Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham are one of today’s young writing teams that is keeping the musical theatre fresh. Their Off-Broadway musical I Love You Because is now being produced all over the country and the world. Their latest work Next Thing You Know recently had a production at Cap 21 in NYC. They have also written a musical based on the Purim story called Queen Esther. Separately Ryan has written lyrics with Larry Grossman for It Must Be Him.
Joshua worked in the music departments for Wicked and All Shook Up as they were preparing for their Broadway productions. One credit you won’t find on their website is that they wrote a original song for me and my wife Jennifer’s wedding ceremony in 2010. For this we were deeply honored. I first met Joshua while working on a show at my old junior high school where he was the accompanist. I am so happy for his and Ryan’s success. I can honestly say – because Joshua is my height – that he is one guy I can really see eye-to-eye with.
How did you first meet?
R&J: We met at NYU in 2002, at the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. The program was comprised at the time of 12 composers, and 12 bookwriter/lyricists, and we were paired one week early in the first year on a writing assignment. The song we wrote was a special kind of stupid, but we found that we worked well together – and if you can survive writing a bad song together, you can only imagine the possibilities when you actually write something competent.
When you sit down to write a musical how do you decide on the story line and what needs to be musicalized?
R&J: We spend a lot of time reading, researching, and thinking about what thematically excites us as writers. Then comes the terrifying moment of actually putting pen to paper. Hopefully, we have done enough research at that point that our collective creative vomit creates something interesting. Then we see what moments work, and which don’t, and rewrite until we are excited to share our work at the top of every scene – if you fail at meeting that criteria, your audience will be asleep by intermission.
Ryan – Having seen you perform your own material in concert would you consider being in a full scale production of one of your shows?
Ryan: Absolutely. I would never do it as a show is coming together, but once my work as a writer is done, I’d love to jump on stage and perform my work.
Josh: Watching a Broadway musical take shape from day one of rehearsal to opening night was an amazing experience. Working alongside accomplished composers, directors, choreographers, actors, musicians, and technical personnel, there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t taking in something new. I can’t point to any one specific thing I learned, but rather an overall invaluable experience. It was my first real introduction to what it meant to work in professional theater in NY.
What are you working on next?
R&J: We are working on a love letter to New York at its darkest hour – the blackout of ’77.
Watch Farah Alvin, David Austin, Courtney Balan, Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Colin Hanlon and Jordan Leeds perform “I Love You Because” from the original Off-Broadway production of I Love You Because.
Jenna Dallacco performs the song “When I Am Queen” from the musical Queen Esther by Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham at The Kaufman Center in New York City.
Joshua Salzman & Ryan Cunningham’s “Don’t Say Another Word” as performed by Lauren Kennedy at Cutting-Edge Composers II at the Canal Room 11/09/09.