Filichia Features: Lynn Ahrens Tells "Y"

Filichia Features: Lynn Ahrens Tells "Y"

By Peter Filichia on April 20, 2018

"I was very flattered when the 92nd Street Y called and said that they wanted to do an evening with me," says Lynn Ahrens. "I figured I'd have a moderator who'd ask me questions about Ragtime, Seussical and my other shows, and then I'd take questions from the audience."

No, the 92nd Street Y Lyrics and Lyricists productions are far snazzier than that, as Ahrens has since learned. For the five shows between Saturday, May 5th and Monday May 7th, she'll be the spokesperson; five singers will deliver her lyrics. (Ahrens has done many librettos, too, but this is Lyrics and Lyricists.)

Taking the female roles are Nikki Renee Daniels, a veteran of nine Broadway shows (including Nine) and Margo Seibert, who played Adrian in Rocky, Ahrens' tenth of eleven collaborations with composer Stephen Flaherty.

The three male performers have a Ragtime history. Australian David Harris played Father at Barrington Stage; Alton Fitzgerald White portrayed Coalhouse for half the Broadway run; Brandon Uranowitz was The Little Boy in the show's world premiere long before he became a two-time Tony nominee.

Audiences will hear selections from Once on This Island and Anastasia (both now on Broadway, of course), The Glorious Ones ("it's some of my best writing") and Bedazzled - their musicalization of the 1967 film in which a cook sells the devil his soul to land his dream girl.

She and Flaherty were then rookies, so they weren't entrusted with the rights. Little did they know then that there would one day be a thrilling 30th anniversary Ahrens-and-Flaherty tribute at 54 Below, an induction into The Theatre Hall of Fame and caricatures that will soon be on Sardi's wall.

Those honors must have seemed impossible when they next tried an original musical based on an article that Ahrens had found in a newspaper. She now calls Antler, about a North Dakota town headed south, "an idea in search of a story."

Two tries, two misses. At this point, many have quit. Not Ahrens - but not because she was determined to "show 'em all."

"There was never a moment where I thought 'Oh, it'll never happen' because I just liked working. It's not that I'm a terribly driven person," she says. "I just enjoy writing and want to have fun doing it."

Yes, but she does it the hard way. Many pop lyricists who come to Broadway slather their songs with semi-rhymes. Ahrens won't.

"Rhyming helps the ear to comprehend," she says. "Incorrect rhyming chips away at your enjoyment because you're thinking back to figure out what you thought you might have heard."

Bedazzled caught the attention of Ira Weitzman, then director of musical theater at Playwrights Horizons. He told the team to bring him their next show. A library sale allowed Ahrens to pick up The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, which they adapted into their first hit: Lucky Stiff.

When they had the chance to audition for Ragtime, they had 11 days to write four songs. That yielded an early version of the title song, "Till We Reach That Day," "Gliding" and one that didn't make the show - in which Evelyn Nesbit, consorting with Younger Brother, watches him sleep.

But wait! There was more! They had to make a demo, too. Chuck Cooper and Michele Pawk performed and soon came the phone call from producer Garth Drabinsky, which Ahrens hasn't forgotten: "You got the job -- but if you don't give me everything I want, I'm going to fire you."

"That," she says, "was our welcome call."

Ragtime won Ahrens and Flaherty a Best Score Tony. Life looked rosy - until Seussical. They didn't even get a Tony nomination and the show lost millions.

"There'd been sturm und drang, great people fired -- all during the start of Internet chat rooms. Fights in dressing rooms were discussed there so when we got to Broadway nobody thought it could possibly succeed. I was determined to redeem it," she says, square-jawed. "I knew it was good and with work could be really good."

The team rewrote, and Seussical has since been produced ubiquitously. Ahrens most remembers August 10, 2013 at Newtown High School, Connecticut where it was performed by the children who were in school when Adam Lanza killed 20 of their classmates.

Slowly shaking her head she says, "The boy who played Horton lived next door to the shooter. When he sang 'Solla Sollew,' he was in tears. So was I."

At the 92nd Street Y, she'll tell all about Seussical. "It was a roller coaster, but our roller coaster. No, not everything about show business is appealing, as Irving Berlin wrote," she says before adding, "Some of it is appalling."

Then her big smile shows that she indeed wouldn't trade it for a sack of gold.

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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at