Today is a good day for Rick Elice. The writer and actor, who already has a Tony for Jersey Boys, has again seen his work nominated for the prestigious theater award. In fact, the show did quite well in the nomination department with nods for Best Play, Best Original Score, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design, Best Lighting Design, Best Sound Design and Best Direction. But all those noms took quite a bit of time. Earlier this week we sat down to talk with Elice about the genesis of the play, connecting Peter to Peter Pan and why he is uniquely qualified to be working on a musical about Studio 54 (hint: Steve Rubell was his tennis counselor at summer camp).

So. The book Peter and the Starcatchers came out in 2004. How and when did you become involved in bring it to the stage? Well Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, the two directors, were approached by Tom Schumacher of Disney Theatrical productions. Roger was running the Williamstown Theater Festival and had invited Alex up there to develop a musical about Andrew Jackson which became Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson. That same summer Tom offered Roger the book and said, "Do you think you could do a sort of Nicholas Nicklby-take on this story?" and Roger took it to Alex and said, "Why don't we work on this together?" And they did, that summer, with some non-equity interns in the acting program. They developed a vocabulary for what a play might be, but they only worked with the novel. At the end of that period of time a bunch of people from Disney went up to see it, and they said, "Oh, well, this seems sort of interesting. Let's do another workshop in the fall. We'll give you some money and you can hire a churchroom and try to keep these same non-equity people."

So that fall Roger and Alex asked me—just as a friend of the family—to write some scenes. Because for that workshop the actors needed stuff to say, not just to do. So I wrote some scenes and some narration and a prologue to sort of set up the idea. To that workshop came the Disney people, and Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, who are the authors of the original novel. They saw it and really liked it and asked who wrote it—since what the actors were saying wasn't from their book. They thought it was good, though, and so Tom right there and then said, "Why don't you write the play?" And I thought it sounded like a perfectly lovely idea, and so that was how I came on to it—already in love with the the ideas and the theatrical vocabulary that Roger and Alex were bringing to it, which survives to this production on Broadway.

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Directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, and playwright Rick Elice (Joan Marcus).

Considering how integrated the style of the show is, how close were you working with the directors while actually writing the script? In the beginning, very closely. Before I did any writing the three of us sat down and figured out some basic ground rules.

The novel—I don't know if you've read it—is many things but principally it is pitched towards a young reader, probably under the age of ten. And I don't know how to write children's theater. So I said, "Y'know, can I write this with adult language? Adult sensibility?" And they said yes. And Dave and Ridley agreed to let us do whatever what we want to do—which was very freeing. So we didn't have to worry about fidelity to the novel in any way that was uncomfortable for us.

And then I said what I'd like to do is join up the story of the novel—which is this wide ranging, Picaresque thing that is unwieldily in the way that Picaresque things are. I said, "Let's figure out what our principals of inclusion are and what our principals of exclusion are." So we talked about what those would be.

For instance? What I realized I wanted to do was create some connective tissue between what James Barrie wrote in 1904 and what Dave and Ridley wrote in 2004. Because as they wrote this novel they weren't particularly concerned with that. They didn't spend much time trying to connect the dots between Peter Pan and this origin story in any really meaningful way—in terms of style, language, approach to the characters or resolution to certain plot points that we all recognize from the mythology of Peter Pan. So I said, "Let me make that my challenge."

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Making a tiny ship's cabin.

That makes sense.

Then we got more specific. They said the first act is going to take place entirely on a couple of ships at sea. And it is going to be dark and claustrophobic and dirty and dank and very, very closed in. Because these boys—these orphans—had a life that was Dickensian in its filth and squalor and absence of opportunity or hope or love or connection. And the first act was going to represent their lives in a physical way.

The second act was going to take place entirely on this island where, for the first time, there is life and space and air in these boy's lives. It is literally the first time they've seen the sun. The first time they've had a breath of fresh air that didn't smell like a sewer. And I said, "Great!" Because that is a really good strong theatrical structure. Then we started plotting out what scenes those would be. At that point it was a very, very collaborative process. We talked about, "Well, if it was a shipwreck, how would we do it?" We kicked around how it would happen, and how it would happen informed how I wrote the scenes. And how much they wanted to go back and forth between the ships&mdsah;how quickly they felt comfortable transitioning—informed how I was able to fashion the sequence of scenes.

Then, on the island, how would we get a sense of wide open spaces? How we would we represent the depths of the jungle? How would we do that? Could we do it? How do we imply a crocodile that grows in size? Directorially they had these amazing ideas right from the beginning. The bunting that would be in act one for a ship leaving Portsmouth would become the teeth of a giant crocodiles. I love that kind of poor theatre technique where everything is used multiple times because nothing is descriptive in and of itself. It is just some triangular piece of white cloth and it can be what you assign it to be and an umbrella can be what you assign it to be and a hat can be what you assign it to be. It sort of brought out my training from all those years ago and my affection for what J. M. Barrie was doing when he was concocting the original play. Which he also did largely in a developmental process with a director and a cast in the midst of rehearsals.

After you had the first draft, how much have you changed? We arrived in La Jolla in 2009 with a script that was very long and roughly like the thing that you see now. But much flabbier and much less pointed. Much less about the development of the boy. In the novel he is the ringleader from the very beginning. And that's how I started writing him, but through the process in La Jolla I realized a few fundamental things that I messed up, or hadn't thought through or hadn't fleshed out. Principally that the boy ought to be this feral, almost speechless, nameless creature at the beginning of the play who would evolve into the heroic figure at the end. And he would do so because of a happy accident of being on a ship with a girl who is super smart and super curious and very proactive with the DNA of Scout Finch and Jo March. Y'know, these great proto-empowered young, female characters from our common literature. And she gets to mature over the course of the play as well, because of the friendship that blossoms between them.

The directors always wanted to hire adults so that there was a sensuality between the boy and the girl that wouldn't exist if they were actually 13-years-old. And it was always clear that this girl was going to be at the center of this story. Out of La Jolla, the other fundamental change was that we dropped the 's' from the title. The name of the novel is Peter and the Starcatchers and there is a group of Starcatchers and they go around with sort of spacesuits and geiger counters looking for things that fall from the sky. I asked Disney for permission to drop the 's' from the title so that it would becomes, for our play, the story of this boy who by the end of the story becomes Peter and this girl who by the end of the story becomes a Starcatcher. And it would say, without saying as much, that this story that we are telling is really about these two characters and the things that happen to them over the course of this fateful voyage.

The show seems to work for both adults and kids—the children that were at the show with me seemed to really like it. But I was curious about the choice to include some 'anachronistic' references in there. The Ayn Rand name dropping, the "my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard." How did you decide how current you wanted to go? I think where the permission came to do that, as I was voicing these characters, was first of all J. M. Barrie. Most people don't know the play from 1904. Most people, when they think of Peter Pan, they think of the musical with Mary Martin or Cathy Rigby, now, or maybe the Disney animated feature—that's most people's way in. We think of Peter Pan as a musical, which is why people keep saying, "Well, how come there are only a couple of songs?" But I went back to the original play that was written a century ago. And it is interesting. What he was doing then was using anachronisms and alliterations and puns and low, bawdy humor and high effete comedy. And the characters would sing ditties and there was lots of physical humor. And those were employed by the man who created the material originally. And of course nowadays they aren't anachronisms. To read about Captain Hook talking about "bicarbonate soda," but in 1904, it certainly was like the milkshake line, or the Phillip Glass line. Where he was talking about Eton college I threw in a line about Ayn Rand or Remembrance of Things Past.

What I liked about the original Captain Hook was that he was very educated. What I liked about writing the character that would become Hook was the chance to pretend, creatively, that the stuff that we've always taken for granted about these characters may or may not have happened the way we've always been told they happened. Rather than have Captain Hook be super educated I thought it would be fun to have him be someone who loved poems, loved theater but, y'know, because he had his eyes on more important things—like the pirate business—would get things wrong. So he misquotes. He mangles quotes. And he says wrong words. And it is sort of silly and fun, but very much in the spirit of the character that Barrie made a hundred years ago.

The fractured fairy tale approach. He's a character who always blamed Peter for cutting off his hand and throwing it to a crocodile. So I thought wouldn't it be fun if instead of having one of those crappy stage battles that we see that is very, very convincing. Especially given what we are able to see on film or television or what we are able to imagine in our minds. I said, "Let's dispense with that" and instead I stipulated that the Black Stache cuts his own hand off. And just blames the boy! And we've just always taken it on faith that the boy was responsible even though he had nothing to do with it. The same way we believed George Bush when he said there were WMDs in Iraq.

Stache misquotes Shakespeare, but he also quotes Kelis. The girl is so super educated that she's aware of things and people who haven't even happened yet. But somehow it all feels acceptable to me. Describing something really, really big as the Cadillac Escalade of dilemmas is something that, I think, helps the audience right now, today, feel like the play is for them. And relevant to their lives. And that kind of meta-theatricality in these specific instances is very much like the meta-theatricality of the original material when a woman was playing Peter Pan.

I mean, what can be more meta-theatrical that that? I mean, Mary Martin didn't invent this idea. A grown woman played Peter Pan all the time. From the very first time the part was performed in 1904. A grown woman! What could be more meta than that? "I'm a little prepubescent boy!" Well, no you aren't. You've got breasts. I can see them. But I don't see them.

[SPOILER ALERTS] We accept it as true, but maybe no. That's not what happened. Maybe no, Tinkerbell isn't a fairy. Tinkerbell is a bird that comes in contact with the starstuff. No, the crocodile didn't swallow an alarm clock, in fact he swallowed a kitchen timer. No, the hat Wendy's brother wears isn't his hat, it actually was actually stolen from a terrible English master who used to beat the shit out of his kitchen slave and his slave then gave it to Peter who gave it to the girl, and the girl took it home and she became the mother of Wendy. There's maybe ten or so of those things that I told you about—the connectivity from the original play and the story from the novel—that were fun for me to just riff on imaginatively in ways that I think are more fun on stage to tell then just to recount what the audience already knows. We get to say, "You think you know this, but you don't know what actually happened." That's the whole fun of a reboot story, it seems to me.

We wanted to turn as much of the mythology on its head, or on its ass really, for the sake of the adults. That's what I mean by an adult sensibility. Not that esoteric or fancy or not delightful. I wanted to delight the audience because I think if you can delight adults, then kids will be delighted too. Kids who have been to the theater before, or who enjoy reading, or who enjoy writing, or like to imagine—there is a communal party going on in the audiences minds.

That is the fun of theater. I love the idea that theater is the world's first interactive game. Technology will come and go but theater will always be interactive and will always be something that happens right in front of your face that is made by people just for you. Just in that time. Just before your eyes, in real time, live. It will never be just the same. Even if they do all the same things the next day something is going to be different. The audience, the weather, a noise, something will be forgotten, something will be better. That's why I work in theater.

Do you have an attachment to the Peter Pan story? When I was a kid I thought, "What could be cooler than to be Peter Pan?" How fantastic! No bedtime, no chores, nobody tells you what to do you. You get to fly around and fight people and never lose. You never get any older. You have no responsibility. It is a fantastic life for a boy to pretend. Is there anybody you know who didn't dream they could fly? Or want to fly? But now I am in the middle of my life and I think, boy, if I had never grown up, I would never have fallen in love, I would never have had sex, I would never fought a battle I cared about and won it, or fought a battle I cared about and lost and known what that was like. I would never have believed anything really strongly, I would never have stood my ground. I certainly never would have written a play. How shitty my life would be if all of that had been deprived in exchange for not having a bedtime or chores

This kid...It is wonderful for him but it is ineffably sad in a bittersweet way that he's always left behind at the end of the story. There is so much he won't know. It is like if you were going up a roller coaster, the most exciting part is the first long haul up the first big hill—because you know that when you get to the top you are going to get to go whooshing around and have this fantastic ride. But if the car stalls at the very top? What a drag! That wonderful time you wouldn't have. You'd be like that rose that comes when you send roses to somebody that never opens. Peter never, ever gets to bloom.

But his partner in this story, this girl, by the end of the story is already more mature than he'll ever be. She's already growing up and he says, "God, you sound older already," and it is heartbreaking to her. Because she knows she's going to and its heartbreaking to him because he knows he can't. And I think that is sort of lovely, in a sad way.

It makes me appreciate my life better. And that is my hope: That adults will leave and go, "Yeah, so I got some gray hair and I got some wrinkles and my ass is sagging and my bones are creaking and I'm going to die...but I still wouldn't want to stay young forever." Forever is a very long time to have nothing happen.

And of course that is why this boy keeps flying back to London. He keeps looking to resuscitate his forever with some new information. Some new adventure. But I don't deal with that in the story. Except to say, "Surprise! This girl actually grows up to become the mother of Wendy. And Peter flies off with her."

That isn't spelled out in the book? It's not, no.

Well, it got me a little dry eyed. Its sweet. And of course, at the end of the original Peter Pan, Peter comes back and Wendy is grown up. And there is a girl that is her daughter that Peter flies off with. Each generation after generation. Because he never moves on. He just keeps playing the same thing. But we get to move on. We get to have our lives. We get to be alive as a result. That's why I love the play.

Except to say the thing that I love more than that is that we get to have this amazing kick-ass production that Roger and Alex have done. This play would not exist if it hadn't been for Alex and Roger and everything they brought to it and how they shaped the play. And of course these actors, who have stuck with this for so long, and organized their lives and their careers over being available. So they were able to do this play last year at New York Theater Workshop, and so they could do it again now on Broadway. They are really talented people and they have other things to do and I think they love doing it because of the wonderful assignment of being able to play so many things, and do so many other things, with so many gifted people on stage with you. They really make this thing out of nothing every night.

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Matt D'Amico, Rick Holmes, Isaiah Johnson, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Christian Borle on land.

Christian Borle in particular seems to be having the time of his life in the second act. When he was doing the play three years ago, he was out in La Jolla doing it, and the play then was kind of unformed. I was so excited by Christian's talent, it was so great to come in everyday with pages of stuff. We'd say, "Let's try this, let's try this," and then Christian, because he's so talented, would say the same. I mean, we used to be on the phone with each other until about two o'clock in the morning every night for about five weeks just kicking ideas around and spitballing ideas and then trying them out the next day in rehearsal.

But then he got cast on Smash... Last year when we did it at Theater Workshop he was cast in the pilot and when they picked that up, and started shooting episodes we were trying to move the show to Broadway. We knew we weren't going to be able to have him. And he knew he wasn't going to be able to be in it. And it was very sad, because we'd become very, very close friends over the last couple of years. It was terrible because he knew as a performer what a wonderful thing this was for him to do and he derived so much joy from doing it, as is absolutely clear.

And then, very luckily for us, NBC decided not to order more episodes for the first season of Smash, so Christian was suddenly free for a bunch of months. And to our great happiness we didn't have to break up the family. The part was dressed on him. The same way the part of Molly was dressed on Celia and the part of Peter was dressed on Adam and right on down the line for the entire company. They are so integrally related to the thing the audience comes to see.

So just one other question about the play—Why were the islanders Italian? The original natives in the original play—and in Dave and Ridley's novel seemed to me—Roger and Alex, a little bit racist. To have the characters who spoke speak in English and then have the natives go "unga bunga bunga," some nonsense language. I thought we could do better. I decided—just because Dave and Ridley gave me license to decide—that the king of the island, this Fighting Prawn character who exists in the novel, wasn't just a guy on this island. Y'know, this happens in a lot of Dickens novels. There were always these kinds of crazy coincidences that assert themselves towards the end of the story, as they start to conclude.

Fair enough. So what's next? You have a Studio 54 show coming? I'm working on a new musical that is set over the coarse of one year towards the end of the era of Studio 54. I'm writing it with Stephen Trask, who wrote Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Peter Yanowitz, who is writing the score with Stephen. And we're going to do that out in La Jolla and see if we can't get something going. Its kind of a fun thing to be working on right now because I was actually, briefly, a waiter at Studio 54 in the fall of 1979. Steve Rubell, who ran the place, was my tennis counselor at sleepaway camp when I was a kid and I ran into him accidentally one day when I was an out of work actor. He said, "Hey, I'll pay you $10 bucks an hour if you come and bus beer bottles at Studio 54." And I thought, "Well, this is the only way I'll ever get into Studio 54!" So I took him up on it for a short period of time.

And I'm writing a musical with someone named Will Van Dyke about the first man who tried to climb Mount Everest, The Magnificent Climb. We're going to do what they call a "29-hour-reading" of that in a month's time. New York Theater Workshop wants to produce it either at the end of next season or the following October. So we need to get going on that cause they can take a really long time. Plus there are a couple of other things. Got to keep busy!