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We chat with Eric Price about his new pop musical, “Emma!”

Based on Jane Austen’s classic novel, Emma! A Pop Musical features hit songs of legendary girl groups and iconic female singers from The Supremes to Katy Perry. We talk with playwright/composer, Eric Price, about Jane Austen’s legacy, musical theater, and, of course, matchmaking.

Jane Austen’s novels are among the most adapted writing today; from film to TV (and even zombies). What do you think it is about Jane Austen’s work that remains so appealing?

This year, 2015, is actually the 200th anniversary of the publication of Emma. And those two hundred years sort of disappear when you look at the novel—the personalities of the characters and the ways they behave are totally recognizable. Her work feels clearly contemporary, but what’s interesting is that I suspect it’s always going to feel that way, in every era. This means it’s timeless and that’s pretty much what accounts for the unending popularity of anything, I would think.

Any favorite Jane Austen characters?

It’s hard to zero in on a personal favorite, except to say that Emma is the only title character that Jane Austen ever wrote. Pride and Prejudice isn’t called Elizabeth Bennet, it’s called Pride and Prejudice. But Austen named this novel Emma and I think this has something to do with the character’s huge force of personality and the profound transformation that she undergoes during the course of the story.

Emma! features arrangements of contemporary pop songs. What were the challenges of adapting already existing music compared to composing original songs?

There are actually two original songs in the show, but my overall idea from the beginning was to assemble a unified score from material by iconic female singers and legendary girl groups.

Songs like Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody and How Will I Know? or Sara Bareilles’ King of Anything and Brave, these all fit incredibly naturally into the narrative and thematic framework of Emma! The situations, the language, the attitudes in these songs—in fact, in all the songs in our show—are total outgrowths of what Jane Austen invented two hundred years ago.

It was usually pretty apparent to me whether or not a given song had an organic place in our story and so the challenge was more for the lawyers who had to secure the various rights to all this incredible material.

Every song has new arrangements unique to our show and is fully integrated into the story of Emma! The songs also “talk to each other,” in terms of shared musical and lyrical content and they combine in surprising and theatrically exciting ways throughout the whole show. The goal was basically to harness the incredible energy and emotional power of these famous songs and utilize musical theatre storytelling techniques to deliver them.

How did you first get involved with musical theater?

I’ve been passionate about my theatre my whole life—both musical theatre and plays. I was taken to theatre a lot as a kid and I filled in the gaps with original cast albums and by reading everything I could about theatre and the people who make it.

And then, from an early age, I spent most of my extracurricular time putting on shows—acting, writing, directing, producing, and everything in between. It’s an obsession that has never gone away.

What is your writing process like? How often do you write? Where do you like to write?

I write every day for one project or another. And, when I’m not physically writing, I’m thinking—organizing in my mind or on paper—which is where the real work happens. Sometimes the physical writing is just the transcription of all the thinking that has preceded it.

I have a desk at home and I’m also lucky enough to work alongside the Broadway director Hal Prince in his office suite as his assistant. So, I get a lot of work done there, which is always very inspiring because it’s the location where musicals like West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, and Sweeney Todd were born.

Any advice for aspiring playwrights/directors/composers?

There’s no set path – everybody finds his or her own way, but I think the common denominator is about taking the word “aspiring” out of the job title. Whatever it is you aspire to do, spend as much time as possible actually doing it. Don’t wait for someone to give you a job; find a way to make the opportunity yourself.

My other advice is to assemble a group of friends and collaborators whose artistry inspires you. Unlike Jane Austen who worked alone, theatre never happens that way. It requires collaboration with other people. And, at the end of the day, mastering the art of collaboration is the biggest challenge and the truest reward of working in the theatre.

Have you ever tried your hand at matchmaking? Or been the victim of matchmaking?

Never! And the reason for that is that I’ve read Emma and I know how badly matchmaking can work out!

 Eric Price is a lyricist, librettist, and director. His musical Hello Out There (music by Frank Terry) has been developed and/or produced at Goodspeed Musicals, Playwrights Horizons, Adirondack Theatre Festival, and the Village Theatre. With composer Will Reynolds, he has written The Sixth Borough, Around The World, On The Contrary, and is currently writing Radioactive, which was developed in part at the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat and the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony. Mr. Price is the assistant to director Hal Prince on his current and developing projects and previously worked with him on the original production of Stephen Sondheim’s Bounce at the Goodman Theatre and the Kennedy Center and on the London production of Paradise Found at the Menier Chocolate Factory. He is currently working with Mr. Prince on the upcoming Prince of Broadway and The Band’s Visit. Other projects include Presto Change-O, a new musical with composer Joel Waggoner commissioned by Barrington Stage Company and Emma! A Pop Musical for Stageworks Media. Mr. Price is a member of the Lincoln Center Theatre Director’s Lab, a Dramatists Guild Fellow, and received an MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from NYU.

One response to “We chat with Eric Price about his new pop musical, “Emma!””

  1. Candy Dodson says:

    My son school, MBA (all boy school) and their sister school, Harpeth Hall (all girl school) in Nashville, TN just opened Emma! A Pop Musical last night. It was incredible. This is the best musical I have ever seen. The 2 high schools did an incredible job. I wish you could see their performance. The show runs September 2, 2015- September 5, 2015.

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