- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

Who would have guessed that a production of "West Side Story" 24 years ago would become a never-ending story for Dick Scanlan and Michael Mayer? In 1978, the then-teenaged duo played the Jets Action and A-rab for the Wildwood Summer Theatre's (WST) first production of "West Side Story." Not only did they live to tell the tale, they have been great friends ever since.
The two are collaborators as well, most notably on the hit (and Tony-laden six awards and five Drama Desk kudos) musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie," which is playing to packed houses on Broadway with a national tour and a Toronto engagement in the works. They were recently in Montgomery County to celebrate WST's 40th anniversary by taking in its production of you guessed it "West Side Story."
"It is just too perfect," said Mr. Mayer, "Thoroughly Modern Millie" director during a telephone interview from his home in New York City. "We had to be there." WST is the Washington area's only all-youth (ages 14-25) theater company, and has produced a full-scale musical every summer since 1965.
When Mr. Mayer and Mr. Scanlan were there, WST was boogieing to a disco beat. "Yes, we did the disco version of 'West Side Story,'" confessed Mr. Scanlan during a phone conversation from his parents' home in Maryland. "Fortunately, not musically we didn't disco-ize the Leonard Bernstein score. But we did wear polyester shirts mine was a hideous shade of green and double knit pants." Mr. Mayer remembers the platform shoes most vividly.
"What platform shoes had to do with the Jets is beyond me, but we wore them and danced in them. I wish I still had them now that the '70s fashion is hip again with the kids." The "Saturday Night Fever"-inspired costumes aside, the version of "West Side Story" was a big hit. "It was enormously successful," Mr. Scanlan says. "We did it at Rockville Mall in an abandoned police station that we converted into a theater. I was in my freshman year at University of Maryland and for years people came up to me and asked if I were in that production. I was amazed."
That show was memorable to the young men because it marked when they first became friends. "I met Dick during auditions and both of us just found something," Mr. Mayer says. "We both shared a love of New York City and the knowledge that we would someday live there and pursue a theater career for real. We were both gay, although we didn't talk about it at the time. And we have the same taste in everything."
Both of them acknowledge the "separated at birth" aspect. "We have the same taste buds," Mr. Scanlan says. "We like the same combinations of foods and often order the same lunch. And we both dislike the same stuff how weird is that? And we are both Agatha Christie fanatics. It is all very Bobbsey Twins-ish."
Mr. Mayer says the oddest thing occurred during auditions for "Thoroughly Modern Millie." "During auditions you jot down impressions and ideas and when we got together later, we realized we had taken exactly the same notes. We have the same sensibilities and perspectives on things." Which is good when it comes to developing a Broadway musical, which took nine years from idea to opening night. "Never underestimate the power of compatibility," says Mr. Scanlan, who, before "Millie" had never written lyrics or a book for a musical.
"Doing a show like this you basically live together with your collaborator under tense circumstances.
"Usually, after the show opens you never want to see this person again for a long, long time. The opposite was true with Michael. We actually missed each other and went through a withdrawal." Prior to "Millie," the two hadn't worked together professionally.
Mr. Scanlan was an actor, perhaps best known as Miss Great Plains in the 1991 Off-Broadway smash "Pageant." He is an accomplished fiction writer, both for his short stories and for his 1995 book "Does Freddy Dance." His articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Playboy. As a lyricist, Mr. Scanlan has worked with Jeanine Tesori on the theme song to "Kristin," actress Kristin Cheno-weth's NBC sitcom. And, oh by the way, he is also an agent for Broadway designers.
Mr. Mayer also started out as an actor, but quickly moved into directing. He directed the national tour of "Angels in America," the acclaimed Warren Leight play "Side Man" (which played at the Kennedy Center last year), and worked with Kevin Bacon on "An Almost Holy Picture," which received a well-reviewed production at New York's Roundabout Theatre. Mr. Mayer also directed revivals of "The Lion in Winter" starring Laurence Fishburne and Stockard Channing, "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown," and "A View from the Bridge" with Anthony LaPaglia.
The two came together on "Millie," which was workshopped two years ago at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. "We got a fantastic response there, but Dick and I felt we could make it better so we did a lot of rewriting before we opened in New York. It was such a gratifying experience to have that level of collaboration," Mr. Mayer said.
The collaboration paid off, with "Millie" getting roaring standing ovations and playing to packed houses. "People cheer as if they are at a baseball game," Mr. Scanlan says. "They are reacting to something bigger than Millie getting a haircut and becoming a flapper. The show is about young people who want a different life than what they are handed and then they make it happen. That is such an American idea and I think that is what audiences are responding too. Oh yes, and that the show is so much fun and such flawless, seamless entertainment." With "Mille" under their belts, the two friends are looking for further collaborations, but for the meantime they are working on other projects and talking on the phone or seeing each other every day.
Mr. Mayer is set to direct the feature film "A Home at the End of the World" based on Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and the new rock musical "Spring Awakening," with music by popster Duncan Sheik.
Mr. Scanlan is developing a children's movie and looking forward to writing more songs with Miss Tesori. "I have an idea for a novel but it isn't the time," he says. "Novel writing means you shut yourself off from the world and right now I like working and being around other people doing film and theater. But we'll see."
Mr. Scanlan confides before hanging up, "You know, we were rivals for the role of Action in WST's production of 'West Side Story.' Isn't it wonderful that the story of two competitors would wind up having such a happy ending?"

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