I Love You Because: Q & A with Ryan Cunningham

February 2nd, 2016

Ryan Cunningham

Playwright and lyricist of our upcoming Main Stage production, I Love You Because
PCS: How did you and Joshua Salzman come together to write I Love You Because?

RC: Josh and I were both at the NYU Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program in our early twenties. Over the course of the first year, every lyricist writes with every composer at least once. Our song was not impressive, but the process was wonderful, and we knew we had a similar aesthetic. So when it came time to choose a collaborator to write our thesis musical in the second year we paired up and began writing the show that would ultimately become “I Love You Because”.

PCS: Why did you model the show on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?

RC: I was newly single and Josh had just gotten engaged. We had a lot of conversations about how one gets to where I was to where he was–and in New York City of all places. We asked our friends to recommend stories that covered this topic (and were in the public domain). My friend Lizzie Bracken (a Philly native) recommended Pride and Prejudice. Upon reading it I was immediately struck by how contemporary the issues were and how Jane Austen handled relationship politics. It was everything we wanted to explore. We then took the story, updated it, flipped the genders and altered it so much that it is basically unrecognizable as Pride and Prejudice. The core values are still there, but the plot isn’t there at all–quite often to the chagrin of Austen fans.

PCS: The subject matter is quite universal, how did you decide to set it in New York?

RC: We lived in New York at the time, and we wanted to use this story to explore the issues that come up with contemporary city dating–NYC only made sense.

PCS: Are the characters of Austin, Marcy, Jeff, and Diana based on people that you know?

RC: They are all based on attitudes I had about relationships at the time–and then personified in these characters. Part of me is a total planner–and when my life plan didn’t shake out, I cycled through these other attitudes. Do whatever you feel is right at the time; follow rules to navigate the horrors of the New York dating scene; don’t commit to anything and you’ll never be let down. As the show demonstrates, none of those attitudes are a good way to forge lasting romantic relationships, but they were helpful approaches to explore the topic.

PCS: What has Salzman and Cunningham been up to since I Love You Because was a hit off-Broadway?

RC: We wrote a show called Next Thing You Know (the album is available on Amazon and you can license the show at NewMusicalTheatre.com!) which is something of a thematic sequel to I Love You Because. We also wrote a new musical about the 1977 NYC blackout called The Legend of New York. We are doing a concert version of that at 54 Below in New York on Monday, April 18th. And finally, we are working our way through a musical about Irish patriot Michael Collins.

PCS: Fun Fact: You went to University of Notre Dame with our set designer, Brian Seaman. Do you have a good story that you would want to share?

RC: I have a lot of stories–many of which are not appropriate to share. However, Brian really nurtured my love of musical theatre when we were in college together. I remember he was particularly horrified that the only musicals I really knew were the ones that I was in in high school. He made me a mixed tape (remember those?) of “real” Broadway shows. It was my first introduction to Sondheim and a lot of contemporary composers. There is no doubt that without Brian’s mentorship, I wouldn’t have found my way to a career in the theatre.

PCS: Brian Seaman (set designer) and Anne Marie Scalies (director) both vividly remember attending your opening night Off-Broadway. What is one thing you remember from that night?

RC: Our producer read out the review from The New York Times and we all erupted in applause. It was out of some classic Broadway story. All of you guys were there and we jumped up and down, and I screamed out a quote from the movie Rushmore, “I wrote a hit play! What did you ever do?” That struck me as very funny at the time, but in retrospect, if you hadn’t seen the movie, it must have seemed like a not particularly cool thing to shout as your friends were celebrating you.

PCS: If you could give one piece of advice to up and coming musical writers, what would it be?

RC: Say yes. Young writers have an advantage over career writers–time. Use that extra time to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way no matter how trivial or not suited to you it might be. I Love You Because became a Broadway musical because we said yes to a very small opportunity to have a song from the show performed at a new works concert. That turned into an opportunity to have two songs sung at the same event. And finally, they offered to do an evening of I Love You Because. It was at that concert that someone picked up our demo and handed it to the woman who would eventually produce our show Off-Broadway. You never know when that big opportunity is going to happen, so say yes to everything when you are young and have the time and energy.

PCS: Your life has very much changed since you wrote ILYB. A wife, a baby, a new city! If you were to write an autobiographical musical, what would it be called?

RC: I Change Diapers Because.

I Love You Because runs February 12th – 27th on Main Stage at PCS.


Tickets are available by clicking here.

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