA novel adaptation, a Netflix movie produced by Emmy®-winner Ryan Murphy, a national tour, and a licensing agreement with TRW.
Our Director of Creative Content, Alison Freeman, had the chance to ask the long-time collaborators about their beginnings, their hopes for the longevity of both HALF TIME and THE PROM, and the future of musical theatre.
Alison Freeman (AF): How did you become a musical theatre writer? Did you begin in a different field of writing or composition?
Matthew Sklar (MS): I started playing the piano when I was two years old and began lessons at four. Playing the piano and making up tunes always felt natural to me. When I began performing in school shows as an actor, I started obsessively listening to Broadway cast recordings and fell in love with so many scores. Because I grew up in New Jersey, Broadway was not far away and my family regularly made trips to see shows. By the time I reached junior high school, I knew that I wanted to make the theatre my career. During my high school years I studied composition at the Juilliard Pre-College Division and spent a summer studying at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute.
Through a lucky break, I found myself working as a pit musician and rehearsal pianist on Broadway during my freshman year of college at NYU. That career lasted over a dozen years. I learned so much by being a part of the process. Being in the room while a new Broadway musical is being created is like no other education. I watched brilliant creative people like Maury Yeston, Jeanine Tesori, Tony Kushner, Peter Stone, George C. Wolfe and many others do incredible work in the rehearsal studio and then again during previews. They always strived to make things better. Learning from them by being there was invaluable.
Chad Beguelin (CB):I always wrote skits and songs when I was growing up. I went to NYU for Drama and randomly took an elective playwriting class taught by a then unknown Doug Wright. He encouraged me to focus on writing. I ended up getting a double major in Drama and Dramatic Writing from NYU, then stayed on to get a Masters in Dramatic Writing.
AF: What advice would you give to young, aspiring writers?
MS: My advice to young, aspiring writers would be: try to hear your work as often as possible. Whether it’s gathering a group of friends to read your new musical over pizza or trying to put on a production at your school or summer camp. Don’t be afraid. And don’t be afraid to revise, rewrite and start over. It takes time.
CB: I think the best advice I could give young writers is that it has to be bad before it can be good. Your first draft will never be perfect. It’s only going to get better if you stick with it. It sounds like a cliche, but “writing is rewriting.”
AF: What makes you the most excited about high schools and community theaters across the country/world performing THE PROM? Your your hometown in particular?
CB: I think the message of THE PROM is so universal. It’s about accepting one another. It also shows how fear of the unknown can derail what could be wonderful relationships.
MS: Bob [Martin], Chad and I have spoken for years about how excited we are to have high schools and community theatres perform THE PROM. We’ve been shown over and over again by audience members and members of our company that this show has touched their lives in a very profound way. It has taught them about listening, acceptance, laughter and love. These are things our world needs desperately. I look forward to seeing young people tell this story.
AF: What is your favorite moment in HALF TIME? What do you hope older actors will experience when performing in this show?
CB: I love when the senior citizens decide that they are going to demand respect and not be just a novelty act. It’s an important lesson for everyone, no matter what your age: demand to be treated with dignity.
MS: There are many favorite moments of HALF TIME, but if I had to choose one – I would choose “The Prince of Swing/There You Are”. The song is a beautiful collaboration between the great Marvin Hamlisch and Nell Benjamin. It is a song about loss and it’s told in a beautiful and poignant way. HALF TIME provides knockout numbers for older actors. Where they are the LEADS and can stand center stage and belt out a song and show us what they can do. I can’t wait for people who may have felt sidelined to get back up there and show off!
AF: What do you look forward to most about the future of musicals? What can various generations bring to the table?
MS: I look forward to seeing how new shows will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible on stage. Both in technology and in story telling. We are lucky to be able to sit in the audience of a show like HARRY POTTER and wonder “How did they DO that?”. It is just as thrilling to see a show like A STRANGE LOOP and marvel at the writing and performances. We’re living in very exciting times!
CB: I think everyone has a story to tell and that every story is valid. Musicals are about people with big dreams and big emotions. Emotions so big that they have to sing about them. Any generation young or old can relate to that. We all have that inner passion that is just waiting to burst out through song!
TRW CEO & President Steve Spiegel with two of our newest artists, Matthew Sklar & Chad Beguelin, at the @DGFound Gala. Matthew and Chad are the creators of the new musical @HalftimeMusical and we are proud to have them in our team! pic.twitter.com/TL1HCBXMtP
— Theatrical Rights (@TRWMusicals) November 12, 2018