A Musical Reunion - Three Authors' Perspectives

It’s about time that some really funny and talented guys got into the whole idea of writing a high school reunion musical. Is it a unique opportunity to share life’s experiences since graduating, while having a chance to get together with old and dear friends? Or, perhaps it is a trigger for hellish memories from high school when forced into the company of adolescent enemies that haven’t been seen for years – while still holding onto all those unresolved conflicts that drove them nuts as kids. Authors and musicians Marc Ellis, Michael Lange, and David M. Matthews collaborated on a musical that may prove to be the definitive answer to those questions, and many more.




Composer/writer Marc Ellis has been a music business professional since the late 1970's, and was nominated for an Emmy for the score of “The Search for Amelia Earhart.” Marc has written numerous film scores for Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, and Dana Carvey; scores for television include “Flash Gordon (NBC),” “The Today Show,” and “Scrabble.” Michael Lange is a prolific writer, composer, director, and producer with multiple movies and television programs under his belt. Michael is equally adept at directing drama, action, and comedy for television. After eight years in advertising he came to Hollywood, received a DGA Award nomination, and directed one Sundance Festival feature and two television movies, among numerous other projects. David M. Matthews is an Emmy winning composer, writer, director, and producer. In his spare time, he also wrote a self-help book, “Every Man Sees you Naked: An Insider’s Guide to How Men Think.” When these three talented men came together, something wonderful was likely to happen; and it did with their joint collaboration in the original musical, REUNION. 


Everyone who has gone to his high school reunion has probably had some strong feelings about it. Ellis, Lange, and Matthews had some lingering feelings about their reunions - which they captured in this world premiere musical. Their interviews proved enlightening, as well as amusing. 


Was there a reunion that inspired you to write this play? Where and when was it, and did you attend? What struck you as being the funniest/saddest element in the event? 


ELLIS: Michael called me two years ago. He was planning to go to his high school reunion with his wife; but they were having some marital problems, so he asked if I would go with him. The two of us went to the reunion in upstate New York. That’s what started all this. First, we wrote some songs; but we didn’t have a book. In general, the songs were well received by people. So, we wrote more songs, and the book came later. 


LANGE: Marc and I have been friends since the eighth grade. We went to my high school reunion and even shared a room. In high school, we were in a band together called the Specs (because all four band members wore glasses), which wasn’t cool back then compared to now. All the band members showed up at the reunion. It was the first time we were all together in decades. Then one of the band members said to us, “You know, playing with the Specs was the best time of my life.” We looked at him and realized he was serious. That was funny but sad too because we all hope that life gets continuously better. That was the germ of an idea that could be compelling thematically. We asked what life, this journey we take, was all about. Some of these elements got incorporated into REUNION. 


MATTHEWS: I didn’t go to the reunion with them. I lived in a different part of the country and went to a different school. But, coincidentally, I was planning my own high school reunion when they contacted me about being part of this project. So, the timing was perfect. Interestingly, the script was already so well-defined and filled with great characters that it wasn’t really necessary to incorporate my own reunion stories into the mix. My experiences did, however, help me to better understand what they were getting at; so I was able to contribute in more general ways.


Have any of your personal experiences found their way into your new musical? If so, could you describe one? 


ELLIS: Yes, ninth and tenth grade locker room culture. It was intimidating for chubby, nerdy guys coming off the track after five or six laps, throwing up, and then watching the other guys showing off their assets with some towel snapping. So, we brought some of those universal themes into the plot. One of the things David added to REUNION was a sensibility or “relate-ability.” He has had lots of experience with multicultural sitcoms, and he was adept at looking at our dialogue and improving it. 


LANGE: There was one specific thing that happened to me in the shower, and it was the genesis for one of the songs. I was in the ninth grade; and it was humiliating to take a shower, maybe because I was chubby then. One of the kids called out “Lange, I’ve got three long legs, and my middle one is the longest.” I had no way of computing it when I was that age, but now it’s in the lyrics of a towel snapping song called “Snap It.” 


MATTHEWS: I didn’t add any personal experiences because they had a rich script already and had started writing the songs. I feel my major contribution was working with the story and characterizations they already had. When I went to my own reunion, I told some people what I was working on. They looked at me with horror. 




How did it feel to author a musical with two others? What were some of the highlights? How about problems/stressors?  


ELLIS: Michael and I already had a great relationship writing together.  And we had co-written many songs previously. We think alike, and so we bounce ideas off each other very well. 

This is the first time the three of us have worked together.  Because I worked with them separately before, there was no learning curve.  There’s a song in the show, “It’s Psychology.” David wrote the lyrics; and, because of his understanding of the subject, he was able to add a lot of depth, humor, and poignancy to the show. 


LANGE: We’ve known each other for 50 years, so we have a certain level of honesty. We don’t have to edit with each other. Nothing we say to each other could break that bond. We started writing together just after we got out of college. We lived together for a year in Manhattan, around the corner from the Carnegie Deli. 

We wrote a bunch of songs together; and over the years, we collaborated on three comedy/parody CD’s. It went well, and it was a lot of fun. We have a good creative working relationship. Marc wrote the theme song for a movie that I directed called “Intern” in 1999. 


MATTHEWS: Although this is the first collaboration for the three of us, I have worked with Marc for 20 years. For whatever reason, people share their problems with me - friends, relatives and business associates…people in line at Target. My wife pointed out that I’m like “Dear Abby” for every woman I know. I guess that I was inspired by that to write a book, “Every Man Sees You Naked: An Insider’s Guide To How Men Think,” to help women better understand the men in their lives. That led to people writing to me for advice and later to writing columns and to other opportunities like that. 


While working on this new musical, what were some of the most striking differences you noticed compared to working on television? 


ELLIS: As a film composer, they would give me a scene; and I would write the music. Then they would make changes, and I’d see how they would destroy it. They told me I could change it again, but it was never as good as the original. That doesn’t happen in a musical. Of course, you may cut and add, but the integrity of the music remains. 


LANGE: In TV, my career has been mostly directing. I studied theater in college and what I enjoyed most was the rehearsal process. In TV, it’s very quick, maybe five minutes to rehearse. I can’t play with a scene. In theater, the director gets to do that, to work out themes, to translate the page to the stage. Since I’m not directing REUNION, I get to watch Kay Cole, an amazing director, have all the fun…and that’s fun for me. No pressure on me for once. 


MATTHEWS: Much of my background in TV has been writing comedy, but you get a lot more freedom in the theater. Writing plays isn’t as highly structured as TV writing. In sitcoms, you have 22 minutes to tell a story; and you have to do it in four or five segments, in pieces. There’s little time to develop depth. The great thing about theater is that you can really delve into things. I like being able to express myself without all the constraints. 


Are you planning another project together? Or, something on your own? 


ELLIS: I have already finished a feminist musical comedy, called “The Amazing Dr. O” with my wife and Bradford Craig, a famous lyricist and dancer, as well as four other movie scripts. Michael and I have written a comedic father-son script called “Legal Avengers.” We are developing a “dark comedic” musical based on a Shakespearean play. 


LANGE: It’s sort of a mash-up of “Macbeth” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” When I re-read “Macbeth,” I realized that there’s a lot of killing in the play; so it’ll be tricky to work out as a comedy - and challenging…fun. I’m directing an episode of “Bones” next week. 

I’ve been going to a few rehearsals of REUNION. After I went to one rehearsal sitting next to Marc, I got this overwhelming sense that this feels really good. The director, Kay Cole, did an amazing job of bringing out all the nuances. She truly elevated the material we wrote. 


MATTHEWS: I have a comic book project called “Thunder Agents.” Michael and David Uslan and I just partnered with Huayi Brothers to bring this 50-year-old super hero group to television and feature films.



REUNION opens at 8 p.m. on November 7th (with reception to follow) and runs at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays through December 13, 2015. NoHo Arts Center is located at 11136 Magnolia Blvd. N. Hollywood. There is ample street parking. Tickets are $34.99. For reservations, call (323) 960-7773 or go online at Plays411.com/REUNION



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