Douglas Carter Beane talks closeted actors, singing terrorists and more
Playwright Douglas Carter Beane has never been at a loss for the witty riposte. He skewered closeted A-listers in his Tony-nominated hit, The Little Dog Laughed and revamped the Olivia Newton John camp classic Xanadu as an outlandish Broadway musical. We recently caught up with Beane, who’s decamped from Manhattan to a farm in Pennsylvania for the summer to hunker down on his many projects, from singing terrorists to abstemious teenagers.
What are you working on now?
I’m casting about four things at the moment. One is a play called Mr. and Mrs. Fitch about married gossip columnists [opening off-Broadway in January]. The title comes from a Cole Porter song which is about a couple who are really rich until the crash comes and how everyone treats them after that.
What led you to the idea of married gossip columnists?
There was a scandal when I first came New York. A gossip columnist named Suzy wrote [in the Daily News] that a lot of people had attended a party at the Metropolitan Museum when they weren’t actually there. She got in big trouble for it and I kept that in my mind. And then, Liz Smith was nice enough to do the pre-show announcement for Little Dog Laughed and she invited me to her apartment. It was so not what I envisioned it ever to be.
What was it like?
A cluttered Eastside apartment, with like, “Liza on line 7,” very homey, very Texasy—stacks everywhere of books and DVDs that hadn’t come out yet. The other instigation was that I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have two people walking around in their pajamas being charming and witty, sort of like in the second act of Private Lives?”
Julie White won a Tony for playing the ruthless agent in Little Dog Laughed who’s desperate to keep her movie star client in the closet.
Which, by the way, is so dated! I joke. Certain reviewers say the play is so dated and I think, “Do you want the list?” What I was making fun of was the rules. At one point, the character says, “I think I want to come out as a gay actor” and his agent says, “Are you British? Are you knighted? If not, shut up!” Now you can be on television, but you have to be the comedic character, you can’t be the romantic character. So there are certain rules to it.
Your musical Xanadu was a big hit with the fashion world.
Yes and a lot of rockers! Outkast, Green Day—a bunch of people I’d never heard of. Michael Kors loved it and his line that year looked a little Xanadu-ish—and Isaac Mizrahi loved it. He was the booster of all time.
You live in New York, but you’re now in Pennsylvania?
I’m just here for the summer to recuperate. It’s a Green Acres moment in my life. I inherited the old family turkey farm and I’m turning it into a fun place to go for my kids.
You and your partner, Lewis have adopted two kids?
Yes, Cooper, my son is four-and-a-half and my daughter Gabby is two-and-a-half.
Have they seen any of your plays?
They saw Xanadu a lot. It had a flying horse and mirror balls. They were like, happy! They didn’t understand the concept of “understudy” though and they would think that [lead actress] Kerry Butler had died if she wasn’t onstage because, “who was the short woman taking her place?” That was a concept we had to explain to them.
Are you writing any new musicals?
I’m casting now for The Big Time which is my feel-good musical about terrorism. The G-8 is on a cruise ship that’s taken over by terrorists and the lounge singers on the ship end up saving the day. I’m also writing and casting another new musical. It’s a parody of High School Musical and abstinence movements—it’s Lysistrata told in a college where the cheerleaders won’t put out until the basketball team wins a game. It’s called Give it Up! and it has a great pop score by my partner, Lewis Flinn. But it’s really tough to cast because you’ve got to be able to sing, dance, act and play basketball.
What are some of the more unusual projects you’ve been approached to do?
Rosie [O' Donnell] approached me to do something about a lesbian murder in a tent. I said, “I don’t think I’m your man.” But I am developing a project for Dreamworks Animation—a musical with tropical birds set in Miami in 1959. If you look at the showgirls and drag queens and the magicians’ assistants from that period, they all sort of look like tropical birds.
So these are gay birds?
No, they’re not gay. But they may go into a peacock club and say, “Can you believe that they’re all guys?”