Q-and-A: Writer Marcy Heisler talks about show
The popular production was nominated for two prestigious Drama Desk Awards and the smash off-Broadway run received rave reviews from critics. The show also attracted a star-studded audience including Brooke Shields, Molly Shannon from “Saturday Night Live” and Mary Louise Parker.
Created by Marcy Heisler (book and lyrics) and Zina Goldrich (music), the lively production chronicles the adventures of Edwina Spoonapple – a modern day Dear Abby – and will delight children, teens and adults with its themes of friendship, self-acceptance and the joys of growing up.
The Jamestown Press recently caught up with Heisler while she was in New York City and she generously answered our Dear Marcy questions.
Q: What is the musical “Dear Edwina” about?
A: “Dear Edwina” is the story of Edwina Spoonapple, a young girl from Paw Paw, Mich., who creates musical advice-giving shows with her neighborhood friends. These performances take place every Sunday afternoon in her garage, and are attended by the people on her block and surrounding neighborhood.
While Edwina is an advicegiver extraordinaire, she feels her siblings have more quantifiable talents. Her big sister, Myra, and big brother, Joe, are musical geniuses, and little sister Katie is a math whiz. Like her siblings, Edwina yearns for a spot “up on the fridge” where she can display a prize. She laments the fact that there isn’t one for telling people what to do.
Her chance for glory comes in the form of an open spot in the upcoming Advice-A-Palooza Festival taking place in Kalamazoo, and it just so happens a talent scout is coming to catch Edwina’s show this very Sunday. Maybe an invitation to the festival is the prize she has waited for after all. What Edwina learns in the end, however, is that no prize can compare to having fun with your friends and helping those you care about.
Did a specific experience inspire the story?
When Zina and I decided to try our hand at writing together, we wanted to do something less all encompassing than a full musical – to dip our toes in the water, if you will, and see what our sound would be. Since Zina had a background in animation, we decided to write a group of “Schoolhouse Rock” type of animated shorts that would be self-contained. We pitched them around Hollywood to good response, but we were young and didn’t necessarily think anyone was going to give us the chance to do them the way we wanted to. So we decided to go back to what we knew and loved best, and write a musical story around them, which gradually grew into “Dear Edwina.”
Maury Yeston, who taught the BMI workshop and was a big supporter of our work, brought us to Music Theatre International, and Freddie Gershon licensed the musical, even though it had never been professionally produced in New York before. Then theaters, schools and groups from all around the country started doing it, and it sort of took off from there. The whole experience really taught us not to worry about the end result, and enjoy the journey along the way, which I do believe is the show’s core message.
Tell us about Edwina Spoonapple. Is there any of you in her?
People always ask me if I based Edwina upon myself – I think I am actually more Katie Spoonapple (Edwina’s younger sister). I think Edwina’s drive and her wanting to collaborate with her friends and not always seeing the big picture is something I certainly can relate to. Each character is based upon beloved friends and neighbors from our childhood. For example, my best friend Jennie was a ballerina, my across-the-street neighbor was a Girl Scout, and while Zina and I grew up in different parts of the country, we were no strangers to putting on shows in our respective Midwestern and Eastern garages. I also have siblings I loved and admired and yearned to be like. There’s a little of that in here too.
Your friend Zina wrote the music. How do you two collaborate?
It’s a little bit like a tennis game where I serve lyrically first, she hits back to me musically, and then it’s a free-for-all from there. It’s hard to explain, but it’s an awful lot of fun. We’ve had the luxury of working together for over 20 years. That means I have Zina’s musical sensibilities running in my head and vice versa, and we just let the conversation flow. Of course, we have little differences of opinion throughout, but if we really disagree on a lyric or melodic point, we know we haven’t found the right answer yet and we go back to the drawing board.
How does community theater help foster a love of the creative arts?
There is probably nothing that shaped my life and career more than my theater experiences as a young child in Deerfield, Ill. My parents were co-producers of our community theater there, and I literally grew up in that environment. I also performed in a touring company of “Free to Be You and Me” and was very active as a performer in children’s theater in Chicago and its surrounding areas. I guess there was a point where other people stopped or veered off in different directions, and it never occurred to me to stop. I adored the opportunity to do shows at such a young age, and be in the company of adults who taught me so much and treated all the kids with respect. As an adult I want to create that opportunity for others. It is incredibly satisfying to try to create opportunities to awaken a love and appreciation for the theater in kids. Whenever someone tells us that “Dear Edwina” or any of our other shows was their or their child’s first theatrical experience, it always makes me very happy.
Do you have any connection to Jamestown?
A former beau of mine keeps two boats in the Jamestown Harbor and was kind enough to invite me up both last winter when I was doing a show up at Goodspeed in Connecticut, and this past summer, when I had the chance to experience the lovely views from the water. It’s a beautiful community any time of year, and I am thrilled that you all chose to do our show.
What are you working on now with Zina?
We’re hard at work on the Broadway-bound production of “Ever After,” and looking forward to a mini-tour and second production of “The Great American Mousical,” the show we did with Julie Andrews last year at Goodspeed. More immediately, we are prepping for a concert on Dec. 3 at 54 Below, which is a somewhat new concert space in the theater district. We’re debuting some new songs so we’re rehearsing and creating at the same time, which is challenging in the most fun sort of way. We’re also working on a romantic comedy with some California based writers and have a few more things we’re not allowed to talk about yet. But when we get the go-ahead, we’ll give you all a Jamestown scoop.
Anything else you want to say?
“Dear Edwina” is a play that is very sentimental to both of us, and we truly appreciate the opportunity to get to share it with our friends. Even though it takes place in the Midwest, there is a “neighborhood block party” element to life in New York that we love to celebrate, and the fact that the show resonates in a community as wonderful as Jamestown as well means the world to us. I hope you all will love doing the show as much as we loved writing it. We know it’s in great hands.