Broadway In Chicago Main Logo

BIG FISH Composer Andrew Lippa Helps Emerging Chicago Writers Refine Their Work

Andrew Lippa and John August
Andrew Lippa and John August

There is nothing more exciting (or daunting) then the traditional out-of-town tryout.  Creative teams get the opportunity to revise, reimagine, and refine their work before it hits the Great White Way and we’re honored whenever Chicago gets chosen to be the city that gets a show’s tryout. The new musical Big Fish currently has the slot, held last season by Kinky Boots (which earned 13 Tony Award nominations on Tuesday, the most of any show this season). Big Fish composer Andrew Lippa is no stranger to Chicago, having worked on the pre-Broadway tryout of his musical adaptation of The Addams Family here in 2009. Even with Big Fish entering the final week of its out-of-town tryout and the revisions that that entails, Lippa still found time to lead a master class for emerging composers at Chicago Dramatists on Monday, April 29.

Working with emerging writers and composers “is one of my favorite things to do,” Lippa told Broadway in Chicago between takes of a behind-the-scenes video filmed at a recent matinee. “I was telling [Big Fish book writer] John August today how I was working with these fantastic writers on Monday night. And of course every time I do that, it’s really selfish because I get better. I listen to what we talk about and what they’re aiming for and not quite getting to and it reminds me of how to do my work.  It’s really the old saying ‘by your pupils you shall be taught.’  Teaching for me is a real opportunity to learn myself.”

When asked to describe the night of the recent master class, Lippa said, “I loved working with Chicago Dramatists, it was really great.” He went on to describe the experience: “It’s like going to church: it’s so incredibly spiritual for me to be around who love making things, in particular music and lyrics.“

It is a rare opportunity for an emerging writer to have the opportunity to have get direct feedback on their work with a writer as successful and acclaimed as Lippa, and he recapped the master class with warmth and fondness, “Look, I’m just one guy who happens to write musicals myself and I was only sharing with them what I’ve learned over time. The beautiful thing was that a couple of them wrote to [Chicago Dramatists Director of New Musical Development] Cheryl Coons and she forwarded some of these messages to me about how the things I said helped them and they started rewriting that very night. That’s just gratifying to know that I can be of help to some emerging writers and make their shows better.” A process we’re sure he can empathize with as he enters the closing weekend of the pre-Broadway tryout of Big Fish.

The show that enters a city for its pre-Broadway tryout is never exactly the same show that heads on to Broadway. Scenes and songs get added and cut, characters are more clearly defined, and both the cast and creative team get to make bold choices and take big risks to make the best show possible for its Broadway run. Those who live in a city lucky enough to get an out-of-town try have the fortunate opportunity to see the show evolve from what it was to what it can be. So even if you saw Big Fish at the beginning of its run here in Chicago, know that the creative team and cast have been passionately revising it each week to make it the best show it can be. Take advantage of the opportunity to see true artistry at work and see how the show has evolved since you first saw it. And if you still haven’t seen it yet, get yourself to the Cadillac Palace Theatre this weekend for the final performances. You definitely want to be able to say “ I saw it when…” before it takes Broadway by storm!

Danny Bernardo, Broadway In Chicago Marketing Team