Q & A with the Creators (Part 1)
A chance meeting in college brought Douglas J. Cohen and Dan Elish together, and now they are the great minds behind MANN… AND WIFE. We’re giving you an inside look at the process it took and how these two friends ended up writing this new musical comedy.
We know you met in the mailroom of Lincoln Center in NYC. When did you start collaborating?
Doug: I believe MANN…AND WIFE marks the first time Dan and I collaborated. But I remember giving and receiving feedback on our individual early efforts and serving as back-to-back pianists/composers for a NY improv group, TheatreSports. So you might say we were casually “dating” before we actually embarked on a serious writing relationship.
Dan: Yes, I agree with Doug. We had been friends for years but had never worked together. I think I thought of asking Doug to work on NINE WIVES (the former title of MANN… AND WIFE) with me around 2008 when I saw a concert version of his musical THE GIG. The love that show and it was great to hear the music again – so that put Doug in my mind.
When did the first conversations about what is now MANN… AND WIFE start?
Doug: I think it was in 2008. I remember running into Dan during the previews of his Broadway musical 13 (co-written with Jason Robert Brown.) We walked home together (about 30 blocks) and he may have expressed interest in musicalizing his novel, NINE WIVES. We covered a lot of ground during that walk! But I think Dan officially asked me to collaborate after he attended a reading of my musical, THE GIG, at the York Theatre.
Dan: We may have talked about NINE WIVES during that walk but I know that I asked Doug about the book sometime in the winter of 2009. He asked to read it which he did. Then we started to work on it that summer.
What are a few challenges of writing a musical essentially from scratch (with Dan’s book)?
Doug: Dan’s book actually gave us a good framework for our musical, although we often deviated from the source material. Writing a show for three actors represents a certain kind of challenge: you want to create an intimate piece yet give the show a certain scope. What’s most challenging is marketing a show that isn’t based on a hit movie. That’s why we’re very grateful to Michael Baron for this incredible opportunity and to our producers, Larry Hirschhorn and Jayson Raitt.
Dan: Well, there’s more plot and characters in the book. So there was lots of honing to do. For instance, Henry’s dad and his niece Jill are big characters in the novel; in the musical they are barely mentioned. In the book, Henry has two best friends – that wa whittled down to one in the musical. As with any musical, there is so much experimentation and figuring out what scenes need to be musicalized and which ones should not (as well as what scenes should be cut). They always seem to be a lot of work (but worth it).
How much of MANN… AND WIFE is autobiographical?
Doug: Well, this is partially based on Dan’s life, not mine. I’ve had precious few dates. In fact, I mostly dated my wife in college, broke up, dated sporadically in NYC, then convinced her to take me back. But I can definitely identify with Henry Mann.
Dan: As one friend said, “You can tell that twenty percent of it is autobiographical but you don’t know which twenty.” That’s sort of true. There are details from my life throughout but the main plot is made up. I was single in NYC for a while, I did go on a lot of dates. (I’m married now, thank God). I did work at night at a lawfirm as a “money” job. I was writing musicals and children’s books. Essentially, I took the background or setting of my life and made up a story around it.
What do you hope audiences take away from MANN… AND WIFE?
Doug: Most of all, I hope they’re entertained and exit humming (preferably a song from our show!). But I also hope they reflect on their own quest for love and appreciate what comprises a successful relationship.
Dan: A lot of laughs and lots of good music. I hope they find it touching, too – I think Henry’s journey is humorous but poignant. He learns what a single guy needs to do to be in position to settle down.
Be on the lookout for more behind-the-scenes Q & A with MANN… AND WIFE creators Douglas J. Cohen and Dan Elish.