Writer Anthony McCarten currently has two shows running on Broadway, both of which are about cultural legends. The book writer behind “The Collaboration” and “A Beautiful Noise, The Neil Diamond Musical” sat down with Beth Stevens for a new Building Broadway segment on the latest episode of “The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal.”
In both productions, McCarten wrote about public figures: visual artists Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat in “The Collaboration” and music superstar Neil Diamond in “A Beautiful Noise.”
When writing about real people, especially icons, McCarten said it’s crucial to find something in their life that speaks to him.
“A big box that I need to tick before I take anything on is: Is there anything new to say about this person?” McCarten shared. “That’s an especially relevant question when the person’s famous. And if they’re an icon, even more relevant.”
McCarten revealed that he was initially resistant to the idea of writing a musical. But at the urging of producer Ken Davenport, and the personal importance of Diamond, he eventually changed his tune.
“My mother — when I grew up, my whole childhood — had two pictures on the mantelpiece: one was of the Pope and one was of Neil Diamond,” McCarten shared. “Neil Diamond was really very much the soundtrack of my childhood.”
As far as Warhol and Basquiat, McCarten viewed exhibitions of both artists’ work and took note of how different they were.
“When I found out that they had worked together, it seemed, again, another unique opportunity to look at two different characters,” he said. (McCarten penned “The Pope” — a play later adapted into the 2019 film “The Two Popes,” which captured the disparate personalities of Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Bergoglio.) “I thought if I could put those two guys [Warhold and Basquiat] in a room and have them lock horns and dispute that issue of what art is and what we wanted to do, then that might be interesting.”
Striking a balance between capturing a person’s reality and being inventive is a key part of McCarten’s writing process. Research and facts combine with McCarten’s own dreams and visions of those real people in specific situations.
“I call it sort of inspired speculation,” he said. “You gotta do the research. You have to honor the facts. You cannot do injury to your subject. But beyond that, then you have to dream yourself.”
This week’s episode of “The Broadway Show” also features an interview with “Chicago” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” star Jinkx Monsoon. Tamsen Fadal interviews Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jesse Williams, both appearing in “Take Me Out” through Feb. 5. Viewers can catch a glimpse of the upcoming New York City Center transfer of “Parade,” starring Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, and the forthcoming Broadway arrival of “Peter Pan Goes Wrong.”
“The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal” airs on weekends. Check your local listings for air time and channel.