The Los Angeles based writing team of Adryan Russ and Doug Haverty is getting ready to celebrate opening night of their newest musical, iGhost, May 20th at the Lyric Theatre. Russ provides the music, Haverty the book, and they work together on the lyrics. It's a partnership that goes back to their meeting years ago in Lehman Engel's legendary writing workshop.
Haverty says, "Lehman was our instructor. It was his last year on the planet and it was our first year doing that workshop. He ran the BMI workshop in New York and then he came out to LA to see if there was interest in doing it here. The plan was for him to come out every three months and do a concentrated week of workshops. He wasn't sure if anyone would even come, but at the first meeting 300 people showed up. We were in a rehearsal hall on the fifth floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and he was flabbergasted. Then he asked if we were all crazy. He told us to march downstairs and buy a lottery ticket; that we had a better chance of winning the lottery than writing a hit musical. Well, we're still writing, and he's a big part of the reason why."
"Our very first project was a play Doug had written in 1984 shortly after we met," adds Russ. "Doug asked me to do the theme music for his play In My Mind's Eye so I wrote a song called 'In My Mind,' which we later recorded." That play is currently available through Samuel French.
Another early project was their award-winning off-Broadway musical, Inside Out, about six women in group therapy. It also grew out of the Lehman Engel workshop. The Group Rep in North Hollywood mounted the first production of the musical and it was scheduled to run for five weeks but kept extending until it ran for an unexpected 5-l/2 months. That was only the beginning.
According to Russ, "The Colony Theatre happened to be doing bonus productions for their subscribers at the time and Barbara Beckley was looking for a musical for one of the slots. Inside Out was chosen for the series, Scott Segal directed it, and it ended up being very well received by their audience. Later Barbara was in New York where she ran into a friend at the Village Theatre who was looking for a musical specifically for a cast of women."
Haverty remembers, "Barbara said the magic words - we just did this and our audience liked it. Well, they called and said they wanted to do it in June," adds Russ. "We thought they meant June the following year, but they meant a month later." Haverty continues, "It's ironic. Barbara hardly ever goes to New York and she hasn't been back in years. Those are the magical coincidences we love."
Up next for the longtime writing partners is iGhost, a contemporary twist on the Oscar Wilde classic The Canterville Ghost. American college student and budding young painter, Virginia Otis, goes to London on a work/study program and encounters Simon, the Canterville Ghost, in search of his lost love Lucinda. He may scare everyone else but he doesn't scare Virginia, who strikes up a dangerous and unlikely partnership with Simon to right some wrongs of the past.
As a child, The Canterville Ghost had long been one of Russ' favorite books. Unbeknownst to her, Haverty had also been a fan of the book. Years later, they saw a notice from Stages in Canada saying that they were looking to commission writers to turn the story into a musical. The pair submitted an outline and four songs and was awarded the commission. In the end, Stages didn't go ahead with the project but Haverty and Russ decided to finish the show anyway.
"That was about 6-7 years ago and the story has evolved quite a bit from its earliest version," says Haverty. "Originally the whole Otis family came from America and Virginia was only 8 years old. We decided to age her so there could be a love interest and we discovered that we had to get her to London quickly because that was where the real story was happening."
"It was a conscious decision to set the story in contemporary times and for good reason," he continues. "One of the main themes is connectivity. The two ghosts are estranged to the point that they can't even hear or see each other so Virginia tries to get them together. The question becomes, how do you connect things that have grown apart?