Associate Professor Jack Lechner Pens Lyrics for New Off-Broadway Musical, ‘Big Shot’
Commissioned by and developed with the generous support of The Wilson Center, with additional commissioning support from The O’Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation, Big Shot is a dance theater work inspired by Brock’s own family’s iconic Western North Carolina drive-in restaurant, Brock’s of Hendersonville, which operated from 1949 to 1972. Brock’s serves as the central meeting point for this fizzy and fast-moving evening set to a brand-new jukebox score of 19 dynamic pop songs created to underscore this danced story of two families striving for the American dream as America herself was losing her innocence.
Lechner originally met Paul Libman, the composer of Big Shot, at the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop, a free program run by the composing rights society BMI, in which composers and lyricists can meet each other, learn their craft, and present their work for critique.
“Paul and I bonded quickly because we're older than many of the folks in the workshop, and we’ve also both had professional lives outside the theater,” Lechner said. “I was honored when Paul invited me to be one of the lyricists on Big Shot. The collaboration went so well that we're now writing a full-length musical together, based on the 1989 movie Blaze. Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the movie, is writing the book.”
Lechner is among the six lyricists who worked alongside Libman to create Big Shot’s original score, which is “meant to sound like the songs pouring out of a 1960s jukebox,” Lechner said. The songs Lechner worked on are patterned after 1960s originals and explore the styles of such signature sounds as Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and early 1970s Philadelphia soul. Collaborating with Libman was a fun, creative challenge for Lechner:
“In a traditional book musical, the goal is to write songs in the voices of the characters; but for Big Shot, Paul and I just pretended we were Gamble and Huff or John Fogerty, and tried to make the choices those writers would make if they were us. Our inspiration was the late Stephen Sondheim, whose score for Follies is full of brilliant pastiche songs like ‘Losing My Mind,’ in which he tried to channel Gershwin. In each case, Paul wrote the music first, and then I wrote the lyric. It's my favorite way to write. I think it gives a song an underlying musical coherence and structure. It's also a satisfying challenge for me, because matching the lyric to the shape and feeling of the melody is like doing a really hard crossword puzzle—and I live for really hard crossword puzzles.”
Though Lechner is most widely known for his expansive film and television career, he also has a creative passion for musicals. Before working on Big Shot, Lechner wrote lyrics for the off-Broadway musical The Kid and contributed a chapter to Fifty Key Stage Musicals.
“I was that geeky kid who was always checking original cast albums out of the library, memorizing Man of La Mancha or Guys and Dolls or South Pacific,” Lechner said. “I also loved movies, and that's where my career took me—but even when I was working at HBO or Miramax, I was writing pop songs in my spare time. Then, in 2000, I saw a Broadway musical called A Class Act, about Edward Kleban, who wrote the lyrics for A Chorus Line. Some of A Class Act is actually set at the BMI Workshop, which I had never heard of before. In a flash, I realized that writing lyrics for musicals could put together narrative storytelling, which I did for a living, with songwriting, which I did for fun. I got into the workshop, and that's where I met not only Paul, but also Andy Monroe, my collaborator on The Kid. The great thing about writing lyrics is that I can do it in between doing other things—on the subway, in the shower, walking the dog. You can't do that with a novel or a screenplay.”
Big Shot will have its world premiere at North Carolina's The Wilson Center on November 11 before playing a six-performance limited engagement Off-Broadway at Theatre Row December 9-12, 2022. Click here for ticket information and further details about the upcoming show.
“This collaboration might be the most fun I've ever had as a songwriter,” Lechner said. “Not only do I love the writers we're pastiching, but I also love the music Paul wrote. I can't wait to see what the show looks like on its feet!”
Jack Lechner is the current chair of Columbia School of the Arts’ Film Program. His credits as Producer, Executive Producer, Supervising Producer, or Consulting Producer include the Oscar-winning documentary The Fog Of War; Blue Valentine; The New Yorker Presents for Amazon; Bite Me; Group; Untouchable for Hulu; Explorer for National Geographic; Left Of The Dial for HBO; TruInside for TruTV; Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys for Sundance; The New Public and Playwright: From Page to Stage for PBS; and the pilot of Mad Men for AMC. As an executive at Miramax and Film Four, he was involved in the production and development of dozens of movies, including The Crying Game, Good Will Hunting, and The Full Monty. His book Can’t Take My Eyes Off You was published in 2000, and his picture book Mary Had A Little Lamp in 2008. He also wrote the lyrics for the 2010 off-Broadway musical The Kid.