Ken Ludwig and the World of Harvey: An Interview with Walnut Street
An exclusive interview with Ken Ludwig, Tony Award-winning playwright
Mary Chase first wrote HARVEY in 1944. Since then, HARVEY has seen multiple stage productions and the famous 1950 film starring James Stewart. In 2014, Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo , Crazy for You) wrote additional dialogue for a new production of HARVEY for London's West End. We spoke with Pennsylvania native Ken about his contributions to the world of HARVEY!
Q. You've written 22 plays and musicals, six of which have been on Broadway and seven produced in London’s West End. How did the opportunity arise to begin working on additional dialogue for HARVEY?
KL. It was being directed in London by Lindsay Posner who has a great reputation and has done fantastic work for the Royal Shakespeare Company and on the West End. He was directing HARVEY for a West End opening at the Haymarket Theatre with James Dreyfus and Maureen Lipman – and as he was preparing the production for rehearsals, he sensed that the play felt a little dated. So he asked the producer to call me and ask if I would do a light rewrite of the show to make it feel a little more immediate. The producer called my agent the next day and I said that I’d be delighted to give it a try.
Q. What new things can we expect to see in your version?
KL. I added dialogue that I felt sharpened the humor. In particular, I tried to add lines that would both deepen relationships and add some laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a very touching play and it has such a great heart. I tried to make everything work just a little more swiftly so I did a little cutting here and there. Mary Chase wrote a masterpiece and I didn’t want to tinker too much. I asked myself, “What would Mary Chase have done if she were writing today for today’s audiences.”
Q. Was your writing process for HARVEY different than your other works, like Lend Me a Tenor or Moon Over Buffalo?
KL. I tried to adopt Mary Chase’s style and tone to make the changes feel seamless with the play as written. I wanted people to feel that they were hearing the Mary Chase original and go away saying “What a wonderful play. I wasn’t bored for a moment.” So hopefully the new script has the same tone, same heart and same feeling as the original. In fact, my changes are very few and very precise. Since it’s a Mary Chase play and not a Ken Ludwig play, I tried to stay as invisible as possible while making it work as beautifully as possible.
Q. Do you relate to Elwood P. Dowd in any way?
KL. I do identify with him. I think we all do. We all want to live in a world where the right things happen in life. I love that Mary Chase never tells us precisely what happened to make Elwood snap into this other existence. I suspect that there was a very precise moment in his life where a bell went off in his head to make him start seeing this rabbit and start escaping into his beautiful, peaceful world. He’s hopeful, sweet and has a wonderful heart – which is why we identify with him and love him so much.
Q. Do you have a favorite character or scene in the play?
KL. Veta, Elwood’s sister, is the comic center of the play. She’s very funny and has the tour de force part. She is out of the screwball comedy movie genre of the 1940s – she comes right out of movies like Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night and Ball of Fire. She’s zany and odd and loveable. I love the scene where Chumley comes to the house, and she gets more and more exercised that Elwood is ruining her life again. Maureen Lipman was hilarious in London – and I hear that you’ve got a fantastic actress playing the part at the Walnut Street Theatre!
Q. What are you working on now?
KL. I had two plays open this past calendar year at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. The first was Baskerville, a retelling of the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles. I told the story with five actors (and a lot of costumes) and it was an absolute treat to put on stage. It then went on to play at Arena Stage in Washington, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. The second play this year was a sequel to my first Broadway hit, Lend Me A Tenor. The new play is called A Comedy of Tenors, and in addition to playing at the McCarter, it opened the 100th Anniversary of the Cleveland Playhouse. I had loads of fun working on it and – I’m thrilled to say – the audiences loved it, and we’re about to release the North American rights so that it can be done by lots of theatres. Since then, I have started writing a new comedy – I just finished the first act – and I have another, finished play that has its first reading next month.
Reprinted by permission of The Walnut Street Theatre
By Mary Chase · Additional Dialogue by Ken Ludwig
JANUARY 19 – MARCH 6, 2016