Conference Call: David Zellnik and Eric Svejcar "Loveville High: A Prom in Nine Musical Podcasts"
A fresh innovative way to experience musical theatre is coming to you, well, to your iTunes…in the form of a podcast.
David Zellnik (the book writer/lyricist of Yank!) & Eric Svejcar (composer of Disney’s Peter Pan Jr.) have created a new musical called Loveville High: A Prom in Nine Musical Podcasts, nine 10-minute episodes that tell nine interconnected love stories.
Loveville High takes place on prom night in the fictional town of Loveville, Ohio. Each ten-minute episode tells a love story – new love, old love, romantic love, friend love, gay and straight, cis and genderqueer; each is a self-contained musical while also connecting with the other episodes to form a glimpse into the biggest night in the lives of one high school class.
The first three episodes of Loveville High: A Prom in Nine Musical Podcasts will debut Monday, January 7 on iTunes! Subsequent chapters will be released on a twice-per-month schedule culminating in the “Loveville Prom” finale release party on April 8, 2019. Click here to listen/download!
The cast is comprised of Kathryn Allison (Disney’s Aladdin) as “Madison,” Harrison Chad (Caroline, or Change (OBC), Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan) as “Noah,” Troy Iwata (Be More Chill) as “Kyle,” Gizel Jiménez (Drama Desk Nominated Outstanding Actress in a Musical for The Public’s Miss You Like Hell) as “Wanda,” Jay Armstrong Johnson (Phantom of the Opera, On The Town, Hands On A Hardbody, Catch Me If You Can, Hair) as “Zeke,” Hailey Kilgore (Once on This Island) as “Jane,” Mason Alexander Park (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, First National Broadway Tour) as “Jendrix,” Isaac Powell (Once on This Island) as “Cory,” Ryann Redmond (Escape to Margaritaville, If/Then, Bring It On) as “Chass,” Conor Ryan (Desperate Measures, New World Stages) as “Johnny,” and Ali Stroker (Oklahoma! @St Ann’s, Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening) as “Amanda.”
1. This January you are releasing your new musical in the form of podcast, Loveville High, nine 10-minute episodes that tell nine interconnected love stories. Before we get into the depths of the podcast itself, let's get some background first. How did you two come to work together?
Eric Svejcar: We were introduced by Ken Cerniglia at Disney Theatricals about 10 years ago. Disney teamed us up to create Peter Pan Jr.
David Zellnik: Which has now played like 8000 times over the country and world.
Eric Svejcar: No way, really?
David Zellnik: According to MTI.
Eric Svejcar: Wow, I haven't looked in a while. Yay Peter Pan Jr.
David Zellnik: And then in 2014 we worked together again creating a backstage comedy called (at the time) ORVILLE AND WILBUR DID IT! with New Colony Ensemble in Chicago. It’s a show about 20-something actors touring the country doing a terrible kids show about the Wright Brothers, and you know, all the madness and hopes hookups those van tours entail.
Eric Svejcar: The audience sees some of the musical within the play, as well as songs one character is writing. We ended up writing five new songs for that.
David Zellnik: A rewritten version was in FringeNYC last October under the title THE F#@%ING WRIGHT BROTHERS and we hope it’ll be coming back soon!
Eric Svejcar: Then three years ago David asked me if I had any trunk songs – discarded songs from other shows without lyrics. And I sent him about ten. And that’s how this new chapter in our collaboration started…
2. What do you feel makes your collaboration work well together?
David Zellnik: We both, in our own ways, are drawn to songs that are catchy and smart but also don’t sound too clever, or like they’re trying too hard. Songs that are delicious and make people want to sing them.
Eric Svejcar: I agree. I also think David can be that more upbeat in what he wants to hear in the theatre. So you know, fewer angry rock epics which is something on my own I might write.
David Zellnik: Hah! And here I was thinking I’m the cynical one making sure your catchy melodies have funny words.
Eric Svejcar: You’re definitely more sentimental than I am!
David Zellnik: I probably am. I love Eric’s poppy sensibility. I’m a big fan of the old musicals, which is more what I write with my brother Joseph (we wrote an homage to 40s musicals called Yank!) but with Eric it’s a bit more rock and pop based.
3. How long did it take you to create this podcast, from idea to conception?
David Zellnik: Around the time Eric sent me those songs without lyrics, I was looking to adapt a Young Adult novel which had a scene at a school dance. I took one of the melodies and wrote a song two of those characters might sing. And though that project didn’t happen, we both loved the song, which became “Sparkle like Bowie.” I wrote it two weeks after Bowie passed away to work through my own sadness.
Eric Svejcar: And about a year later -- so two years ago -- I played the song while David was over and we both realized we needed to find a way for it to live in a new project. So we came up with LOVEVILLE HIGH. I've always been a fan of episodic radio drama -- the original HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY radio series is one of my favorite things ever -- and I've always wanted to try something similar with a musical but had no idea what it would be.
David Zellnik: I came up with this idea that there could be nine short podcast episodes set at a dance, with all different kinds of kids finding love, or wrestling with love, or sad about the love they have, or trying to make the love they feel inside make sense. I thought it would be fun to have the episodes stand alone…but also interweave with each other.
Eric Svejcar: We wanted it to feel more than the sum of its parts. Podcasts are interesting because they have to make you want to return, but also each episode needs to work on their own. And having one location and one event means we don’t have to introduce everything about the world in each episode.
David Zellnik: So for 18 months we wrote. It took a while because we were both working on other projects too. I was finishing up a draft of a musical with my brother Joe (called RUTH AND THE PANDA).
Eric Svejcar: And I was music directing and playing piano all over NYC and the US trying to keep food on the table.
David Zellnik: By last August, we had the script and songs and we recorded them…but mixing down and adding the orchestrations takes time. Also we had a FringeNYC show to make happen in October!
4. Was your process for making this podcast different than a full-fledged musical?
David Zellnik: First of all, the audience needs be able to understand everything simply by listening. Like a radio play.
Eric Svejcar: The structure is different than any musical I know – it’s built in ten minute sections. Maybe HELLO AGAIN has a similar structure?
David Zellnik: I’ve never seen it. I’ve also never seen ALMOST MAINE but I know the structure and this is related to that…although here, some characters appear in more than one story, rather than every story being completely self-contained.
5. Was there ever a discussion along the way of making this into a stage musical as opposed to just a podcast?
David Zellnik: Not during the process. It was always structured to be understandable in 10-minute self-contained episodes. That way, we also thought each could be done alone in a scene study class or one-act festival.
Eric Svejcar: Basically, we figured in this crazy world where sometimes it feels you have to beg to get readings or even meetings, it would be nice to make a thing that already is what it is.
David Zellnik: Not a blueprint for something, but the thing itself.
Eric Svejcar: But now that it’s done, I think it will be a great 90-minute show.
David Zellnik: I agree! I’d be thrilled if someone wants to do it.
Eric Svejcar: But if it lives only as podcast, that’s kind of cool too.
6. How did you decide on this fantastic cast? Did you write these with them in mind or did you hold auditions?
Eric Svejcar: They’re fantastic right?
David Zellnik: The answer is easy: we hired the excellent Michael Cassara as our casting director. Best decision we ever made.
Eric Svejcar: At first, we just thought we’d ask our amazingly talented friends – but though many are or have been on Broadway, most of them are not still in their 20s. Michael had the idea that this project about people at the beginning of their “real lives” should also be the next generation of Broadway stars.
David Zellnik: Michael made suggestions and we picked the people we thought were best for projecting character only through their voices.
Eric Svejcar: And then everyone in our dream list said yes(!)
7. Which episode was the hardest to write? Which one was the easiest?
David Zellnik: Another easy question: Episode 1 was exhausting to write!
Eric Svejcar: It’s a cliché in musical theatre: the opening is always the hardest, and often written last. It sets up so much and has to be so delightful you want to go on the whole journey.
David Zellnik: We didn’t know if it should be a group number, or what kind of characters would set up this episodic group portrait. We also knew it had to be self-contained but also that we’d come back to this couple in episode 9 to get a sense of closure…so there had to be something left open just enough to justify returning.
Eric Svejcar: There are so many styles of music in the whole series so it was also a challenge to think what style should open it. Cause the first 10 minutes of any musical makes a promise about tone.
David Zellnik: It took months. But we’re very happy. And we love that the first song is the title song.
Eric Svejcar: The easiest to write? Episode 2.
David Zellnik: Partly because we wrote that song before we knew it would be a podcast. I’d never written a “Conditional Love Song” which is in the DNA of the American musical and was super fun. And in general, I love writing “gay-young-people-in-love” songs. Or in this case: “one-bi-kid-and-one-kid-who-neither-identifies-as-male-or-female-in-love” songs.
Eric Svejcar: “Sparkle Like Bowie” makes me cry.
David Zellnik: “Sparkle like Bowie” makes me cry.
8. What do you think these podcasts will teach listeners?
David Zellnik: My first goal is to make people swoon or laugh or want to dance rather than teach them.
Eric Svejcar: I always want to tickle their ears.
David Zellnik: But to try and answer: I think maybe by having a cast and set of characters that approach the amazing diversity of the younger generation…well, I don’t know what that teaches exactly except maybe: everyone is the lead in their own amazing love story. And yet also, everyone is also a supporting player in a community of love.
9. Since Loveville High takes a glimpse into the biggest night in the lives of one high school class, what do each of you consider to be the biggest night in your life (whether it be in school or post-school)?
David Zellnik: Well for me, it’s gotta be my first date with my now husband, many many years ago. I remember coming home breathless, thinking: I have no idea if he’s “the one” whatever that means. But I do remember thinking: “Don’t mess this up.”
Eric Svejcar: For me it would probably be the night my puppy (now nine years old) came to live with me. My life has never been remotely the same since.
10. This podcast was written to celebrate, as the website says, “The moment of risk, heartbreak, and joy when the wild strangeness of love comes into clearer view.” What are these moments for each of you?
David Zellnik: For me, see above. But also I remember being in Berlin right after college, tipsy in a gay bar. At the time, most gay people were delayed by a few years in our journey towards love because most of us were so closeted in high school. And this was before the internet connected you to everyone always, so I was really alone in that bar. But I remember being happy, looking around. I remember thinking: What life are you going to make for yourself, David? What love will you find, now that life has really started? I feel that was, in retrospect, a total Loveville High moment.
Eric Svejcar: For me, I've gotten to do some work with an arts organization called NewArts that was founded in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy to promote healing through the arts. We created a new musical of A Midsummer Night's Dream and to watch these young people who have had their lives touched by this incomprehensible event trying to rewrite the story of their lives has been one of the most amazing things I've ever been a part of. Those young people and that community are living proof that love can triumph over despair even when it seems utterly impossible. They were very much on my mind as we were creating the teenage characters of Loveville and I think are absolutely reflected in the songs and stories we've created.
David Zellnik: That’s so beautiful. Now I feel bad for talking about being drunk in a bar in Berlin.
Eric Svejcar: Hah. Being young and thinking about love is important too.
David Zellnik: Indeed. When you’re in that moment of life, it feels like maybe the most important thing ever.
More on David:
Musicals include: book and lyrics for the Off-Broadway musical Yank! (composer: Joseph Zellnik) which received 7 Drama Desk nominations, incl. book and lyrics, as well as nominations from the Outer Critics’ Circle, and Lucille Lortel Foundation. The CD was released by PS Classics and there have been several regional productions from 2014–2018. London 2017, Rio de Janeiro (in Portuguese) 2017, where it won Brazil’s national theatre award. David has also worked with Disney Theatricals to create Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. (music: Eric Svejcar) which has been licensed over 1500 time in the past 5 years. Eric and David’s backstage musical THE F#@%ING WRIGHT BROTHERS was part of the 2018 NYC Fringe. www.davidzellnik.net
More on Eric:
Eric Svejcar is a composer and musical director living in Brooklyn, New York. With David Zellnik, he adapted Disney’s Peter Pan Jr. which has been produced by hundreds of schools across the US. Composing credits include Caligula, an Ancient Glam Epic which won the Audience Award at the inaugural New York Musical Theatre Festival, The Murder of Isaac for Centerstage Baltimore, songs for White Noise (NYMF) and a rock adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which will premiere this summer in Newtown, CT.
On Broadway he conducted the Roundabout/Deaf West revival of Big River, and music directed the 2006 off-Broadway revival of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris (recorded by Sh-K-Boom Records.) Originally from Chicago, Eric was the front room pianist at Davenport’s Piano Bar and played for many, many singers at the late lamented Gentry on Halsted.