Jazz hands at the ready!
Tiny Cooper, described as “the world’s largest person who is really, really gay,” stole our hearts when he debuted in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the 2010 YA novel co-written by The Fault in Our Stars author John Green and Every Day author David Levithan. Four years later, Levithan is giving us a closer, more razzle-dazzle glimpse at the larger-than-life character with the full script of the musical Tiny was working on in Will Grayson. So meta!
Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story (March 2015) will tell of Tiny’s birth up to his ongoing quest for true love, complete with “big, lively, belty” musical numbers. We talked to David Levithan about what exactly a “musical-novel, novel-musical” entails and how he pulled it off.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come up with the idea to write an entire musical as a novel?
DAVID LEVITHAN: It began within Will Grayson, Will Grayson when the Tiny Cooper musical became a major if not the major plot point of the whole book. Certainly, John and I had a whole lot of fun making our tongue-in-cheek musical numbers for it. Almost as soon as we were done, I said to John that I’d love for this musical one day to really be a musical and for us to flesh it out. He was like, “You have my blessing — go for it!” I dove into it pretty much right away, around when Will Grayson was coming out, and got through a first act and sent it to John. We talked it over, and then life got in the way, and I was intimidated by the second act, so it took much longer than I thought it would, but I always thought it’d be really fun if it were a musical in novel from as well as a novel in musical form, so hopefully it works as both.
So it looks like a real script, with stage directions and everything?
Yes. Basically, it is as it would be produced, but obviously, Tiny being who he is, is a little more long-winded with the stage directions and the background material than perhaps Tony Kushner is. So you get some of the story from the directions Tiny is giving about how to portray his own childhood and adolescence.
Did you study some musicals to figure out how to write one?
It’s almost scary how amateur I am when it comes to musicals – I’m a musical goer, but I am not as obsessed with musicals as perhaps some of my theatrical friends are. I really didn’t want to do it in some kind of diagrammatic way. The good thing is, it really is supposed to be a 16-year-old’s version of a musical, so Tiny knows some of the rules but not that many of them, so I can get away with some of the rules but not that many of them. There are the fun big numbers and the slower ballad numbers, but I’m sure the proportion is not what most musical directors would recommend.
Obviously, Tiny’s imagination is pretty colorful — how does it get expressed in the musical?
I can give away that the finale of the first act is a trio with Tiny, his lesbian babysitter, and the ghost of Oscar Wilde. That pretty much sums up where Tiny is coming from and by extension, where I’m coming from.
How can readers know what the songs sound like? Will there be sheet music?
No. that’s the big question mark right now. I think ideally we’re going to proceed on two levels: There are some actual composers in mind that I would love to see if they would want to compose some of the songs, but at the same time, I’m really interested in the idea of crowd-sourcing the musical once the book comes out and really letting the readers make their own versions of the songs and post them on YouTube or send them around, and soundtrack it their own way. I don’t want it to be entirely pre-prescribed. There could be an official version, but I expect that there will be plenty of unofficial versions. I know that some versions of the songs in Will Grayson, Will Grayson already exist out there, and so this is just encouraging readers, especially young readers, to play around with it if they want.
What are some of Tiny’s favorite Broadway musicals, and by extension, some of yours?
Tiny is always referring to certain musicals as tent-poles. I think Kinky Boots is the first musical that I saw that as I was watching it, I thought to myself, “Tiny would love this musical.” I think if Tiny were to take a New York trip right now … I’m sure he’d like Once, he would get something out of Motown, but I think Kinky Boots is the one he’d go crazy over. Everything from Rent to Spring Awakening to farther back, Sound of Music, I think Tiny is steeped in all of those. I like more of the indie musicals like Once or Passing Strange, which I loved. But for Tiny, it’s the ones that have the show-stoppers.
What was John Green’s input in all of this?
Well, I wrote the first act and showed it to him and we talked it over, and obviously the songs that he wrote in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, or the snatches of lyrics he wrote in his chapters, are all in Hold Me Closer. I was definitely adapting and expanding some of his work, but then when I finished writing the second act and finally had this novel-musical, musical-novel, before I sent it to anyone else or really showed it to anyone else, I sent it to him and said, “Here’s this thing I did, what do you think?” and left all doors open. He was wonderful and was supportive, and said, “You know what, your’e totally channeling Tiny Cooper, go with it!” Obviously, had he balked in any way shape or form, I wouldn’t have done it. Tiny Cooper began in one of John’s chapters, and I very eagerly put him in my chapters. We always joked that he was raised by two dads in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. In this particular case, one dad got a little more custody to put on a show.