The musical Between the Lines has been in development for the past three years. This weekend marks its debut at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
The show is based on the bestselling book, co-written by Jodi Picoult and her (then teenage) daughter, Samantha van Leer. In the novel, a teenager, Delilah, gets a crush on a fairytale character, Prince Oliver — and the lines blur between fantasy and reality.
The KC Rep has hopes that this production, like Venice and (an adaptation of) A Christmas Story, will premiere in Kansas City, and travel to other theaters and on to Broadway. Two actors, who've performed on Broadway, play the leads: Arielle Jacobs (Wicked, In the Heights), as Delilah, and Curt Hansen (Wicked, Next to Normal, Hairspray) as Prince Oliver.
Before a recent rehearsal, they stopped to answer a few questions:
How did you both get involved with the production? It didn't just start here in Kansas City. You've had some other rehearsals and performances, including previews over the summer.
Jacobs: "Well, Curt and I both started in the show about a year and a half ago; it was our first workshop that we did together, a two-week workshop. And the show's been in development since then. So it's had a few iterations, and re-writes. And this is the first time it's ever been put on stage with costumes and sets."
Hansen: "They say it takes like seven years for a musical, from inception to New York. We've realized that it takes a while for these things to happen ... I feel a little entitled that this is kind of like 'our show,' and we've helped create it and helped mold it, and helped contribute in the capacity that an actor can."
The musical is based on a book [Between the Lines] by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer. Describe each of your characters.
Jacobs: "I play Delilah. She's in high school and she has kind of a hard time at home, her parents just got divorced. And she's struggling, and they move to a new town and she doesn't know anyone, she's being bullied at school.
"So she becomes obsessed with this book ... and then she reads a fairytale and it was almost like this character in this book [Prince Oliver] had similar circumstances to her. Because he lost his father, too. And things got super weird because the character on the page comes to life and starts talking to her, and they develop a friendship, and they kind of fall in love. And what ensues after that is the story that unfolds, it's very magical."
Hansen: "And I play Prince Oliver, who she falls in love with ... I think for Prince Oliver, he just knows there's more to life than what's written for him. And the fairytale world exists beyond what Delilah reads, and when the book is closed there's this whole alternate reality that they live."
I've been able to hear a few songs, including when you performed in front of a teen audience. Could you talk about their response? I'm sure many of them had read the book, or were familiar with it. What was that like for you?
Jacobs: "That was fun, we performed at the Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta [in January]. And there were 6,000 kids there from high schools and middle schools across the country ... they loved it. And they were laughing and cheering. At one point they got out their cell phones and started waving them around like they were lighters. It was so fun."
Hansen: "If I've ever felt like a rock star in my life, it was that day. I think it [the story] speaks to young audiences. The goal is like a Pixar movie, where it's for kids and teens, but also for adults ... and make it as real-life as possible."
One of the songs that I've heard is called 'My Perfect World.' I wonder if you could set that up for me?
Hansen: "It's really fun, it's basically us talking about if we could be together what would we do. We just talk about normal stuff that we do, like cooking breakfast for each other, waking up and just being together. From my personal experience of being on tour and being away from my wife, it's like those things become really novel and very special. And I think that's something that I've connected to with them, it's like, don't take these things for granted."
Jacobs: "And for my character, for Delilah ... I think she's yearning for some sort of constant, and the simple things ... there's really no one in her life that she gets to do that with any more. So getting to daydream with Prince Oliver, if they could be together and they could do all these things, it's finding what would make her happy again. But it's also developing their relationship."
It seems like there's been a resurgence of teen interest in musicals. In part, because of TV shows, like Glee, or musicals, like [Hamilton or] Dear Evan Hanson. And, I know you've said that this musical is not just for a teen audience, but with teen characters and teen themes. What are your thoughts about that, if there's more of a younger audience these days for musicals?
Hansen: "I think it's a lot of different things. Like you said, Glee. And I think the stigma that comes with musical theater, it's slowly being relieved. It's not uncool to like musicals any more ... I think just having that stigma come off, it's opened it up for a lot of people to explore it, and teenagers participating when they wouldn't have. And, hopefully, they'll respond the same way with this show that they do with the other shows that have come out."
Jacobs: "I think social media is allowing high schoolers and younger people to see, to have access in a way that they didn't before to new theater ... and this one in particular, we have a female writing team, Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, our composer and lyricist, and they're so phenomenal. And they write these songs, they're earworms, they get stuck in your head. And they're so good and smart. I feel like people of all ages are really going to love it, but especially people who are into new musical theater, like the pop musical theater world."
Kansas City Repertory Theatre presents 'Between The Lines' September 8 - October 1, Spencer Theatre, 4949 Cherry Street, Kansas City, Missouri. 816-235-2700.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.