Dallas — Dallas Theater Center has brought back Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn for the world premiere of Hood: The Robin Hood Musical Adventure, a musical inspired by the story of that guy who took from the rich to help the poor. In 2010, DTC premiered another musical by Beane and Flinn called Give it Up! That musical transferred to Broadway under a new title: Lysistrata Jones. Beyond creating new musicals together, Beane and Flinn are a couple in real life and have two children. I caught up with them at the midway point of rehearsal—Beane is also directing the production—to discuss their inspiration and process for Hood.
TheaterJones: What made you choose Robin Hood as the best choice for a new musical?
Douglas Carter Beane: We were looking for something after Lysistrata Jones and we kept throwing out different characters and historical stories…
Lewis Flinn: With a name you could pronounce.
DCB: Neither of us were landing on anything. We were watching the news and there were some people protesting banks. They had Robin Hood hats on. And that night my kids wanted a story read to them and there happened to be a Robin Hood book from my grandmother. I read the story and thought, “What about Robin Hood?”
I collected the stories that I responded to, those I thought had some resonance for today. That fall at my alma mater, The Academy of Dramatic Arts, I just started writing. I tried to find the connective tissue for the story, and I came up with a story about a ring to tie it together. I didn’t know if the first draft would be a play or a musical. But Lewis came up with this really smart idea. If it sounds like everyone singing in a bar, it will sound good and feel warm. Like, if you walk into a bar and everyone’s singing it always sounds good.
The other thing from the workshop at the Academy of Dramatic Arts that I felt was hugely helpful was that they were all young. The cast was all under the age of 25. That got us out of the world of Errol Flynn and Russel Crowe’s versions of Robin Hood. Our version presents the “Muppet Babies” of Robin Hood characters. It is about people finding their identity. A year later we were in London we went to the Royal Academy of Music where we did a concert and Lewis had the opportunity to re-orchestrate and embellish.
When I went to people and said that I’m thinking of doing a musical version of Robin Hood, they’d be like: “Couldn’t you get the rights to Zorro?” Now when I say it, everyone gets it. Because of the last six months from Brexit to the presidential election, everyone gets it.
How did you go about creating the theatrical world for Hood? I know you are using a tight ensemble and puppets.
DCB: I wanted to get the cast as small as I could; that it was 12 actors who felt compelled to tell a story. That these people saw what was going on in the world and said that the only way anyone can make sense of this is if we tell these old Robin Hood stories. From that came the idea that the costumes and sets would be created by these artists that are just making things up.
We also brought in [Richardson native] James Ortiz to create the puppets. I was looking for someone to create puppets and I just happened to see an advertisement for this show in New York called The Woodsmen. When I went to the show, they said “James is a fan of yours and he’d like to talk to you.”
We’ve been adding more puppets in the show. Maybe I’m like what Tim Gunn says, “I’m living in the monkey house and I don’t mind the smell anymore.” I am loving the puppets because they seem like people to me now. I don’t think of Prince John as anything but a character in the show, even though he’s manned by six to seven different people and voiced by someone else across the room at times.
Tell me about the decision to stage the world premiere in Dallas?
DCB: We were in London and we wanted to find a home for it. And the very first person we called was Kevin Moriarty, because we had such a great experience here [with Give It Up!] and he read it and connected with it. With what’s going on in the world today, it’s very thinly disguised as the adventures of Robin Hood.
Right off the bat [Kevin] said “I would want to do this with 50 percent local actors and a 100 percent local band.” We thought that was a great idea, we came down for auditions stricken with terror like “Oh my god what have we just done?” But, we were overwhelmed by the quality of actors who came in. As I like to say, we had to have an actress that could do comedy, sing legit soprano, sing folk, play the violin classically, and then play the fiddle. From auditions, we were four to five actresses deep in choices. Same thing with guys playing guitars. We had like five to six guys to choose from that could act, sing, dance, and play guitar.
Have you made many changes to the musical since being here in Dallas?
LF: Show-wise, we haven’t made an extreme amount of changes. But, we’ve cut numbers and we’re thinking of changing numbers. The essence of it is still pretty much what we had. And we had a lot of “X factors” going into this rehearsal with the puppets and all the actors playing instruments. We’re trying to make it a very homemade feeling and we knew that was going to take a lot of time to sort out.
DCB: There’s a little shift in attitude. It’s a little smarter; I think it’s scrappier. It’s gotten more comically inventive. The puppets were initially just going to be junk and garbage, but now they have become very “political-looking”… like political cartoons.
How has it been working here in Dallas again?
DCB: I’m having an even better time than the first. Since Lysistrata Jones, I’ve had three shows of mine tour or play Dallas/Fort Worth. The performance reports I got each time were so positive, like “Dallas gets Doug.” I’ve had a connection with this city artistically.
LF: Certainly with DTC winning the Tony Award, it’s very exciting. When we were first here, Lysistrata Jones was Kevin’s first [musical] in this building [the Wyly Theatre].
DCB: We were the first ones to rehearse in this building. It was like working on an iPhone. There was nothing, and now it’s like there are people and everyone knows how to do work in this space now.
LF: It was the first time a musical had been in this space. They were still figuring out the acoustics in this space, microphones, and all the crazy seating levels in the space.
What’s it like being partners in real life and collaborating professionally?
LF: It is a constant joy.
DCB: I think there are flashes of difficulty, but this has been a smoother one.
LF: Getting on the same page with tone is difficult.
DCB: Tone is huge with this one.
LF: Finding an opportunity just to discuss the show outside of personal life can be challenging. It’s not OK to just bring it up randomly at the dinner table. If we need to talk about a song, we will make a meeting at 10 a.m. tomorrow to discuss it.
DCB: The children are old enough that they are incredibly invested in the show. If you start discussing it in front of them, they will weigh in heavily. They’ll say, “No you can’t cut that song!” But they don’t have a say.
I love working with Lewis.
LF: There’s a trust in that we can short-hand things
DCB: He is so fast. Before I knew him, I had heard he was a very fast composer. And it does take my breath away. In literally the time it takes to sing a song, he can write one. It’s so fast and it scares me. And I’m considered fast but sometimes it takes me an evening to write something.
How do you guys feel about how rehearsals are going with only a short time before opening?
DCB: We both pushed hard at the top of this because I wanted the learning curve to be very big. Just in case we had to suddenly throw things at people. I had the first act done in a week, including blocking, choreography, and fights.
LF: With this show, all the actors are so busy all the time. Everyone is more or less on stage the entire time.
DCB: As they are changing their costumes, they are singing back up vocals. I love that frenetic energy. To me, the human being is still the best thing you can see on stage. A human being putting on an accent, singing dancing is still the most exciting part.
» Hood is currently in previews and opens on Friday, July 7. Nick Bailey plays Robin Hood alongside Broadway stars Alysha Umphress (Broadway’s On the Town) as Meg and Ashley Park (Broadway’s Sunday in the Park with George) as Marian. Completing the cast is Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company member Tiana Kaye Johnson (Electra, A Christmas Carol 2016, Dreamgirls) as Lady Jane; Billie Aken-Tyers as Much; Ricco Fajardo as Gamble Gold; Ian Ferguson as Alan A’Dale; Austin Scott as Sheriff Of Nottingham; Beth Lipton as Lady Anne; Luke Longacre (Inherit the Wind) as Little John; Chris Ramirez as Friar Tuck and Jacob ben Widmar as Will Scarlett.