Monday, July 7, 2014

Interview: I.B. Hopkins and Noah Haines

By Amiko Gonzalez and Ninoska Rodriguez (Producing Assistants)

Collectively, these two distinguished gentlemen from Georgia have founded their own theater company, received a multitude of prestigious awards, and written twenty plays and musicals. Did we mention that they're both still in college? (In fact, one of them just graduated from high school last year. Are you feeling old yet?) Librettist I.B. Hopkins and composer Noah Haines, both from the University of Georgia, have already accomplished more during their careers than many veteran writers of the Broadway stage. They also make a mean glass of Southern sweet tea. We sat down with the two prodigies behind Jimmy!: A Musical Fable with Almost No Historical Basis to find out more about how this sci-fi spectacular came to be.

Why did you choose to write a musical about Jimmy Carter?

NOAH: (Pointing to I.B.) That one's for you.

I.B.: He's very much a figure that's inspired me -- a great humanitarian, a great man -- and when I found the Wikipedia article about him and the UFOs, just browsing around on the Internet one night, I said: "This has GOT to be a musical." There's no other way to tell this story.

NOAH: I'm almost surprised that it's not already a musical.

I.B.: I'm completely flabbergasted.

Do you think choosing a topic like this will bring in a young audience?

NOAH: Yes. There's a lot of history behind it, but it's not done in a boring, presentational way. It's a musical with aliens. And sexy dancing peanuts. And alcohol which we shouldn't be soliciting to minors. So it's got a lot of things that are interesting that separate it from most politically-based stories.

What's real in the musical and what's not?

I.B.: He did get attacked by a killer rabbit. He did not have a peace conference with aliens.

NOAH: He did admit to seeing a UFO. But actual contact with aliens obviously never happened.

I.B.: The whole idea is that these events could have happened. It could have always been the unknown story of how Jimmy Carter came to run for president.

If someone didn't know anything about Jimmy Carter, what would they take away from this musical?

NOAH: If someone didn't know Jimmy Carter, I guess our goal would be for them to come out of this musical picturing Jimmy Carter the way that Isaac pictures Jimmy Carter -- as some folk-hero legend of the South. Who was, in real-life, an honest, decent man. A great humanitarian. A very faithful Christian. He really was a very nice guy. And I think that's the aspect of Jimmy Carter that we want people to leave the show talking about -- not his political decline in the late '70s because a lot of people do remember him as a poor president.

I.B.: And there's this weird image of him in pop culture as this idiot who somehow became president and made a lot of mistakes. I just have a lot of problems with that personally.

NOAH: He was a nuclear physicist at the Naval Academy. He went to Georgia Tech as well, so he was obviously a very bright man.

I.B.: Brilliant.

NOAH: But I think we want people to focus more on the cool legendary aspects that we're trying to give this character.

I.B.: Like how I see him.

You've been working on this show for a long time now. What's changed?

I.B.: We've adjusted how the songs come in. So we've removed a song or two, we've written a new song, we've shuffled things. We've added different reprises of songs to sort of tie the story together. And we've also worked on the story quite a bit.

NOAH: I would say the main difference between this production and the workshop that we did last August back in Georgia is that we've focused a lot more on the story to make sure that there was a clear-cut motivation for every scene and every song that moves the show forward.

I.B.: It's the same story. But now it makes more sense.

Team Rosalynn or Team Xerilla?

NOAH: Team Rosalynn or Team Xerilla.

I.B.: I think Xerilla's more fabulous. So I'm going to have to go with Xerilla.

NOAH: For the sake of variety, I will say Team Rosalynn. She's a very strong woman.

Why should people go see Jimmy!? Why should they buy a ticket now? Right this moment?

NOAH: I can go ahead and list three things this show has -- and if you don't enjoy them, then you're Un-American. It has sexy dancing peanuts. Intergalactic alien warfare. And, as a subset of the second, these aliens are black gospel-singing environmentalist aliens --

I.B.: Who are kind of Jewish --

NOAH: Who are kind of Jewish. There's a lot at play here. Third, we have a killer rabbit. That does a ballet. And gets smashed to death by a boat oar. And they'll be singing Latin after that.

I.B.: It's full of things you're not going to see anywhere else. If you don't buy a ticket, then you're going to miss the event of the century.

NOAH: I think Book of Mormon needs to move out of the way. That's what I think.

Don't miss the event of the century. Buy your tickets to Jimmy!: A Musical Fable with Almost No Historical Basis today.

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