Thespians gain inspiration from Tony Award-winner Rupert Holmes
Award-winning composer and writer Rupert Holmes regaled members of Staples High School's theater department with humorous anecdotes about a career spanning Broadway's musical theater, mystery novels and mega-hit recording albums.
A popular speaker on high school campuses, Holmes, known for his 1979 hit "Escape - The Pina Colada Song," is dedicated to encouraging young people to explore their individual dreams and passions.
"This is the most vulnerable, completely frightening and yet most hopeful time in any human being's life," Holmes said. "Additionally, it can a launching pad for useful endeavors in the future but it can also scare you into the wrong directions. There were not many people in high school that encouraged me to dream my dreams, so I try to go out there and give kids realistic ideas about what's possible."
Holmes told students packed into the high school's Black Box Theater Wednesday afternoon that the first play he ever wrote was produced when he was a senior in high school. "The second play I wrote won a Tony Award," Holmes said in reference to the musical comedy "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."
He was invited to Staples by alumna and former president of the Staples Players Gina Rattan.
Now living in New York City, Rattan is a graduate of the University of Michigan. She and Holmes met last year when they were working on a stage version of the motion picture movie "The First Wives Club" at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. Rattan was the production's First Assistant Director. A product of the Westport school's theater arts program, led by director and educator David Roth, said she Rattan honed her directing chops on the Staples' stage.
"David handpicked me to be his first assistant director," Rattan said. "I didn't even realize it yet but he intuitively knew that I would be good at directing."
When Rattan approached Holmes about visiting Westport and sharing what it was like to work with legendary Broadway composers John Kander and Fred Ebb ("Cabaret," "Chicago")" he readily agreed. Holmes explained that "Curtains" was in production when it's book writer, Peter Stone ("1776," "Titanic"), died. And, although Holmes praises Stone's talent -- referring to him as "one of the greatest book writers for musicals of all times" -- he also candidly revealed that the project was not in good shape when he was brought onboard.
"It wasn't good as a musical. It wasn't good as a murder mystery," Holmes said.
And, at the risk of jeopardizing his shot at partnering working with Kander and Ebb, Holmes told them that he needed to "blow up" the book and, essentially, start from scratch.
Given that all of the songs had already been written and many actors already in place, it was a tremendous feat to write a storyline that fit into a ready-made project. However, Holmes successfully transformed "Curtains" into a Broadway show that was well received by theater critics and audiences alike. Unfortunately, shortly after Holmes finished Act I, and happily read it aloud to the songwriting team, Fred Ebb unexpectedly died.
"It was tough for John (Kander) because he had never worked with any other collaborator," Holmes said.
Between Holmes and Kander, the lyrics of "Curtains" were completed and the show became, according to Holmes, "a valentine to the world of musicals that John and Fred had loved so much."
Holmes recounted the actor Jason Danieley commenting that the song "I Miss The Music" is written by Kander about the loss of his good friend and collaborator.
"Everyone knew that John had written that song about Fred but he didn't realize it," Holmes said. "It's such a simple, clean lyric. Any time you find something clear and heartfelt, it's John."