Garden State Journal had the opportunity to chat with Al Tapper and Tony Sportiello, co-writers of the new musical On the Right Track, as they are at the beginning of the rehearsal process and will begin performance on April 5th and The AMT Theatre on West 45th Street in NYC. This vibrant, uplifting, and mysterious show celebrates the power of human connection and the importance of staying true to oneself. It promises catchy tunes, memorable characters, and an inspiring message. We had a chance to delve deeper into the creative process behind this exciting new production and learn more about the vision and inspiration that brought it to life.
Can you tell us a bit about On the Right Track?
On the Right Track is the story of three couples with three separate problems, taking place on a magical, ethereal train coming from….well, who knows where? The Conductor is the otherworldly narrator and facilitator of the evening, sometimes stepping in, sometimes stepping back, but basically there to lend a hand when the couples hit a crossroads. It is a musical story of love, ambition, priorities, and train traffic told by three talented actors.
What inspired you to create this project?
On the Right Track is a direct descendant of “The Twilight Zone,” the popular TV series of the late fifties and early sixties. These are three short stories, magical in nature, concerning people who need to make a decision…a decision that will affect the rest of their lives. While supernatural forces are sometimes at work, it is ultimately the individual who causes the outcome of each piece.
How did the two of you connect initially?
Al Tapper was a successful composer/lyricist who already had a few shows under his belt (ImPerfect Chemistry, David) when he met Tony Sportiello. Tony was a producer who loved musicals but had no musical talent to speak of. In 2008 Tony agreed to produce Al’s Musical in development Sessions, a show about group therapy for which Al wrote the book, music, and lyrics. Sessions ran for more than 300 performances at the Algonquin Theater on 24th Street before moving to Guadalajara, Mexico, where it won Best musical. They have subsequently presented An Evening at the Carlyle, National Pastime, Paparazzi and are working on a new comedy entitled Upside Down.
How long did it take you to write and compose the material?
In the case of On the Right Track, Tony had already written five short scenes, which comprised a straight comedy entitled Tickets, Please!. They agreed to shorten it to three scenes, enhance the role of the Conductor, add songs, and turn it into a musical. So the book writing took less time than the songs. Fortunately, Al is a facile and quick writer. As the scenes were restructured, a song often replaced the dialogue. The whole process took approximately a month or so, but, of course, then the rewriting begins. And that takes years.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
Generally, Tony comes up with the story, writing a book with no songs. Al looks over the book, studies it, and sees where a song can enhance or move the plot along. They discuss it, make the necessary changes, hear it out loud with professional singers and musicians, and rewrite it as necessary.
What themes or messages do you hope to convey through this project?
The first story in On the Right Track concerns a man having difficulties staying faithful to his wife, despite loving her very much. It deals with the monotony of a long relationship and how you keep the flame burning. The second story is about two political spin doctors having trouble telling the good guys from the bad ones in this environment where morality is almost irrelevant, and money makes everything happen. In the third story, a successful businesswoman is forced to reassess her priorities in life after a near-death experience and a glimpse into her possible future. So each story has a message that we hope resonates with audiences.
What challenges did you face during the creation process?
We are thrilled to be back live with our actors, director, designers, tech crew, and musicians. Obviously, the biggest challenge we had was the same problem all artists have faced over the past three years: dealing with the realities of a global pandemic. New York, in particular, was affected by covid, and much of our collaboration was done via email and/or zoom.
How did you collaborate with other artists, such as actors or musicians, to bring this project to life?
I like to think that, as creators, we are very open to suggestions made by our actors and directors. We try to foster a spirit of openness, where nothing is off the table. People can say what’s on their minds without fear that disagreements will affect their job or relationship. Mind you, sometimes we will listen to a suggestion or question and not agree that any change is needed, but we will always hear it out.
How does this project compare to your previous work?
In many ways, this project is EXACTLY like our previous work. Not enough time, not enough money, how do we bring audiences in to see it? On this show, however, we only deal with three actors instead of eight, nine, or more. It is also just one location, which is helpful. Finally, we are now working with the Mexican director Mauricio Cedeno, whose English is much better than he claims it is. However, there is still a little language barrier that you have to work at to get past on both sides. But we couldn’t be happier with our choice here.
What do you hope audiences will take away from experiencing your project
We hope they will come away from our show, humming the songs and discussing some of the issues we bring up. They do not have to agree with our point of view, but if they think about it after they leave the theater, we’ve done our job.
You both started AMT Theatre – why?
Simply put, we have produced over a dozen shows, readings, and revues in New York since we began our collaboration in 2008. We were constantly subjected to the rules and regulations of the landlords. We thought it was time we made our own rules and regulations.
What’s next for you after this project?
That depends. Our main goal is to have a Broadway show. We will try everything we know to make this show the one that moves on. It has some very attractive qualities that our other shows did not; mainly, it is affordable. One set, three actors. Still, if it does not go the way we hope it does, then we’ll look for the next one. There’s ALWAYS a next one.
AMT Theater will debut the new musical, On The Right Track, with music by Al Tapper and a book by Tony Sportiello; it will be directed by celebrated Mexican director Mauricio Cedeño with music direction by Katie Coleman. The show will star Dana Aber (Off Broadway: An Unbalanced Mind), Cody Gerszewski (New York: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), and David L. Murray Jr. (Recent: The Mountaintop, Songs for a New World).
The creative team includes Josh Iacovelli (Scenic Design), Rocky Noel (Lighting Design), Ryan Marsh (Sound Design), Debbi Hobson (Costume Designer), Emily Kruger (Production Stage Manager), and Tamara Flannagan (Technical Director/Prop).
On The Right Track
Begins on April 5 – May 11, 2023
AMT Theater is located at 354 West 45th Street.
The performance schedule is as follows:
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7 pm, Wednesday matinee at 3 pm
The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
Tickets can be purchased by going to amttheater.org