Fynsworth Alley: 10 Questions with Stephen Cole

Originally published on Fynsworth Alley.

10 Questions with Stephen Cole

How did you get involved in writing for theatre?

I always wanted to be a performer and I began doing summer stock when I was 14. During that summer I became friends with another apprentice, who had written this huge script, which was the book of a musical. But it had no songs yet. So I said, “why don’t I write the songs?” And I wrote my first lyric (tune too!). It was called “The Pleasure’s Mine.” I don’t know what ever happened to that show, but the author was Charles Busch. So I guess I have to thank Chuck for making me a librettist/lyricist. I enventually used that song in my first musical, which I wrote when I was 15 and had produced at Brooklyn College at 16. After that I retired to concentrate on my acting career, which ended when I was no longer a child star. It was at that time that I started to concentrate my efforts on writing for the theatre.

The craft of writing books for musicals is often under-appreciated. Do you have any bookwriting idols or role models?

I have dozens of idols and role models, beginning with Oscar Hammerstein and Alan Jay Lerner. I think the book writers who did their own lyrics influence me the most, since that is what I do. The singular voice. Gypsy is perhaps my favorite musical, so Laurents has to be in the group. I can quote every line from that show. A very big influence would also be James Lapine. All you have to do is mention Sunday in the Park with George and I cry. He hit me right where I live. I don’t think he is given enough credit as a librettist, but two of Sondheim’s best shows have book and direction by him. While on that subject, there is the grace and elegance of Hugh Wheeler, who really makes A Little Night Music sing between and sometimes during the songs. There are many more. I once wrote a song called “The History Of The Librettist,” with Jeff Saver. It basically said that “if the show if good no one will know your name and if it’s bad, you get the blame!”   Continue reading