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Crossing Swords

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Joe Slabe
June 21, 2013

What is your job on this show?
I wrote the book, music and lyrics..

What is your show about?
When the boys of St. Mark’s join the girls of St. Anne’s to present “Cyrano de Bergerac,” three friends get more of an education than they bargained for: love blossoms, jealousies flare, and secrets are revealed that may end their youthful innocence as life imitates art in an often funny and sometimes poignant coming-of-age story.

When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
I was playing in the pit for our high school production of "West SIde Story". Every night, as Maria sang the last, heart-wrenching notes of "Somewhere", the cellist and flautist would be sobbing as they accompanied her. It's not that they didn't know it was coming. We rehearsed and performed the show many times. It was because musical theater, at its best, speaks directly to the heart. Ever since doing "West Side Story", I knew I wanted to write a show that would communicate with that kind of power.

Complete this sentence: My show is the only one opening in NYC this summer that...?
...contains specific fight choreography as the lyrics for a song.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
There's never been a successful musical adaptation of "Cyrano de Bergerac" and part of the challenge I set for myself was to be the person to crack it. It's such a great story. It has everything: sword fights, romance, comedy, tragedy and it begs to sing. When I started writing "Crossing Swords", it was going to be a tragedy about not being true to yourself. Then Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" campaign came along and I was incredibly moved by the stories people shared. I decided that the world didn't need another gay coming-of-age tragedy. What it really needed was a gay coming-of-age hero, which inspired our new tag line, "Sometimes being yourself is the most heroic act of all."

Which “S” word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
While I think "Crossing Swords" is actually all of those things, I have to say that SURPRISING is the one that audiences are really going to come away with. One of the cool things that happens when people see the show is that they make assumptions about what the characters are going to be like that get confounded as we learn more about them. And I have to say that, as I was writing it, there were a couple of times the characters took me down unexpected paths and I thought to myself, "Wow, are we really going there? Okay, then!"

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I honestly believe that musical theater is a force for good in the world. You just have to look at shows like "Show Boat" and "South Pacific" that were making powerful statements about racism years before there was even a civil rights movement and you know that the best theater is always leading the charge for societal change. Even recently, a show like "Next to Normal" forces us to examine how we think about mental illness and, in its own way, makes a plea for empathy on behalf of everyone affected by a disease that many still consider taboo. If "Crossing Swords" makes people think about issues like bullying and equal marriage rights in a new way, then I'd be very happy to be a part of the great tradition of theater leading the way on social issues.