We all know the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." But after sitting down and speaking with the creative team behind the new stage musical, "Dorian," which is making its West Coast debut at the NoHo Arts Center in North Hollywood, I think the same saying could be used to describe the creation of a musical. It certainly takes a village, and perhaps even more.
The creative team of "Dorian," which consists of James James J. Mellon (co-book writer, co-composer, co-lyricist), Scott DeTurk (co-composer, co-lyricist) and Duane Poole (co-book writer) are certainly an energetic bunch. Even though they had been open less than a week, and were about to start a rehearsal where they were going to implement some slight changes to the piece, they were all anxious to talk about how they came to finally present their production in Los Angeles, almost 10 years after James Mellon first began adapting the famous Oscar Wilde novel, "The Portrait of Dorian Gray."
James Mellon credits his Aunt with giving him the inspiration to adapt the famed novel. He offered to stay home with her one night to keep her company, and she had rented the film, "The Picture of Dorian Gray." As the end credits rolled she exclaimed, "Now that's a musical." James, always a fan of the book, agreed and began writing the show.
James, however, was no stranger to the world of musical theatre, having been Riff in the Broadway production of "West Side Story," as well as having worked for some of Broadway's greatest directors, from Jerome Robbins to Michael Bennet, Hal Prince to George Abbott. So in 1995, after working with another collaborator, James presented a workshop of "Dorian" in New York City, where he invited friends and colleagues to hear his work.
Stephen Schwartz was in attendance, and after hearing the piece pulled James aside and told him, "You've got two great songs, but" - and it was big but - "throw everything else out."
Those two songs, which are still in the show today, were enough of a driving force for James to continue working on the show. But when he moved to Los Angeles, he put the piece aside until he met fellow composer DeTurk, who listened to the piece and told him, "You're crazy if you don't do something with this."
But back then, the show was completely different than the self-described Rashomon- type story as it appears on stage today. It was a completely different show, recalls Mellon, more of a "musical comedy."
So DeTurk came aboard and began to write with Mellon. Despite sometimes being on opposite coasts, the two would work on songs, and sometimes when apart, without knowing it, would compose essentially the same song. Mellon recalls a time when he called DeTurk saying, "I have a song," and DeTurk would say the same thing. They would both play what they had written for each other, and "it was the same, except for a few notes."
After preparing another version of the show for a 2001 reading in New York, it wasn't until after a few days into rehearsals that they realized that the show needed a rewrite. "It didn't flow . . . the characters weren't flushed out," they recalled. And it was then that they decided to shift the show's locale to New Orleans. This change in location gave them a great many creative possibilities, that were flushed out when Duane Poole, a successful M.O.W. writer (but lover of musicals) joined the team, and did a complete rewrite of the book.