WORLD VIEWS: 2017 Musical Theater Lab Q&A Series Part 7

July 6, 2017

We’re nearing the end of the countdown as we present the seventh of 9 writing teams in the 2017 Musical Theater Lab!  Each team will be presenting a new mini-musical in culminating lab concert performance, World Views, on July 8th (link here for details!).  These writers were selected through a competitive application process, and in these brief Q&As you’ll get some behind the scenes insight into their process and work.  Our next profile is the writing team of Douglas Lyons, Ethan Pakchar and Melvin Tunstall III.

This year’s lab assignment was to create a musical inspired by a work of visual art found in an NYC museum.


Artwork: Funeral by Clementine Hunter

Title of your Mini-Musical: “The Funeral.”

The responses below were made by Douglas Lyons on behalf of the team.

1. Were you familiar your with painting / artist prior to the lab process and if so what were your impressions?

No I wasn’t familiar with the artist or painting at all. I was blown away by the small details within the work and it became our job as the team to create backstory for every little nook and cranny of the painting.

2. What drew you to the painting? Were your impulses more abstract, or did the image evoke any specific personal experiences or responses for your team?

The four women of color drew us to the painting and the fact that one of the women had her bouquet of flowers turned upside down left some questions to be answered. The painting itself seems simple but there’s so many emotions at play during funerals, it felt like there was a juicy opportunity for us there.

3. How was the lab writing process for your group? Was it different or similar to experiences you’ve had before?

This specific process has been unique because for 3 weeks we were long distance leading right up to a deadline. We’ve all followed our instincts and fed off of one another and we’re pretty proud of what we found.

4. How does your piece in the lab relate to the rest of your body of work? Is it a new direction or collaboration, or a continuation / deepening of styles or themes you have explored previously?

Ethan and I have been working as a writing team for 4 years now, Melvin and I have two other writing babies together. This is the first time this combo of writers is working together but it all feels like family. This is the first time I’ve been able to write gospel for Theater and that’s pretty exciting. I grew up singing in church so this piece pays homage to my roots.

5. Which of the other lab musicals are you most curious to see and why?

I’m really excited to see “The Kite” because that was another painting that caught my attention during the selection process!

Douglas Lyons is a composer-lyricist and actor who’s originated roles on Broadway in The Book of Mormon and Beautiful. As a writer Douglas conceived Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical which has upcoming productions at the Atlantic Theater Company, Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati and Orlando Rep. Upcoming world premieres: Five Points at Theater Latte Da and Peter, Darling at Casa Mañana Theatre. With composer Ethan Pakchar his lyrics have played Lincoln Center, The Old Globe, Seattle Rep and morE. Douglas is currently in residence at The Directors Company and under commission with Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. @DouglasSings

Ethan Pakchar has played guitar for the Broadway productions of Hamilton, Wicked, Book of Mormon, Lion King and more. He serves as orchestrator on Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical. Half of the songwriting team “Lyons & Pakchar” who have been heard at Lincoln Center’s Broadway Songbook Series, Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater, Goodspeed’s Johnny Mercer’s Writing Colony, The Old Globe, Seattle Rep, The Musical Theatre Factory and more. Commissions: Seattle’s 5th Ave Theatre (’64). He holds a B.M. from NYU.

Melvin Tunstall, III, composer, lyricist, librettist, began his career as a performer and has appeared in the Broadway and international companies of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Rock of Ages, and Ain’t Misbehavin’. A graduate of the Musical Theater Program at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Melvin wrote the book to the TYA phenomenon Polkadots: the Cool Kids Musical, which will be the first TYA musical filmed for’s new HD streaming service. His musical Peter, Darling was commissioned by and will premiere at Casa Mañana Theater in Texas in the spring of 2018. Melvin resides in New York City where he is currently writing the book, music and lyrics for Higgins In Harlem: a new musical Pygmalion.

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