Broadway Rose’s production is the second fully staged production of Up and Away, following its world premiere in 2018 at Pittsburgh CLO. Writers Kevin Hammonds and Kristin Bair took a moment to talk about it with us.
Q: What inspired you to write Up and Away?
Kevin Hammonds: Initially, I was inspired by the comedy The 39 Steps. When I saw it, I immediately knew I wanted to do something like that, but with a musical. I wanted to tell an epic, larger than life story, with a tiny cast, using nothing but old fashioned, yet highly theatrical stagecraft. And then when producers were mounting Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, I kept thinking to myself, “Why are they spending all this money and attention on the special effects? You should be able to tell a superhero story with no special effects by just telling a really good story.” And that’s when the lightbulb went off! And I got Kristin on the horn!
Kristin Bair: I was immediately attracted to the challenge of writing all of the superpower-using, villain-fighting, city-saving fun into a show with a five-person cast and minimal staging requirements. We also knew that it had to have characters that were relatable and made you want to root for them. It’s not just about superpowers and conquering evil: it’s about family.
Q: What research did you do to create the show?
Kevin: The two shows that served as inspiration for Up and Away were Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman starring Christopher Reeve, and the Batman series starring Adam West. To me, there is no better Superhero story than the Christopher Reeve film. There’s such an innocence about it, and such heart. I love it to this day.
But since Superman, there have been a slew of superhero movies I had to catch up on. In a matter of three months I watched every single Marvel film, and I love them now.
Kristin: The 1978 Superman movie was also a touchstone for me, for its film score as much as its story and visuals (and handsome Christopher Reeve). The epic, anthemic nature of the scores of the action and superhero movies of the late ‘70s and ‘80s were inspirations for the musical language of the big moments in the show, so I did a lot of listening to figure out how to elicit the same emotional response but with only two pianos and percussion. And I periodically checked with my in-house superhero consultant (my son) to get his take on certain scenes as we were writing them.
Q: Did you model any of the characters after pre-existing superhero characters?
Kevin: Because Superman was such an inspiration, that was our starting point. The two leads, Jerry and Joe, are named after the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Our characters live in a small town much like Smallville, and their stories start out similarly, but quickly branch out into their own. Though no other characters are really based on any other superhero characters, we do pay homage in small, fun ways. I think part of the fun is trying to spot these little Easter eggs scattered throughout the show.
Q: Which song was the most fun to write? The most challenging?
Kevin: Probably the most fun song to write was ‘Another New Hero,’ our Act 2 opener. It’s just so zany and over-the-top. I can’t wait to see it. The song is actually new, so we’ve never seen it performed yet.
Kristin: We have other big musical scene ensemble numbers that have been a blast to write. Those songs are where the action takes place, so it’s fun to find the music for what each villain sounds like, and the henchmen, and the drunk secretary, and the hero flying in the sky, and…well, you get the picture. There’s a lot of big emotions, heightened staging, and comedy in those numbers, so they are the most complicated to write, but also the most joyous.
Kevin: The most challenging song was the first song of the show. Setting up your central character’s main “want” is always very tricky. Our job as writers is to set up what this character wants so badly, and then we spend the next two hours watching him either succeed at getting it or failing. So it’s the most crucial number in the show. We’ve had a number of different songs trying to set up the trajectory of the show. It’s been tricky getting just the right one. But I think we’ve done it now. It’s called ‘More,’ and it’s also a brand new song. Fingers crossed!
Kristin: In addition to the first song, our other tricky spot was the song where our hero and the intrepid reporter finally realize that they are meant for each other. We have written seven different songs for this spot – SEVEN! The newest one will also debut at Broadway Rose. We are really hoping that it is “lucky” number seven.
Q: What previous experiences, professional or otherwise, prepared you to create this musical?
Kevin: I was actually a ghost writer for a very popular teenage detective book series. I can’t say who because they will have me killed. But it was a very popular book series that has been around for years. And the perimeter for writing for such a well-known character was very strict and confining. So much so that afterwards, I wrote a musical spoof of such a detective called Brenda Bly: Teen Detective. It had great success in London and is now published worldwide. I think that experience taught me how to write for a very specific genre, in which you must follow the rules of that world very carefully, and deliver on tropes that have made that genre so popular to begin with. I hope I’ve done the same with Up and Away.
Kristin: I started writing this show with Kevin having written only one other full musical, since I got into the writing game a little later than most. But we are fortunate to be members of the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in New York City, which was the training ground for writers such as Alan Menken, Ahrens and Flaherty, and Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Kevin and I were paired together for our very first assignment in the program, and that was the humble beginning of our partnership. Our colleagues at BMI have given us tons of insightful feedback on the songs and story of Up and Away – support that has been crucial to its success.
Q: Who should see this musical?
Kevin: Everyone! We really wrote this musical for the entire family. It’s not at all a children’s musical. It’s adult characters, with adult themes. But we wanted to cast the net as wide as possible as far as our audience goes, so everyone can enjoy it.
Kristin: We’ve got everything: heroes, villains, aliens, unrequited love, requited love, SUPERPOWERS, epic fighting, disguises, flying, jingle singers, ace reporters, and nuns. Quite a few nuns, actually. It’s fast and it’s funny, and it tugs on your heartstrings when you least expect it. And come on – don’t we all need a good laugh right about now?
Q: What has surprised you about Up and Away’s journey since you first wrote it?
Kevin: It is NEVER FINISHED! I look forward to seeing what changes we’ll be making after the Broadway Rose run. Because it is never finished.
Kristin: We are constantly amazed by the things that we are still learning about the show. As writers, you work on a show in isolation: just the two of you and your trusty computers (and piano). When you get the show in front of an audience, however, you really see what the audience is connecting with, and what still needs to be funnier or clearer or just…better.
Q: There are some pretty outlandish evildoers in Big City. You must’ve brainstormed a lot of ideas for super villains – what are some ideas that didn’t make the final cut?
Kevin: I could write an entire musical about the villains we cut from this show. Here’s a small selection: Jazzhands, Sticky Fingers, The Tickler, The Count, and one poor villain who had many iterations, every day I would come into rehearsals with a different version of the character: First she was Kitty Bang Bang, then she was Kitty Bon Bon, then she was Kitty Birthday, then she was cut from the show. RIP Kitty.
Kristin: And, along with cycling through these villains, we had different music for each one, particularly in an earlier version of the ‘Up and Away’ song, which highlighted our superhero fighting each villain separately. Let me just say that the music for Kitty Birthday was nightmare-inducing.
Q: What do you hope Broadway Rose audiences will feel during the performance?
Kevin: Joy! Also nostalgia. One of the best audience comments we received was from a man who said that the show reminded him of playing in the backyard with his brother as a child. That’s what we want everyone to experience.
Kristin: And we want them to laugh. A lot.
Q: What, if any, significant changes did you make to the script and score from its first rough draft to the version we’re presenting at Broadway Rose?
Kevin: We rebuilt the first half hour of the show completely. The center of the show is basically the same, but the beginning and end are completely different from when it was premiered at Pittsburgh CLO in 2018. We did the math a few months ago: In the Broadway Rose production there are approximately 20 songs, give or take a reprise or two. From our very first draft of this show, only six songs remain. As I said before “it is never finished!”
Kristin: To be more specific: there are four major songs debuting at Broadway Rose, plus a handful of smaller songs and significant scene underscorings. And we couldn’t be more excited about it!
Q: And finally, what haven’t I asked that you want audiences to know?
Kevin: My Venmo account? No, seriously. This show is for everyone. You don’t have to be a superhero or comic book fan to enjoy this show. At its juicy center it’s about two brothers trying to find their place in the world, and how no matter where you go, family will always draw you back and bring out the worst and the best of us. It’s a fun ride. We hope you enjoy it.
Kristin: If you like what you see, reach out to us on social media (FB: @upandawaymusical; IG: @upandawaythemusical) and let us know – we’d love to hear from you! You can also check out our website: www.upandawaymusical.com