A Musical Theater Scrapbook :: Lance Horne on A.R.T.'s 'ExtraOrdinary' Look Back

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday November 8, 2018

EDGE interrupted Emmy winning composer/lyricist and music director Lance Horne as he was finishing up his workout — not that Horne seemed to mind. "I'm very excited," he confided, by phone, upon being taken away from his exercise routine, even as a joking shout of "Quitter!" could be heard in the background.

Horne has worked with the American Repertory Theater for years, serving as music director on productions such as A.R.T.'s revival of "Cabaret" and the Gavin Creel-starring rock opera "Prometheus Bound." Along with his work at the A.R.T., Horne has been Alan Cumming's longtime music director (in a neat dovetailing, Cumming played the Emcee in the Sam Mendes-directed Broadway production of "Cabaret," for which he won a Tony Award). He's also worked with an array of LGBTQ artists and allies, including Margaret Cho, Justin Vivian Bond, and various gay men's choruses.

Horne has got cred in terms of advocacy, too; he's worked with organizations like GLAAD, the Point Foundation, Fight Back PAC, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Now Horne is back at the A.R.T. for "ExtraOrdinary," an omnibus show that looks back over the past ten years and celebrates the A.R.T.'s accomplishment of having staged more than three dozen musical projects, including musicals, music and dance theater pieces, and plays in which music plays a significant role. Some of those works have been revivals — the aforementioned "Cabaret," for instance, or a new version of "Porgy and Bess" — and some have been premieres prior to subsequent Broadway runs, such as the stunning "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812" (based on a section of Tolstoy's "War and Peace"), or "Waitress," the musical based on the 2007 movie written and directed by, and starring, the late Adrienne Shelly (the sensational musical adaptation boasts songs by Sara Bareilles). Another recent standout was last season's world premiere of "Jagged Little Pill," a musical built around the groundbreaking 1995 Alanis Morissette album of the same title, featuring a book by Diablo Cody and, of course, the classic album's songs.

Those are only a few of the gems A.R.T. has produced at its main stage at the Loeb Drama Center and its second space at Oberon. There's no doubt but that the last decade has given theater goers — and music fans — much to celebrate.

Lance Horne gave EDGE the inside story on "ExtraOrdinary" in a recent interview.

EDGE: "ExtraOrdinary" brings together musical selections from a number of memorable A.R.T. productions over the past ten years. There are selections from "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812," "Waitress," Pippin," "Porgy and Bess," and more. It sounds like a kind of theatrical scrapbook.

Lance Horne: I think a scrapbook is a great way of looking at it, especially in sight of the context of A.R.T. at Harvard and the fact that they've done 33 music works, either theater musicals or else plays with music, in the last ten years, since Diane Paulus came to A.R.T. And before that, they weren't know for doing music works at all. So this is celebrating [that accomplishment]. "Scrapbook" is a beautiful way of saying it, looking over the last ten years of productions — memorable moments, memorable performers, and thanking the audience for being there and showing them what they might have missed if they didn't see everything.

EDGE: Now is their chance to catch up.

Lance Horne: Absolutely. It's a really good 'Watch this before the next season streams on Netflix.' A good chance to catch up.


EDGE: In addition to the titles I've mentioned, what other musicals can audiences look forward to flashing back on?

Lance Horne: I think something that we're all very proud of is a production called "Prometheus Bound" that played in 2011. I was one of the music directors [for that production], along with Debra Barsha, and it had an amazing cast and a beautiful message that was very much classical in its treatment of the Greek myth of Prometheus, but also very telling because it really pointed the way toward where we are right now in society. So we're all really excited about presenting an entire section from "Prometheus Bound."

EDGE: Gavin Creel was fantastic in the role of Prometheus. I still think back on that show fondly.

Lance Horne: I'm glad you saw it and I'm glad it reached you. All of us who were involved with that [production] have that memory, and we'll be celebrating that in a way — retelling it — they'll be doing an extended sequence from "Prometheus," and giving it a special treatment in this revue — well, revue's the wrong word, but in this scrapbook.

EDGE: So, now, how will this work? Will there be some narration to fill the audience in on the story when a scene, or a production number, from different plays come up, or is the idea just to put it up there and let the audience catch on?

Lance Horne: Hopefully people will follow. We've got an amazing core ensemble cast, some of my favorite performers from the last ten years at A.R.T., and they have the job of telling these songs and stories in collaboration with Dick Scanlan, who is shaping the text of the night based on interviews with the company. He's done everything from [the 2002 musical version of] "Thoroughly Modern Millie" to "Everyday Rapture" with Sherie Renee Scott, and he is a masterful storyteller. I was just talking with Diane Paulus about how excited we are working with him. We've all been looking at the musical content, and working with Dick, who has really locked in how we're going to get to share it with the audience. I'm pretty sure they'll follow it pretty easily.

EDGE: Have you had to wrangle and rewrite the material much in order to organize the flow and the sequence, and to make the different musical numbers work together in a unified way?

Lance Horne: It's been a great — that was one of the things that attracted me to this project to begin with. I work very closely together with Alan Cumming [on his shows] and we make these evenings which tell a story out of disparate elements. Diane Paulus has seen those shows and we discussed if that approach might work well looking at the last decade at A.R.T. I think there are certain themes that recur in stage musicals, and there are definitely chord structures that repeat. My brain gets really excited with the question of, "Wow, what does 'Corner of the Sky' [from "Pippin"] share with 'I've Got Plenty of Nothing' [from "Porgy and Bess"] in terms of structure, in terms of what it says? Do they juxtapose each other? What kind of songs do we reach at the ends of musicals? Is there a closing sequence that can align 'Finding Neverland' with 'Jagged Little Pill?' "

I love a library; it's a sanctuary for me. And this feels like someone has allowed me to shuffle through all the books on my favorite shelf of musicals and make an evening out of it.

EDGE: As you pointed out, you're working with a cast of seven artists who are alumni of these different shows. Have they brought anecdotes and their favorite tales from those productions, and if so, has that colored this show at all?

Lance Horne: [Laughing] Absolutely! They have. I've been able to work with them individually and in small groups leading up — our big days of rehearsal start tomorrow. Each of them has shared something really funny and/or touching that has happened to them at A.R.T. They've been sharing those memories with Dick, so I'd imagine that some of their personal experiences would end up on stage as well.

EDGE One of those seven artists is Mj Rodriguez, who was part of the cast for "Trans Scripts Part 1: The Women," and who's also been on Ryan Murphy's drama "Pose."

Lance Horne: Mj is amazing. I think that one of the most poignant things I took away from our early discussions as the creative group is that the A.R.T. has done away with saying words like "women" and "men" in terms of our casting. We were talking about vocal ranges. We were saying, "We really need some altos and some sopranos and some tenors and basses." It was more about what a person brings than what we bring to a person. Mj and I had that conversation, as well: Why can't more people do what Diane Paulus does, and say, "Oh! You're fantastic. You stand there. And you're fantastic; you do fantastic things over there." I think that is the way forward, and I'm very happy that we're all here to do fantastic things together.

EDGE: Let's talk a bit more about Diane Paulus. The ten years this show looks back on are also the first ten years since Diane Paulus came on board as the Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director of the A.R.T. and really revitalized it, in my opinion. Is this also a celebration of Diane Paulus' vision and leadership?

Lance Horne: I think part of what makes Diane so incredible is that she is a team player and she is so trusting on one side, and then she is also such a visionary on the other. She is incredibly mercurial. I think this is a way we can all celebrate what the last ten years have been, without having it say, "These are the ten years of Diane Paulus." I think she's always looking for the next thing, and she's the last one who would want us to hand her a plaque for the last ten years. She's always most excited by whatever she's working on next, and that's one of my favorite qualities about her. She has said very clearly that when she came to the A.R.T. she wanted to ask the big questions and work on material that's challenging. And she found that by involving music, an audience would be more willing to come on the journey — and I think that is the essence of Diane's presence at A.R.T., and I think that is what this piece is also celebrating.

EDGE You mentioned your work with Alan Cumming, for whom you are music director. You have worked with many LGBTQ and allied artists, but what is it like working with such a prominent talent as Mr. Cumming?

Lance Horne: It's really brilliant. It's wonderful. He's so generous and hilarious — he's a great artist and he is a great supporter of all things in the LGBTQIA community. It's been a decade together [with him] as well, of touring the world and going to places that might be underserved with this kind of material, and meeting with people, and throwing parties... I've definitely grown into the idea community with Alan over this last decade.

EDGE: That sounds like a wonderful personal journey as well as creative journey.

Lance Horne: Absolutely. We call each other "musical husbands." It really does ring true; I'll get a message form him wondering what key to do "Mein Herr" in, because he's got to do it with the MSO next week. There's just a beautiful amount of trust.

EDGE: You made the observation a few minutes ago that "Prometheus Bound" pointed the way to where we now find ourselves socially and politically. To what extent to you view music and art in general as able to comment on politics, or to offer us shelter and solace in tumultuous times?

Lance Horne: The arts are vital. I think that now, more than ever, we need to turn to the arts to see a reflection of us in some stories. As religion is under such fire and, in many ways, failing people, we can turn back to a very ancient form of community and dialogue that goes back to our understanding of democracy and [Ancient] Greece and these brilliant myths and stories. I think that theater has a responsibility to think about what it's saying, and how it's saying it, and to connect to the audience.

One of the great things that Diane's brought about, and that started with "Prometheus Bound" at A.R.T., is the idea of "Act Two" as a conversation with the audience after the show. With "Prometheus," as Prometheus is the first prisoner of conscience, every show was dedicated to someone that was in need. We had Amnesty International come and speak to the audience after each of our shows. I share that with Diane — we have such a vision of wanting to make the world better through [the theater] we make. My prime goal every time I go on stage is to open hearts and minds. Music did that for me as a young person, and I just hope to keep that transition going as long as I'm here.

"ExtraOrdinary" is slated to run at the ART's Loeb Drama Center Nov. 16 — 30. For more information and tickets, please go to https://americanrepertorytheater.org/shows-events/extraordinary/

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.