Dean Bryant is the scriptwriter to Matthew Frank’s fabulous musical direction in the prodigious musical theatre pairing known as Bryant and Frank. DanceLife caught up with Dean during the preview performances of Priscilla which has now opened on Broadway.
1. You’re currently in New York for the opening of Priscilla The Musical on Broadway. Can you let us know what your role of associate director exactly entails?
It’s a pretty varied role, but it boils down to working with the director (Simon Phillips) on building and maintaining the show. I was at the first workshop in 2006, and was part of the conversation where the songs were chosen, script was discussed, etc, then moved onto helping with the casting, design and rehearsal of the show. Once it opened in Sydney I looked after the show, rehearsed understudies, recast as required, and put into the new theatres when Simon was unavailable. On new productions, I usually take the first few weeks of auditions and present the best of the crop for Simon. We’ve continued to refine and change the show all the way up until the Broadway production, so it’s been a constantly enjoyable experience. With a LOT of travel (I’m heading to Milan as I type this).
2. You met your business partner Mathew Frank while studying. What’s the best advice you can give about having a successful commercial partnership?
Well, we were boyfriends first, so we already got along well before we started writing. We’ve been successful by producing our own work ourselves and getting it out to the audience, which has led to related jobs (directing and musical direction). We both completely respect the other’s opinions in all things theatre, which helps.
3. Prodigal is currently playing in Melbourne. This was the first musical you wrote back in 2002. How has the show evolved over the years?
We actually wrote it in 1998, and produced it in 2000. It was produced off-Broadway in 2002. The show mostly altered in 1998 to 1999 where we took on the notes of Nick Enright who looked at the first (bad) draft. We have written and rewritten it since then, but what makes the show work was present in the very first WAAPA workshop of it. A ton of rewrites were done for New York, most of them terrible and dumped in previews. Coming back to it in 2011 was worrying, as we thought it might be a little naive but I fell in love with it again. I did some rewriting, but not very much (nothing musical) and I adored all the changes.
4. You’re directing Next to Normal for MTC in May. What can audiences expect to see from this production of the Tony Award winning show.
Next to Normal is one of the complete experiences – everything the show needs is in the music and script. A great band and awesome group of singing actors is all it really needs. We’re very lucky that Kate Kendall, our Diana, has this incredible emotional connection happens to have an amazing rock voice (hitherto unused in musicals). The rest of our cast are either music theatre veterans (Matt Hetherington and Bert LaBonte) or the cream of the recent WAAPA crop. Not that that was intentional. Richard Roberts has done an amazing job on the set design – I truly can’t wait to show Melbourne audiences this production – it’s going to be exhilirating.
5. What do you think are the ingredients to create a successful musical?
Don’t base it on a comic book. What I love seeing are stories that engage me through human behaviour, humour and the use of music to heighten those states. I love musicals that shock me, make me laugh and make me cry. I like musicals where the characters are believable as people you know in your own life. I like it when you can relate it to your own life. I love the magical space between the spoken word and the sung word. I like visually stimulating shows. I like marvelling at what the human body can do through dance. I love high notes. Musicals can have all that.
6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Doing exactly what I’m doing now, I hope! I love directing all types of music-based theatre, and am thrilled to get to do so much, all round the world and Australia this year. The shows I’ve written for Trevor Ashley, Hugh Sheridan and Christie Whelan have brought me particular joy, and I look forward to creating more of those. Writing a couple of big commercial shows with Matty, or even lovely, delicate ones, would make me happy. I just love putting shows on.

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