Jeff Hochhauser is one of the writers of Anne & Gilbert. In this entertaining conversation, Jeff provides a behind the scenes look at the creation of the script and some of the musical’s most popular songs. Baseball fans take note—the discussion even turns to the topic of hardball musicals.
Q: After spending years writing, rewriting, and work-shopping Anne & Gilbert, the show finally had its world premiere in the summer of 2005. What was it like to see that first performance?
A: On opening night many in the audience were, to say the least, mildly apprehensive and suspicious about a new Anne musical. We, the writers, could actually feel it. They were polite about the opening number but they still weren’t quite convinced. Then Anne made her entrance. It only took a few lines for the audience to fall in love with her. Then Gilbert came on stage and began teasing her and we were home free. The audience was with it for the rest of the show.
Q: A suspicious audience. That must have been unnerving?
A: Listen. People on PEI take their Anne of Green Gables very seriously but when they realized that we did, too, that’s when they became wonderful and responsive audiences.
Q: A & G is based on two of the sequel novels to Anne of Green Gables. What were the challenges in condensing two novels into a coherent script for a stage musical?
A: The love story of Anne and Gilbert is the thread that connects these two novels story wise. It really is one continuous story. But it’s surrounded by dozens of delightful and colorful situations. At the first ever reading of the show, Act One ran an hour and forty-five minutes. Act Two was an hour and fifteen minutes.
Q: The produced version of Anne & Gilbert runs just over two hours including intermission. That means you cut almost an hour?
A: At least. We had to drop the characters Davy and Dora—all you LM Montgomery fans will know who I’m talking about—plus a whole bunch of songs we loved.
Q: “The Days Ahead” is often singled out for praise for the skillful way it conveys lots of information through a highly entertaining song. What are your memories of writing that with Bob Johnston?
A: We had a ball writing that one. We had to introduce a whole new world that was going to replace beloved Avonlea for much of the second act. Everything had to feel and sound different than anything in Act One. We devised a series of musical sequences that would be a montage establishing a college world where Anne and Gilbert find themselves low on the totem pole and like all the other ‘Freshettes’ overwhelmed. But being Anne and Gilbert, by the end of the number they are forging ahead bravely. As a composer, Bob had to blend no less than seven major musical themes in this one number.
Q: What was the hardest scene or song to write?
A: “Forever In My Life.”. It’s our leading lady’s eleven o’clock number. Anne has been given a few letters that belonged to her parents. What is in these letters has to bring Anne to a realization that changes her life. Montgomery gave no clue as to the content of these letters. At first that was an inconvenience but it turned out to be a blessing. We were free to structure a love song that would tell the tragic story of Bertha and Walter Shirley in a way that we hoped would move Anne and our audience. Once we figured that out, it wrote itself rather quickly.
Q: You live in New York and you’re a dedicated New York Yankees fan. Has baseball ever intrigued you as a subject for a musical?
A: As a matter of fact, Bob and I once spent months working on a musical about Babe Ruth and Harry Frazee. Harry Frazee was the owner of the Boston Red Sox who sold the Babe to the New York Yankees and used the money to produce Broadway plays and musicals like “No No Nanette”, which lead to the “Curse of the Bambino”. We dropped it when we realized that it would cost a fortune to produce and how were you going to cast the Babe? He’d have to look like the Babe, sing, dance, act and bat convincingly left handed. Good luck.
Q: So “Damn Yankees” is still the last word in baseball musicals?
A: It’s 55 years since “Damn Yankees” opened. Nobody’s come close. It was a big hit again in NYC a couple of summers ago with Sean Hayes and Jane Krakowski . There have been attempts to do other baseball musicals. Martin Charnin tried to tell the Jackie Robinson story in “The First” but it only lasted 37 performances. Harold Prince put together a baseball review called “Diamonds”, it played off Broadway for a season and then disappeared.