Profile by Mary Jo Curtis
Rodgers and Hammerstein. Kander and Ebb. Meehan, Charnin and Strouse. And now, Zachary and Weiner?
That’s a dream that could become reality for songwriting team Alan Zachary ’96 and Michael Weiner. Earlier this year the pair presented their original music in an event featuring the next generation of Broadway songwriting talent at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
They have also written the music and lyrics for a new Warner Brothers stage musical. Based on the 2003 Newline Cinema film Secondhand Lions, the show is expected to open in a regional theater before the end of 2010. “If it’s well-received out of town, we could bring it to Broadway within six months,” Zachary says. “The show is in great shape. We did a reading last fall in New York City with a first-rate Broadway cast, and it went extremely well.”
Secondhand Lions was “one of those movies that flew under the radar,” Zachary says. “Although it did pretty well at the box office, many people only discovered it on cable and video. But when we mention it, they always say, ‘I loved that movie!’”
Zachary and Weiner were among those who didn’t see the film in theaters; they learned about it in a meeting with Newline executives about potential Broadway projects. The story, set in early-1960s Texas, involves a shy young teen left on the doorstep of two elderly, eccentric great-uncles. While reluctant to take on responsibility for the boy, the uncles—rumored to have a hidden stash of treasure or bank loot—soon begin to regale him with Arabian Nights-like tales of their youthful adventures.
“Newline asked if we’d be interested. We thought it was a truly charming story that had so many possibilities,” says Zachary. “It’s about the stories we hear and what we choose to believe in. The uncles’ stories seem fantastical, but they’re rife with lessons for how to live life and choose the right things to believe in.”
The book for the musical has been written by Rupert Holmes, who won two Tony Awards for The Mystery of Edwin Drood but is probably best known as the singer-songwriter responsible for “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).”
Zachary found his calling early in life. After seeing the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast at the age of 17, he and high school classmate Weiner—both “big fans of classic Disney animation”—decided they could write a fairy tale-based musical of their own. “From the very beginning, music was integral to storytelling in the Disney canon, and that’s what inspired us to write music and animated musicals,” says Zachary, who lives in Los Angeles. While that first venture never made it to the Great White Way, it opened some important doors for the young composers.
“We managed to impress a lot of people who were rather astonished that teenagers were writing a musical. That led to job at Hanna-Barbera after my freshman year at Amherst” and to writing music for shorts, including “one song for a Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Christmas special,” he says.
Zachary and Weiner have since written for Disney attractions “around the globe—literally,” creating live stage shows for Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. Among other projects, they penned the book, music and lyrics for Twice Charmed: An Original Twist on the Cinderella Story, a full-scale musical that premiered on the Disney Cruise Line in May 2005 and is still being performed in the 1,000-seat theaters of the cruise line’s ships.
“There’s nothing like mounting a multi-million-dollar production on a cruise line,” he says with a laugh, recalling opening night in Mexico. The crew had trouble raising the anchor, leaving the ship—and stage—listing to one side just minutes before the show’s opening tap routine; the problem was resolved at the last second. “But the audiences seem to love it, and it was an amazing experience.”
This past February, Zachary and Weiner’s presentation at the Kennedy Center was the opening night performance in a week of musical theater cabaret. “It was one of the biggest thrills of my life,” Zachary says. The pair has also composed songs for several Disney DVD releases. Zachary and Weiner have also written a TV pilot for Disney and have created The Misadventures of Bob Paparazzo, an animated comedy series for VH1 Online and Mobile. In addition, Zachary contributed music and lyrics to the DreamWorks Pictures movie The Time Machine.
“We love that family-friendly material,” says Zachary. “I never know when I’ll be writing a song that will be translated into Japanese or sung by a mouse.”
Mary Jo Curtis is a freelance writer who works at Mount Holyoke College. For more on Zachary, go to www.zacharyandweiner.com.